Digging In

Soil health is not formulaic: Soil Health Indicators webinar explains more

By SHP Staff on Thursday, 09 April, 2020

Every farmer wants their soil to be healthy; many probably already believe that it is.  But how can you know for sure?  Anna Teeter, Soil Health Partnership Minnesota Field Manager, walks us through soil and soil health indicators during the most recent Soil Sessions Webinar held March 31 and recorded for later viewing.


Teeter reminds viewers that soil is dynamic and biologically active and different across regions and changing the health of your soil will take time.


The soil on each of your farms – and on the farms in Minnesota versus the farms in Illinois or Kentucky – will respond differently to different management techniques.  Teeter recommends patience.


“Changing management on your farm to include soil health means you must be patient as these changes can happen very slowly over many years. Soil needs to transform to its new normal before it can perform for you,” she said.


As farmers begin to investigate the health of their soil, they can focus on key elements, some of which must be reviewed in a lab, but many of which can be observed.  Keep an eye out for how quickly standing water absorbs into your fields after a rain.  Standing water can indicate an infiltration issue.  Watch for erosion problems or plant indicators that you might have root issues that show soil compaction.


Some farmers who have already invested in soil health for a few years indicate better trafficability, or that they can get into the field to harvest or plant sooner than their neighbors, which is another farmer-level indication of improving soil health.


In the lab, soil is evaluated on texture, available water capacity, wet aggregate stability, soil organic matter, soil protein and other properties to indicate improving soil health.


Teeter advises farmers to make small improvements over multiple areas and to document their journey. 


“Observe, but don’t worry too much.  Progress isn’t linear,” she says.


Documenting changes on your farm can help you gain perspective when things become challenging and it might help someone else to be more successful.  Talking to others in your area who have implemented soil health practices can also be a wealth of knowledge. 


Always remember, when evaluating soil health on your farm that changes will happen slowly, and that improving soil health isn’t just about one input change.  It’s many changes over time.


Watch this recorded webinar, previously recorded webinars and register for future webinars by visiting SHP’s Soil Sessions webpage.