There is little doubt healthy soil is critical to a productive farm. Once you ask the question what constitutes a healthy soil and what is the best way to build soil health the debate begins. Soil health has become a buzz area, full of ‘experts’, snake oil salesmen and a lot of diverging views.
The soil surface under the pasture cover is always a good reminder to me of one aspect of the health of our soils. At this time of the year when our soils are moist the worms rise up to near the surface and really get to work, the surface of the soils is littered with worm casts (the smooth lumps of soil).
During the winter our pastures get over 50 days rest between grazing so roots have time to rise to the surface into the moist micro-climate created under the pasture, that’s what all the white lines are.
In order to maintain healthy soils we regularly test our soils to monitor things like the pH and the nutrient levels. Our cows are constantly harvesting grass and lots of what they eat is returned to the pastures in their manure but some of the nutrients are removed from our farm in the milk we sell. It’s critical we don’t mine our farms nutrients so we replace the nutrients which are sold in our milk with fertiliser.
We grew over 15 tonnes of pasture dry matter per hectare on our farm last year and if the old line of ‘there is as much of every plant above the ground as below’ that’s a lots of organic matter added to our soils.
So with lots of organic matter, the nutrients in balance, no wonder those worms are so prolific and busy.
But as with anything in farming, there’s always more to be done. The soils in our area are naturally very acidic so we have a regular long term program of liming, applying lime to a section of the farm each year.