Healthy soil, one of earth’s most precious resources, is vital to a farm’s long-term productivity and profitability; to environmental integrity; and to plant, animal, and human health. Monitoring the effects of management practices on your soil can help you to build and sustain this vital resource.
What is It?
Soil monitoring techniques can be used to assess the current status of soil resources; track changes in soil health due to management practices; and investigate specific soil health problems, such as compaction.
Who Does It?
A farm’s soil should be monitored by the person most directly impacting it: the farmer. Working with a partner—such as a spouse, son or daughter, or neighbor—can make your monitoring more thorough and enjoyable. Professionals who can help include an independent soil/crop consultant, or staff from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) or Cooperative Extension Service.
Monitor your soil several times during the crop year: for example, a half-day to a day in the spring, a couple of hours in mid-season, and then again following harvest. Also, be consistent from year to year, such as always before field work in the spring or during the first two weeks of July.
A few hours, two or three times a season, allows for adequate monitoring of soil health. Investigating specific problems may require additional time.
Useful materials include a clipboard, a shovel, an aerial photograph of your farm, soil survey maps, a soil probe, and a soil sampling tube. You will also need copies of the Soil Assessment Record Sheet and the Soil Test Record Sheet; a master copy of each is provided. Some incidental materials will be needed for specific monitoring tools.
Many of the above items are readily available—or can be made—on most farms. What is not can be purchased for less than a hundred dollars. Also consider the cost of laboratory soil analysis and consultant fees when planning your soil monitoring strategy.