Case study: KUHproKLIMA group in Germany

Case study: KUHproKLIMA group in Germany 2560 1920 Soilmentor

Case study: Francisco Telles Varela & the KUHproKLIMA Germany group

We’re really proud to have supported the KUHproKLIMA group in Germany with their farming research project over the last couple of years.

We recently caught up with Francisco Telles Varela about how their research is going, and how soil monitoring and observation supports their project aims.

Could you give us a summary of the KUHproKLIMA project and what you’re hoping to achieve? 

The KUHproKLIMA (or Cow for the Climate) project is an on-farm practice-oriented research project, created by farmers for farmers in the pre-alpine region of Allgäu in South Germany, where seven dairy / meat farms dared to take new steps in the direction of environmentally friendly and regenerative farming.

Christine Bajohr, one of the seven farmers, has created the project that is funded by the EU program EIP-AGRI, in which science and practice jointly research how nature-based grassland management can improve ecosystem processes and services, which will contribute to climate and resource protection. Our goal is to treat the results in such a way that they can be implemented in everyday practice and are comparable with other studies.

For this, in the KUHproKLIMA project, the use of cows is of central importance, as their co-evolutionary development with grasslands makes them suitable for improving the synergies between soil, plants and animals.

The knowledge and experience obtained during the project have been shared through workshops and field days. An online platform for ongoing documentation as well as exchange between farmers was also created, and the outcomes, jointly developed by scientists and the farmers, will be presented in a practical guideline available as a free download on our website at the end of the project. 

Could you also give us an explanation of how you have designed the project to test the effects of different grazing techniques?

The aim of the project lies in holistic grazing management adapted to the location as well as the precise promotion of active soil life. That includes initial analyses of each site, herd, type of vegetation (biodiversity), carbon and infrastructure.  After these initial baseline assessments, the “Holistic Planned Grazing” pasture management (following the methods of Allan Savory) combined with improvement of soil life (liquid compost extract applications) were introduced during the project on all farms. Based on the inventory of the participating farms, individual land planning concepts were developed to improve the pasture areas mainly by planting hedges and trees.

Workshops were hosted in order to introduce the concepts of Holistic Management and Holistic Planned Grazing multi-paddock system to all seven farmers. Also, an app was provided to each farmer where the initial grazing paddocks were designed and inserted, and data regarding pasture dry matter before and after grazing has been recorded. This monitoring tool provides useful data to inform farmers to better adapt their management regarding pasture productivity, grazing times/periods, number of animals, paddock design, etc.

What have been the biggest challenges to you as a group?

Perhaps the most challenging but also the most rewarding and valuable, has been to try to match scientifically sound research with the daily-life activities of the farm and farmer. The conventional scientific method wants dozens of replicates with very controlled conditions. This is not possible in an on-farm research environment and we had to take this into consideration in the design, and adapt along the way. Things change all the time on a farm, but we know this is the sort of complementary science we also need; science that studies complexity

Embracing the complexity of nature and research directly into the ecosystem is more difficult, adding to the social unpredictability of farming daily operations, but we believe this is a type of work and research that should be done more to find urgent solutions for our current challenges

The on-farm experimentation & research approach that we are taking, and already looking for new coming projects, is fundamental to bridging the gap between fundamental scientific research and farming practical challenges, and we aim to develop these concepts to help others create similar projects in different contexts.

How has using Soilmentor supported you to achieve your project goals? Could you give an example of a way that Soilmentor has benefited you?

In order to measure the progress and effects on plant and soil health by the grazing methods and the microbial inoculations, twice a year (Spring & Fall), more than 15 different measurements are carried out on the test areas of all seven farms, which allow statements to be made about various developments, such as soil structure, erosion and compaction, water infiltration, the development of plant species, Brix values and biodiversity levels in flora and fauna. This monitoring work has been fundamental in understanding the immense complexity of these ecosystems and for this, using the Soilmentor app has been key

Soilmentor makes our fieldwork very efficient and quick, recording all the data points directly in the field and smoothly transferring all the data to the online platform automatically where we can work later on treating the data for research purposes. We can not really imagine doing the field work without Soilmentor anymore, as using paper forms and pens in the very wet Allgäu region would be a disaster besides the immense time we would have to be introducing data later on spreadsheets.

What do you feel have been the biggest successes so far as a project, & are you able to share any early outcomes?

We are still collecting and treating our data points for the project until March 2023, and we are now planning the extension of the project for a further 3 years in order to obtain more long-term data, therefore there are not many relevant numbers to share so far. But one success we can highlight already is the farmers’ quality of life. 

Several of the project farmers’ that started adopting the Holistic Management framework expressed that they have reduced their work-load and have more free time, leading to a more balanced and happier life. This makes us already quite happy as a team, knowing that just by changing management it is possible to improve farmers’ quality of life, in a profession with the highest rate of suicide globally.

How important is observation to you to support the KUHproKLIMA project?

Our project supports a more agro-ecological and regenerative way of farming, and we know that if we want to improve our lands in a regenerative trend there are no recipes, every farm context is different. We heard this before many times but actually, we proved it during the project, based on our monitoring results where very similar practices applied in the seven farms produce very different results. So, observing, measuring and reading each context well over time is absolutely key for good management decision making on the land.

Case Study: Philip Fernandez & EIT Food

Case Study: Philip Fernandez & EIT Food 1600 900 Soilmentor

Case study – Soilmentor organisations:
Philip Fernandez at EIT Food (part 1)

EIT (European Institute of Innovation & Technology) is a body of the EU, working to drive innovation in business, education and research across Europe. We’re proud to be supporting EIT Food with Soilmentor, on one of their projects monitoring the impact of regenerative farming on soil health

EIT Food has created the Regenerative Agriculture Revolution project, aiming to support farmers to learn how to transition to more sustainable methods of farming. This began with a focus on the Mediterranean, as farmers in this region have been disproportionately affected by climate change, and conventional agriculture practices have exacerbated soil degradation and erosion, water scarcity, biodiversity loss and low yields in these areas. These environmental issues, as well as high input costs, have left many farmers struggling for financial survival. Aiming to revert these trends, EIT Food is supporting Southern European farmers to introduce regenerative methods, while measuring ecosystem improvements and spreading public awareness about the benefits of these methods. 

We are proud to have worked with the EIT Food team over the last year to create a bespoke soil monitoring protocol that is currently used across 75 farms in Spain and Portugal. 

We recently caught up with Philip Fernandez, Agriculture Project Manager at EIT Food, for the first part of a case study to learn more about EIT, and how they use Soilmentor.

EIT soil testing under ovine observation

Could you describe the project you are using Soilmentor to support?

Soilmentor is key to the project we’ve been developing at EIT, which is looking at how regenerative agriculture practices impact soil health. We’re advising and supporting 75 farmers currently, all of whom are being advised by regenerative agriculture experts. We need Soilmentor as a tool to allow us to monitor and record environmental and soil health improvements on these farms.

Soilmentor is key to us for three reasons:

  1. First and foremost, it’s a tool that helps farmers appreciate the importance of the soil in regenerative agriculture. This is a big mindset change – instead of focusing solely on crops and what goes on above the ground, it helps them to realise and appreciate what is going on below our feet, and to focus on what they can do to improve soil health.
  2. It’s also key for agronomists advising the farmers – another tool (in addition to physical, chemical and soil lab analysis) that they have to monitor progress. As it’s cheaper to use, and farmers can use it themselves, it gives a broader picture of the farm. Our EIT Food budget allows us to send one soil sample to the lab per year, per farm. Obviously these are diversified farms with different plots, so Soilmentor helps us to track progress on different plots on the same farm. This is especially important because by definition regenerative agriculture involves diversity – so we can’t treat a farm as just one soil sample.
  3. Third, at the level of EIT Food, Soilmentor helps to see if we are meeting our objective to make Europe’s food systems healthier and more sustainable. The tool also helps us to monitor whether what we are doing makes sense – whether the practice fits the theory, and to prove to EU tax payers that this is money well spent.
Soil testing with the EIT team

How does your project fit into the wider space that you’re seeing out there – and how are people responding to it?

In Southern Europe it’s a unique project. There are similar projects in other parts of the world, but it feels like we’re doing something that is pioneering and unique in Southern and Eastern Europe where we operate. 

I know there have been scientific studies done with a similar focus, and we do not claim to be carrying out a scientific study, but we know this project will be valuable. We’re trying to connect regenerative practices to improvements in soil health on many different sizes and types of farmland and ecosystems

It will be interesting to see if we can draw some valid conclusions – we’re not comparing side by side test plots, but if we can see across 75 farms, that in 60 there’s been a significant improvement in soil health and soil organic matter, I think that’s really valuable!

We’re aiming to build a community this year – there’s an enormous desire in these farmers who are transitioning to reach out and understand what other farmers are doing. Often regenerative farmers are viewed by their peers as ‘the crazy person in the village’, with messy fields and weeds everywhere. So they come to our training courses, and meet other farmers doing the same thing in different places. Emotionally this can be very supportive, and we’re keen on creating this community. Soilmentor also links to this with the new benchmarking function – even though it’s anonymous, it gives a sense that they are not alone, and it’s useful to be able to compare and look at how others are doing. 

Who has been using the app so far, and why, and what did they think about it? 

The main users have been the agronomists and soil experts so far. We’ve had a soil advisor travelling round to visit 65 farms across Spain and Portugal, conducting tests and using the same methodology and criteria for each, and adding all of this information to the Soilmentor app. 

There’s a lot of data on the individual farm accounts already, and as soon as we fully launch we’ll have farmers using it with their own logins. We’re about to release videos to be available on Youtube, which we filmed to show how to do each of the tests. We’re going to translate these into Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and Polish. 

EIT soil advisor Iris taking baseline measurements

What are you most excited about with this project right now? 

We’re excited to see the potential of this tool. There have been two important milestones for us recently. 

The first was when we finished collecting our baseline measurements across all of the farms, and our soil health expert had inputted this information into each of the Soilmentor accounts. 

The second was when we started to look at all of this information, combining it with physical and chemical data from soil samples sent to the lab, and economic information we had for each of the farms, alongside visual soil assessments. Seeing all of these metrics in one place was really exciting for us

EIT baseline soil tests – root legume nodules & rhizosheaths

What are the next steps? Is there anything else you would like to share? 

The next step for us is getting these videos published, as well as collating information on each of the farm’s biomes and rainfall metrics so we can get started with using the Regen Platform benchmarking. 

We’re also excited to plan a webinar for all the farmers, to explain how Soilmentor works, alongside learnings from physical and chemical analysis provided by a member of our team.

We’re really proud to be supporting this inspiring project, with such wide-reaching aims and impacts. We admire EIT’s genuine focus on supporting the farmers on the ground with this project. The individual farmers are, as Philip put it, EIT’s “key stakeholders”.

We’re excited to continue our collaboration with EIT, and to see how the farmers get on with using Soilmentor after the official launch. Watch this space… we’re planning on publishing a second part to this case study as the project develops further!

The new science behind biodiversity, cover crops and building the soil sociobiome: learnings from Dr. Christine Jones

The new science behind biodiversity, cover crops and building the soil sociobiome: learnings from Dr. Christine Jones 1120 770 Soilmentor

The new science behind biodiversity, cover crops and building the soil sociobiome: learnings from Dr. Christine Jones

US-based cover crop supplier Green Cover Seed have recently hosted a fascinating 4-part webinar series with Dr. Christine Jones. We definitely encourage you to watch them, but to get you started we’ve pulled together some of the key insights from these videos, with a focus on what these teachings mean for farmers on a regenerative journey.

Our main takeaway is that growing a diversity of living plants is the most important focus on any farm aiming to build healthy soil. This is a topic that has been discussed in the regenerative farming community for a while, but Christine shares how soil science is beginning to explain the mechanisms occurring between diverse living roots and the soil microbiome (the makeup of fungi and bacteria). 

It is clear that diversity aboveground is directly linked to diversity belowground, and diversity belowground is linked to the health and carbon storage capability of the soil as well as pest and disease resistance of any plants communing with that soil – there’s no doubt that these outcomes are of real significance for any farmer! 

So how does this all work, and what are the key messages for growers learning to regenerate their piece of earth? We’ve pulled out three main areas that Christine shared about:

  1. The fungal energy pathway and the microbiome

Christine cites some of the papers presented at the Wageningen Soil Conference we wrote about here, emphasising that the early model of the soil food web is beginning to be replaced by a new, more dynamic model. Previous models of the soil carbon pathway were fairly linear, with carbon entering the soil through breakdown of above ground matter and detritus by larger organisms and fungi, propelled by a chain of soil organisms eating another. It is now understood that this ‘decomposer’ food web pathway is only responsible for small amounts of carbon entering soils. We are beginning to replace this conventional soil food web diagram with a new model, with fungi at the forefront. 

It is now understood that the vast majority of carbon entering soils does so through the ‘fungal energy channel’, which Christine also refers to as the liquid carbon pathway. Essentially, living plants use sunlight and atmospheric CO2 to photosynthesise, creating sugars (carbon) which are channelled down into the roots and released in the form of root exudates to the surrounding soil. These exudates are consumed by a multitude of fungal and bacterial communities, which transport carbon compounds around the soil. 

A healthy microbiome (dominated by saprotrophic and symbiotic fungi) will stabilise the majority of this carbon within the soil. It is this process of moving carbon from the air into stable soil compounds which is referred to as the fungal energy channel (1). This fungal network is also responsible for supplying energy to bacterial communities producing plant-available phosphorus and fixing nitrogen into the soil. 

The health of your soil is a key determinant of how well the fungal energy channel works, and a simple way to observe this pathway in action is by looking for rhizosheaths, as evidence of fungal hyphae feeding off sugars exuded from plant roots (and fixing nitrogen). You can keep a record of your farm’s score for rhizosheaths at set sample locations in your Soilmentor app – this test is one of our Regen Indicators

The diversity of plants growing in the soil is core to improving your fungal pathway. This is true for a number of different reasons:

  1. Structure: A variety of different leaf structures increases opportunity for photosynthesis with more light interception, increasing the rate at which root exudates draw down carbon through the fungal pathway.
  2. Microbe sharing: Plants from different functional groups cooperate with each other, and are able to recruit microbes from each other’s microbiome, as long as the roots are able to mingle near each other. E.g. If you grow a grass alongside a drought-tolerant herb in a low rainfall scenario, the grass can signal to microbes alongside the roots of neighbouring plants that have drought-tolerant characteristics. The grass may then ingest these microbes as endophytes (so they become part of the plants internal microbiome), which ‘switch on’ certain genes in the plant to thicken cell walls for water retention, making the grass more drought tolerant. When drought pressure subsides, the grass can then expel the endophyte and the genes are switched off again (2).
  3. Fungi thrive: The microbial makeup of your soil more or less determines the likelihood that carbon levels will build up in the soil rather than being respired away. A higher proportion of carbon is stored in a stable form in fungally dominated soils, which allows for high activity in the fungal energy pathway. The fungi community thrive when there is greater diversity of plant functional groups present!

Green Cover Seed webinar 4/4
Christine sharing about a diverse companion cropped field

The message from Christine is to prioritise diversity, without necessarily focusing on mycorrhizae. Mycorrhizal associations are amazing – but they represent just one part of the fungal story, and as long as you include one mycorrhizal plant in a cover crop mix, you’ll allow for a mycorrhizal network to build below ground. Other cover crop species without mycorrhizal associations may be equally important in the fungal energy channel. 

2. The importance of signalling chemicals – the language of the microbiome

You can think of soil as a complex network of microbial life. This microbial community is fed by the aboveground world through plant roots and their exudates, and these microbes send out signalling chemicals to interact with each other, and with roots in the soil (3). Christine refers to this complex network of connections as the ‘soil sociobiome’. 

One way to activate certain elements of this soil sociobiome is by adding signalling chemicals to the soil ecosystem. Christine defines a biostimulant as a substance that activates dormant microbes in the soil. We learn that the majority of soil microbes exist in a dormant state until they are activated by biochemical signalling.

Christine’s advice is that it is best to apply biostimulants to the seed before sowing (which we’ve heard re-iterated by Nicole Masters and John Kempf), as the most important feature of biostimulants is the signalling chemicals they contain. Ideally, a germinating seed should be forming a strong relationship with soil microbes from the beginning of its life, and establish a healthy endosphere – the microbiome within the plant itself. Adding biostimulants as inoculants for crop planting will maximise these associations at the beginning from crop germination.

We also learn that biostimulants produced through a fermentation method will contain many more signalling chemicals than one from aerobic production methods (e.g. vermicompost, korean natural farming, bokashi). These chemicals have been observed to persist in the soil across multiple generations of plants, so the effects on the soil microbiome can last across multiple harvests (4). 

N.B. Vermicompost is considered a fermented product due to processes in the worm’s gut causing fermentation.

Green Cover Seed webinar 1/4
Christine sharing a microscopic image of fungal hypae on roots

3. Reduced pest & disease pressure

Increased plant diversity also increases crop resistance to pests and diseases. Christine refers to expanses of monoculture as a “recipe for disaster” in terms of pest pressure. 

The buffer against pest pressure is not always about eliminating the pest or disease, but about supporting the crop to be more resilient, and equipped to fight infection and remain productive. There are more microbial cells in plants than there are plant cells, and this ‘endosphere’ of bacteria, archaea & fungi moving around among the cells of the plants are capable of supporting the plant to resist pest and disease damage. 

Plants ‘call for help’ when they are under attack from pests or diseases, and free living microbes in the soil can be ingested to support a defence against this attack (2). This call for help will go unanswered if the soil microbiome lacks sufficient health to respond. The solution is to ensure diverse cover crop species are planted alongside crops to support proper functioning of the soil microbiome, so soil microbes can be internalised by distressed crops through roots when needed. 

Green Cover Seed webinar 1/4
Figure from a paper (Gopal & Gupta) – the sociobiome

Key actions to take from these webinars

  • Keep ground covered with diverse living roots for as much of the year as possible. If your soil is left bare, your soil microbiome will deteriorate and carbon will be released from your soil. 
  • Try to include at least 4 different functional groups in cover crop mixes & maximise the opportunity for these crop mixes to interact with each other and with your main crop below ground. One case study mix that Christine mentions is of four species – radish (brassica), oats (grass family), sunflower (aster family) and phacelia (borage family). The key here is that each of these plants belong to different functional groups, allowing for maximum benefit in the soil sociobiome. Despite the fact that none of these plants are legumes, this mix still allows for nitrogen fixing and availability, and outperformed mixes of only legume species in field trials. 
  • Application of biostimulants to seeds before planting will support the fungal pathway (e.g Johnson-Su compost, vermicompost or bokashi). 
  • Fungicides are the most detrimental agrichemical to the fungal energy pathway. Experiment with reducing / removing fungicide spray rounds across your farm, alongside biostimulant application & diverse cropping. 

Farmerama #73: Nicole Masters on the Regen Platform

Farmerama #73: Nicole Masters on the Regen Platform 1000 668 Soilmentor

Nicole Masters interview on Farmerama:
The Regen Platform

Episode #73 of Farmerama Radio featured Abby interviewing Nicole Masters on the power of digging a hole, the inspiration behind the Regen Indicators, and how the Soilmentor Regen Platform can support a regenerative transition.

Tune into the full episode below (or on your preferred podcast platform):

Do you dig holes on your farm? Does the Regen Platform sound interesting to you? Get in touch with us at info@vidacycle.com – we’d love to hear from you 🙂

The Journey to a Regenerative Mindset – ORFC 2022

The Journey to a Regenerative Mindset – ORFC 2022 2796 1478 Soilmentor

The Journey to a Regenerative Mindset

At ORFC 2022, we hosted a session digging into the mindset shift required to transition to regenerative farming. What changes are required as we shift our relationship to the land and landscapes and what does that feel like? What are the uncomfortable bits?

Inevitably in farming so many questions arise, how do you navigate this day to day? The regenerative journey takes many forms. It’s one of experimentation, adaptation, and openness to making mistakes. It is important to build frameworks that support feelings, to find freedom in uncertainty and learn how this change in mindset can lead to further thinking, such as on land justice, economic decisions, and societal equity.

Tune into our talk with Caroline Grindrod of Roots of Nature, Clare Hill of FAI Farms, and Sam and Claire Beaumont of Gowbarrow Farm below, to learn from their experiences in supporting this shift, and how this new mindset is relevant to life beyond farming.

The Soilmentor Regen Platform is here!

The Soilmentor Regen Platform is here! 2665 1961 Soilmentor

🌱 The Soilmentor Regen Platform is live 🌱

The Soilmentor Regen Platform is here! We’re so excited to be launching this addition to Soilmentor, created in collaboration with Nicole Masters and the brilliant team at Integrity Soils.

The Soilmentor Regen Platform gives you access to clear benchmarking of the Regen Indicators – 10 soil metrics compiled with Nicole, which represent key aspects of soil health. Your results for each of these Regen Indicators will appear as a traffic light in the Regen Platform – either red (critical measure), amber (early warning alert), or green (great result).

From the regen scorecard you can quickly identify potential problem areas and click into the relevant Regen Indicators to explore them further. Every result you log in the Soilmentor Regen Platform comes with regenerative pointers from Nicole, providing explanations for each result, and things to consider for your future management. These considerations are bespoke to your field’s soil type, rainfall level and biome (learn more about these classifiers here). 

We are proud to include leading organisations such as Yeo Valley and their supplier network, and EIT’s Regenerative Agriculture Transition Program in Southern Europe as early adopters of the Soilmentor Regen Platform. We created this toolkit with Nicole to empower farmers to monitor and build on a variety of soil metrics that reflect the importance of taking a diverse & holistic approach to soil and farm management. We’re excited to support farmers and organisations to learn from Nicole’s insights and knowledge in the Regen Platform.

Working with Nicole on the Regen Platform was the perfect fit – her insights are deeply rooted in the importance of observation, supporting mindset shifts, and building diversity and microbiome health in soils. We couldn’t be more excited to support this approach. Nicole’s book ‘For the Love of Soil’ is a firm favourite of ours, and we can also highly recommend her online course as an excellent companion to the outcomes-based learning supported by the Soilmentor Regen Platform!

Why some of our protocols are changing

Why some of our protocols are changing 792 498 Soilmentor

Why we’re changing some of our protocols

We’re making some small changes to some of our scoring and protocols alongside the launch of the Regen Platform. Each of these changes have been made alongside Nicole Masters and the team at Integrity Soils, to ensure collecting soil health data on your farm feels clear and repeatable over time. We’ve detailed each of these changes below for your reference.

The Slake Test

Previously, our slake test protocol had a scoring of 8 options, with a method involving moving a sieve to disturb soil and evaluate its resilience across several steps.

We’ve decided to simplify this scoring, so you now rate your soil lumps as one of five options, after five minutes submerged underwater. We think this method will make your results easier to repeat over time, and will make the test easier to carry out. See the new scoring explained further here.

If you have recorded your soil previously from 1-8 in the slake test, your historical results will be moved into the new 5 option scoring, and your old 1-8 score will be kept as a note in Soilmentor, so you can still refer back to it. You’ll be able to see how your soil results score on the Regen Platform right away in the new scoring.

Basal Ground Cover Transect (% Bare Earth)

We’re changing the way we think about ground cover, from previous ‘% Bare Earth’ monitoring using a quadrat to estimate the proportion of foliar cover, to basal cover, which examines the total area of the earth covered by plants extending into the soil, rather than only covered by leaves or foliage (see image below).

Our new ‘Basal ground cover transect’ metric in Soilmentor will feed into the Regen Platform as one of our Regen Indicators. This new ground cover testing protocol involves moving away from a sample site in a transect line, sticking a fence post or stick into the ground as you go, and recording what the base of your post touches as it goes into the soil (read more on this method here). Basal cover is a more reliable measure year to year, and is a better indication of your soil’s resilience to erosion than foliar cover.

If you’ve already recorded ‘% Bare Earth’ in Soilmentor with a quadrat, we’ll display your previous percentage cover scores in the Regen Platform for your reference in the meantime, and we encourage you to update them with a basal ground cover transect when you get the time!

Image from University of Idaho page explaining different types of cover – read more here.

Infiltration Rate

We’ve pulled out the infiltration rate test into two different tests to record in the Soilmentor app, called ‘Infiltration rate – 1st inch‘, and ‘Infiltration rate – 2nd inch‘.

This is a small change we’ve made to ensure that the Regen Platform can benchmark your results accurately. The ‘2nd inch’ infiltration rate is one of our Regen Indicators, as research shows that a second infiltration rate done immediately after the first is a much more accurate representation of your soil’s infiltration. The Regen Platform will only display a result from this second infiltration rate activity recorded in the app.

If you don’t intend on using the Regen Platform, you can continue doing your infiltration rates normally – your historical data will all be saved in the ‘1st inch’ test.

The Brix Barometer

We’ve split out brix testing in Soilmentor into ‘Brix of grass or crops’ and ‘Brix of weeds’, to allow for the calculation of one of our new Regen Indicators – the ‘Brix Barometer’. This new combined metric looks at the difference between brix readings of a weed or undesirable plant, and brix readings of your grass in a pasture, or your crop. 

Brix measures the light refracting through dissolved sugars with a refractometer, showing the nutrient density levels of a plant, based on the presence of a diversity of simple and complex sugars. If the brix of the weeds on your farm is higher than the brix of your grasses or crops, this indicates that your soil is a better environment for weeds than for crops – probably due to compaction or a microbial imbalance. If the brix of your crops is higher than the brix of weeds, you likely don’t need to take any action to manage ‘weed’ species. 

Nodulation of Legumes

We’ve split out the scoring of the ‘Nodulation of legumes’ test into more categories. Our new scoring allows for more precise results, and will feed into the Regen Platform as one of our Regen Indicators. Historic data will be moved into the new scoring in Soilmentor. 

Read our new scoring for legume nodulation here

Rooting depth (80%)

We’ve added a new rooting depth test, ‘Rooting depth (80%)’, which measures the depth at which the majority (approximately 80%) of plant roots are penetrating, and is one of our Regen Indicators. 

This new test takes into account that there may be a few ‘outlier’ roots which have managed to grow deeper, but do not necessarily indicate the soil’s condition for root growth. Conditions which limit root growth include compaction, changes in salinity / pH, low oxygen levels, or nutrient deficiencies.

Historical rooting depths will remain in the ‘Rooting depth (Total)’ test in Soilmentor, so if you want to analyse your rooting depths on the Regen Platform, you’ll need to go out and record some new 80% rooting depths, by following these instructions

The Regen Platform will be launching in January 2022. For the full list of Regen Indicators, head to our soil test page here. If you’re already a Soilmentor customer, you will be able to upgrade your subscription to access the Regen Platform once we launch.  Stay tuned for more info!

Soilmentor support for DEFRA Soil Management Plan

Soilmentor support for DEFRA Soil Management Plan 1080 1080 Soilmentor

Soilmentor support for DEFRA
Soil Management Plan

Farming in the UK and planning to create a DEFRA soil management plan in future?

Soilmentor can support you to monitor your soil health and structure, detail how an area is managed, and report problem areas.

In order to align with the UK government’s Sustainable Farming Incentive scheme (currently in its pilot phase), DEFRA requires that participating farmers and landowners submit a runoff and soil erosion risk assessment, to be updated every 2 years. This assessment can then be used in your government soil management plan. 

Among other details, the assessment requires in-field monitoring of:

  • Soil structure
  • Earthworm numbers
  • Soil compaction
  • Steepness and length of slopes
  • Visible signs and risk of runoff and erosion

The assessment also requires recording of problem areas where there is existing runoff or erosion, soil compaction, poor crop growth, capping, or low earthworm activity. 

If you are currently part of the Sustainable Farming Incentive pilot scheme, please get in touch with us to learn more about how Soilmentor can support your audit!

In January 2022, we are launching the Regen Platform – a significant update to Soilmentor. The Regen Platform will have 10 key ‘Regen Indicators’ to monitor, with access to benchmarking and comparison to other farms. These Regen Indicators will allow you to accurately gauge the health of your soils, and their resilience against runoff and erosion. We’ll also be adding more soil tests to our standard list of tests for monitoring. 

If you have any questions about Soilmentor, or any ideas about reports we could develop to support you in future – please also get in touch! We’re always interested to hear from you.

We’re already in the process of developing a clearer framework on how Soilmentor can support UK farmers to conduct their soil risk assessment – and we’re always interested to hear from you. 

Soil Lab Test Series #2: Nutrient Analyses

Soil Lab Test Series #2: Nutrient Analyses 784 1090 Soilmentor

Soil Lab Test Series #2: Soil Nutrient Analyses

This is the second post in the Soilmentor Soil Lab Test Blog Series exploring soil lab analyses, what we can learn from them, and where to get them done. In this blog we look at soil nutrient analyses, and we’ll be exploring leaf and tissue analysis, and SOM / SOC tests in future posts. We explored soil biodiversity tests in the first post in this series, you can read it here.

We’re often asked for lab test recommendations, and although we don’t offer them directly with Soilmentor, we want to support you in choosing which tests you can learn from, and to keep building your soil health.

It’s worth noting that we don’t necessarily see these tests as essential for understanding your soil health – every system is different and many people get great results by simply observing their soil with in-field tests. It’s important to consider soil sample testing as a snapshot of your soils at one moment in time. Soils are dynamic, so we keep testing and monitoring over time to understand the full soil health picture.

There are many parameters to consider when looking at soil nutrients, and there will always be variability in what comes up in different areas of the farm. Nutrients need to be in an available form to be taken up by plant roots, and this can be hard to accurately measure. In some cases, soil nutrient tests have shown severe deficiencies, while plants growing from the same soil show optimum nutrient levels! Nutrient interactions in the soil are complex, so it’s important to look at your soil more holistically, and look for signals of soil biology and good structure, too. We find simple tests like VESS and the slake test are just as important when indicating your overall soil health, and should always be done alongside lab tests.

If you want to add your lab tests to be viewed alongside other tests in Soilmentor, this is possible for key results in the Soilmentor lab tests category. We also work with some fantastic soil advisors who help you to understand your soils and soil test results. If you’d like us to put you in touch with an advisor, let us know.

Soil Nutrient Analyses

Soil nutrient analyses quantify the nutrients in your soil, suggesting which minerals and nutrients your soil may be deficient in, to inform future inputs and management. This information can help locate problem areas on your farm, and allow for more efficient fertiliser or mineral application, or cover crop plantation.

Most soil nutrient analyses will also include a pH test of your soil, as this is likely to affect the solubility of minerals and nutrients, and the activity of microorganisms. Generally speaking, a pH of 6-7 is thought to promote ready availability of plant nutrients. CEC (Cation Exchange Capacity) tests are also normally included in nutrient testing. CEC tests tell you the negative charge of your soil, which is another measure of the extent to which soil particles can attract and hold onto dissolved nutrients. Simply put, soils with a higher CEC are able to hold onto more nutrients needed for growing, although this varies depending on which nutrients you’re hoping to retain, and what proportion of nutrients your soil has in the first place!

Where to get your soil nutrient analysis measured

  • Albion Laboratory provide comprehensive soil mineral, pH and CEC analysis with a range of package options – see more here.
  • Lancrop offer a wide range of soil analysis options for pH and available nutrients.

We have never personally sent soil samples to any of these companies, so we are really keen to hear people’s feedback! This list is also by no means exhaustive – if you have any good suggestions for us to add or any other feedback, please let us know at info@vidacycle.com.

🌿 Enjoyed this blog? 🌿

Soil Lab Test Series #1: Soil Biodiversity Testing

Soil Lab Test Series #1: Soil Biodiversity Testing 1654 984 Soilmentor

Soil Lab Test Series #1: Soil Biodiversity Testing

This is the first post in the Soilmentor Soil Lab Test Blog Series exploring soil lab analyses, what we can learn from them, and where to get them done. In this blog we look at soil biodiversity tests, and we’ll be exploring nutrient analysis, leaf and tissue analysis, and SOM / SOC tests in future posts.

We’re often asked for lab test recommendations, and although we don’t offer them directly with Soilmentor, we want to support you in choosing which tests you can learn from, and to keep building your soil health.

It’s worth noting that we don’t necessarily see these tests as essential for understanding your soil health – every system is different and many people get great results by simply observing their soil with in-field tests. It’s important to consider soil sample testing as a snapshot of your soils at one moment in time. Soils are dynamic, so we keep testing and monitoring over time to understand the full soil health picture.

If you want to add your lab tests to be viewed alongside other tests in Soilmentor, this is possible for key results in the Soilmentor lab tests category. We work with some fantastic soil advisors who help you to understand your soils and soil test results. If you’d like us to put you in touch with an advisor, let us know.

Soil Biodiversity Testing

Soil biodiversity tests quantify your “underground herd” (as Nicole Masters puts it in her book, ‘For the Love of Soil). Understanding the proportions of different microbes living in your soil ecosystem helps to inform what kind of management techniques would support a balanced soil food web – and balance is key, as soils that are dominated by one type of microbe can lead to problems.

For example, a disrupted ratio of fungi:bacteria in your soil can be an early warning of soil health issues. Fungi and bacteria occupy different habitats within the soil, and have different roles and diets. Productive and healthy agricultural soils tend to have a fungi:bacteria ratio close to 1:1, so learning where your soil sits on this ratio can help you to manage your soils to encourage more bacteria or fungi as necessary. The proportions of bacteria and fungi also have a knock-on effect to other soil microbe communities, such as protists, viruses and nematodes. Following the Soil Health Principles is the best way to keep these soil communities in harmonious balance, and observation and testing is the best way to understand where action may need to be taken.

mycorrhizae roots

Fungal mycorrhizal associations with roots. Image source here.

Where to get your soil biodiversity measured

  • MicroBIOMETER is a global company that offers microbial biomass tests that can be done with a starter kit in the field – no need to send your samples off for soil analysis. Their ‘lab grade’ tests also indicate the fungi:bacteria ratio in your soils, and results can be returned in as little as 20 minutes, removing the risk of your sample degrading on its way to the lab. In the UK, you can order a microbiometer testing kit by contacting Jack Ingle here. If you’re not in the UK, get in contact with the MicroBIOMETER team on their website to find out how best to get a kit!
  • Lancrop offer microbial mass tests for identifying fungal:bacterial ratios of your soil in the UK. You can enquire about Lancrop’s services on their website here.
  • Yara offer soil biology ratio tests as part of their UK soil health testing package – you can enquire for more information on their website here.

We have never personally sent soil samples to any of these companies, so we are really keen to hear people’s feedback! This list is also by no means exhaustive – if you have any good suggestions for us to add or any other feedback, please let us know at info@vidacycle.com

🌿 Enjoyed this blog? 🌿
 
Click here to sign up to the Soilmentor email newsletter, to be sent our latest blogs, and other updates on soil health, soil monitoring, and on-farm wildlife 💚