Which Fields Should I Monitor?

The first question to ask yourself is why an I monitoring my soils? Is it because you want to determine some baseline measurements and then understand how the soil changes over time…or maybe you want to understand why some of your fields grow less grass than others?

Here are a few tips:

If you want to baseline for the whole farm then try and choose a spread of the different types of fields you have. If you are changing management practice and want to do a baseline assessment then choose a selection of the areas where you will be doing the new management practice and one other area you aren’t changing to act as a control.

If performance of certain fields is your main concern we suggest selecting a couple of your worst fields and at least one of your best.

Almost always it’s important to choose fields that you can change management practices on (except control fields), so that you can act to improve your soils where necessary. It’s very frustrating to see poor soil health but not really be able to do anything different because the field is under a restrictive stewardship scheme.

And of course, where possible choose fields relatively close to each other or easily accessible so that it’s easy to go out and do the tests.

Advice from Niels Corfield

Below are steps suggested by soils advisor Niels Corfield to help you choose which fields to monitor in order to understand how your soil health and management practices are linked.

Purpose of the Monitoring

Helping you to make better management decisions

Understand and use the soil Health principles in decision-making

Which Fields to Monitor:

1. First Steps

Print a farm map with fields marked up with current uses plantings and when established eg herbal ley 2016, permanent pasture etc.

This will facilitate selection of the locations that are to be assessed/monitored.

2. Considerations when selecting locations to assess

Often it’s not practical or necessary to assess all the fields on your farm.

Where a complete survey isn’t practical, select 3 or 4 locations on the farm to generate an accurate picture of the farm as a whole, consider the following: difference, similarity, uniformity and a control.
Remember when doing this work, where possible we’re trying to cut down variables, to

Difference: age of plantings, type of planting/herbage present management

Similarity: soil type, age of planting, management

Uniformity: soil type (how does it vary across fields?)

Control: under-the-hedge, across-the-fence (the neighbour’s land – with permission)

3. Example: 

You may want to compare Arable vs ley grass

Select a 1st year grass ley and 3rd year grass ley and an arable field.

Under hedge could be the control.

4. Decide which fields to assess

Compare fields with similar soil types and different management regimes eg adjacent fields

Make assessments

5. Note Down Your Fields/Locations 

Name Size Details Reason for Choice