impact of farming on soil quality

There is evidence that the food web of soil organisms under farmed fields is simpler than that found under heaths and woodlands. However, although some practices are bad for soil life, agricultural intensification need not necessarily have adverse consequences for soil life or its activity.

Find out more – How do farm practices affect soil life?

If you are planning to use any new materials or approach on farm, do your own checks before using it and carry out your own research, if you want to know whether a new management practice is worthwhile then you will need to compare measurements (of forage or soil) you take for this area to other areas in the same field (or similarly managed fields).  When trying out a new practice it is good to test it on a small area or split field for at least one season, so that you can check that it works for you.

On farms, soil organisms can work together with inputs to give more effective and resilient regulation of grassland systems.  However, there is no one recipe for management that will put all soils in good health.  

There are some general principles that underpin all the farming systems that have healthy soils. To have healthy grassland soils, farmers should aim to:

  • Increase OM inputs and provide a range of types - through careful manure management, use of composts. Find out more about soil life
  • Increase plant diversity - with grass/clover leys and other mixed species swards for grazing and conservation and mixed species whole-crop silage. Find out more about plant diversity
  • Reduce tillage intensity  - if soil structure is good, consider overseeding rather than ploughing for ley invigoration, get the timing of aeration or sward lifting right. Find out more about tillage.

The biggest benefits have been seen from these system level interventions.

However, there are also a range of short term applications/ interventions and target specific aspects of the soil biota or their environment that have been proposed.  Few of these approaches (except inoculation of legumes) are currently well underpinned by research. More about short term approaches