13 February 2019
|The Six Tools for Soil Biology|
Over twenty years we have had the opportunity to work with many farms who have realised wide benefits from addressing the biological component of soil.
In addition to fertiliser inputs that we can provide, these producers have commonalities across management practices which support the biological health of soil.
For context, the producers we work with are primarily operating 'conventionally' run commercial enterprises, as opposed to organic.
The outcomes are short term and show positively on the ‘Profit & Loss’ such as yield and quality gains.
The wider outcomes they demonstrate add to the soil ‘Balance Sheet’. In that they have immediate benefit which continues for years to come. Including soil structural change, increased soil water and nutrient holding capacity, soil carbon levels and reduced risk in adverse conditions.
We have compiled a guide to the common management practices of farms realising the greater spectrum of outcomes.
The Six Tools provide overarching guidelines which will enhance the outcomes of building your biological soil.
TOOL #1: Test and balance your soil
This first tool is a familiar one, it is a key ingredient to understanding your soil and where it is at.
Fertile soil is not just a mass of minerals, it is a living thing; with minerals, water, air, organic matter, and the organisms that turn organic matter into humus (active carbon).
They are all necessary to grow healthy, high-quality crops. Plants need more than N-P-K. They need at least 16 elements, and they require them in the proper amounts.
Major elements are needed in larger quantities than trace elements, but, as these trace elements can have an equivalent effect on health and production, they should never be ignored.
A good soil test is essential to inform where there are gaps and imbalances to start moving the soil toward a balance. The balancing equation involves calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sulphur, zinc, manganese, iron, copper, and boron. Less nitrogen is needed if the soil is in balance, particularly if there is sufficient calcium and sulphur in the picture.
Soil tests which look at the range of minerals, along with the important ratios such as Calcium: Magnesium are recommended as they are simply the simplest tool we have to assess soil nutrition and increase productivity.
Consider biological soil testing to give a guide over time of the changes you are seeing in specific microbial populations.