Digging In

SHP Dives Deeper into Soil Health Testing

SHP Dives Deeper into Soil Health Testing

By Keith Byerly on Thursday, 24 October, 2019

The Soil Health Partnership (SHP) takes soil sampling and testing very seriously. SHP administers higher resolution grid samples, pulls more depths of soil, and dives deeper into soil health testing than most agronomy specialists. We can do so because this is the focus of our team: giving farmers more data to help make long-term management decisions.

Over our five-year program, we measure and record visual observations through crop scouting and measuring and recording soil properties that can only be understood through soil testing. Typical trials that occur on-farm usually only measure yield. This is where the uniqueness of the SHP program begins to shine. SHP goes more in-depth with the annual soil sample and the bi-annual soil health samples.

What does SHP measure?

  • Chemical Soil Sampling: SHP does these tests in much higher resolutions than most agronomy specialists. For most soil samples, you are looking at a zone sample or 2.5 acre grid. Within our research, we are studying these same soil characteristics at a 1-acre grid sample resolution, or even smaller. Most test replicated plots are not this large either. With the larger plot size and higher resolution, we are afforded the opportunity to generate more data and observations throughout every growing season.
  • Soil Health Testing: This is where SHP invests more time and goes more in-depth than most trials. SHP looks at soil health on each strip in Partner Fields, usually eight strips per field. We continually track aggregate stability, water infiltration, active carbon, different soil proteins, soil respiration and more. Many farmers are not currently doing soil health tests. More often than not, growers do not know that these kinds of tests exist, what they do, or how to use the data. They require more time and are more labor-intensive to acquire than periodical soil testing. These tests and findings typically do not drive annual decisions, but builds a data set over time. Soil health practices provide long term information on adapting inputs and making amendments to soil and management practices.

Results from these tests are reviewed with SHP on a consultation-based approach. It is not about the here and now. Soil health testing requires a different cadence than the annual cycle that most of us are accustomed to in farming. 

Together, we must stay focused for the long term, to not only make sure we acquire the information on soil health annually but also that we know what to do with the information that is collected. Soil health data is beneficial to review each year to understand the ebb and flow of your field, but annual management changes should not be driven by the data.