Practical Measures of Soil Health

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Practical Measures of Soil Health, How Can Crop Advisors Use the Data?


Soil health is the foundation of any farm. Physical, biological and chemical soil properties all interact in influencing soil health, so measuring soil health is never related to a single measure. There’s a rapidly growing list of tests that many soil test labs now offer.  However, the question remains, which test(s) do you need, and how to use the results. A recent webinar Practical Measures of Soil Health, sponsored by Walton Family foundation presented current understanding of available measures and the complexities of measuring soil health. Several key points in the webinar

  • Microbial species are strongly influenced by physical, biological and chemical properties. The same soil in neighboring fields can have vastly different microbial communities.
  • Respiration from measures like Haney or Cornell test are direct measure of microbial activity, and are related to soil organic carbon and potentially mineralizable nitrogen. Good indicators, but not perfect.
  • Cover crops, decreased tillage, residue retention and organic amendments all increase respiration
  • PFLA is measure of general microbial population (size of the ‘workforce’)
  • Sample collection timing greatly influences respiration measurements. Use a standardize protocol for sampling. Sample the same time of year/cropping cycle.
  • Research into specific microbe activity, community structure and genomic measurements holds strong potential but requires much more work to refine and interpret

If you would like more details, we would be glad to share our ‘Coles notes’ summary.

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