Do you analyse your soil?
I was shocked to hear our Soil Association inspector tell me recently that less than 20% of farms provided soil analysis results at inspection! I always thought soil analysis was a requirement of organic farming to demonstrate that an appropriate farming system and fertility programme was in place, and certainly required if any soil inputs are brought onto the farm. To put this into context it is now a requirement of DEFRA'S Farming Rules for Water that all farms undertake soil analysis:
"In April 2018, DEFRA put in place the ‘Farming Rules of Water’ (previously known as the ‘basic rules’) which is applicable to all farmers in England. These rules for water encourage good fertiliser and manure practice and encourage land managers to take reasonable precautions to prevent run off pollution or soil erosion. Under the new rules, it is now a legal requirement to carry out soil testing. Whilst most of the guidelines stipulated are issues covered by existing guidelines, such as the NVZ requirements and cross-compliance rules 1 and 5 of the Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions (GAEC), the rule on soil testing is a new one. Soil on cultivated land is required to be tested for pH, Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium and Magnesium a minimum of once every 5 years. For nitrogen, either a soil test or the soil nitrogen supply (SNS) assessment method can be used.
The Environment Agency (EA) will be enforcing the rules and providing advice on how to ensure compliance. Compliance can be achieved by providing soil test results, cropping plans and providing evidence of nutrient application. If a farm has undertaken soil sampling during the four years prior to the rules coming into effect, these results can be taken into account. Where a farm has had no soil testing before, the whole farm may need to be sampled in one go, rather than over a number of years to bring them up in line with the regulations.
It is important that all farmers in England are aware of these rules and make sure they are compliant. The rules provide the first steps towards a new approach in regulating the agricultural sector and provide a consistent baseline of good practice across the agricultural industry in England. These rules are likely to be rolled out past England’s borders to incorporate the whole of the United Kingdom, the Welsh Government has already adopted similar pollution control measures to be enforced from January 2020."
The NRM lab provided some data recently that indicated that of all the Arable/Forage soil samples received last year that approximately 30% of P and K levels are on target, 30% below and 40% are above target. So deficiencies or pollution risk clearly evident. And I recently came across a P Index 9 on an organic farm! A result of excessive use of imported compost and manure over may years. Even organic farms are not immune.