Soil care for health

Better understanding and management of soil, beyond applications of artificial fertiliser, could help improve health of dairy cattle and also lift output.

Jo Scamell, independent consultant at Ground Level Nutrition, told conference delegates that the UK was 25 years behind competitors such as Australia and America in understanding the importance of managing soil as a resource.

“In the 1950s when the N, P, and K regime came into being we inherited soils rich in nutrients, but over successive decades levels have declined.

“We need to consider macro elements such as calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium that all influence soil pH and enhance trace elements within its structure.

Get that right and we can improve soil’s efficacy at utilising nutrients.”

For example, a recent study conducted by Kingshay treating calcium deficient soil with gypsum (as a form of calcium sulphate) at 5t/ha (2t/ac) and slit aerating the soil surface improved grass output despite lower applications of nitrogen.

“The cost of treatment is often recouped over successive years by an ability to lower fertiliser applications.”

Producers can dig inspection holes roughly a spade’s depth and square to examine soil condition.

“When it smells stagnant and unpleasant soil structure is likely to be anaerobic.

Nutrients can’t get down to where they’re needed or be utilised.

“Where soil is working well it should smell like compost – a sign of good degradation of nutrients and presence of organic matter.”