Which Fields Should I Monitor?

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

Here are a few tips:

If you want to do a baseline for the whole farm then choose a spread of the fields under different management e.g. permanent pasture, grass ley: mown, grass ley: grazed, herbal ley.

If you are changing management and want to do a baseline then choose a selection of the fields where you will be trying new management and one other field you aren’t changing to act as a control.

If performance of certain fields is your main concern select a mix of your worst, best and average.

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 be able to do anything different because the field is under a restrictive stewardship scheme.

Where possible, choose fields relatively close to each other or easily accessible to make it more simple to reach them and do soil 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/Sites

Name Size Details Reason for Choice