SHP Dives Deeper Into Soil Health Testing

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.

Tracking Better Data

Data is a powerful tool in your operation, and we often look at our yield and soil properties as the most valuable. It is important to remember though, the real value of soil health data is not in any one sample. The value is being able to look at the changes over time and applying it to other data sets. Looking at the management, yield and the ancillary pieces help to make inferences about the manner that it changed. This starts with having a complete data set that you have confidence in and begins with taking the time to do things the proper way so you have data you can trust for years to come.

How do you go about tracking better data?

  • Knowing and following proper soil sampling procedures is essential to securing accurate data, no matter the agronomy partner or lab you are working with. Knowing what your lab wants for a volume of soil, making sure it is stored and shipped correctly, and submitting the proper information, such as the correct depth of your sample, are key to accuracy. It is ok to change your sampling procedures or even your lab, but it must come with communication. Open communication with your partners insures that everyone understands how important it is to have consistency in what you are testing for and how you go about it when it comes to soil health.
  • Working with a trusted team of partners. Improving soil health or any management practice on a farm is a task that can be done all by yourself, but is often more successful with a team of people working together. This team should be assembled by pulling in the best people and information you can find. Information from different sources keeps farmers performing at a high level. Think about the top athletes like LeBron James or Tom Brady. They do not rely on just a single sports medicine doctor to keep them performing at a top level. They have a team of individuals, people that focus on nutrition, regeneration, health, mental health, training, and of course marketing managers that make them successful. Isn’t the same really true of our ag producers?
  • Calibrating yield monitors before each harvest season. The data collected each year plays a huge role in your decision-making process. Knowing and following your procedures for yield monitor calibration is key to securing the most accurate calibration.

One of the long term goals of the Soil Health Partnership (SHP) is to have a hand in the creation of decision tools that help growers know the likelihood of success of implementing different practices on their farm is relative to a number of factors that make each operation unique. It is only with the ability to take the data over the long term and make accurate predictions that we can move forward with that goal.

The long-term draw of soil health and working with SHP is to make decisions easier in the future than they are today. If we apply data-driven principles going forward, better management decisions can be made, not just for our economic well being, but also for the health of our soil, and our license to operate for generations to come.

Soil Sampling: Measure, See and Interpret

In this Soil Sessions Webinar, we discuss why SHP soil samples, give an introduction to soil health and soil health indicators, and describe the SHP soil sampling procedure.

During this webinar you will learn:
  • Our soil sampling protocol
  • How we are measuring and storing our data
  • Specific interpretations from our current soil samples

Soil Sessions is a webinar series by the Soil Health Partnership that provides monthly, in-depth updates on various SHP programs and research findings. Soil Sessions covers a range of topics such as our evolving data insights, how SHP manages and integrates data, our connection to and work with our partners, as well as providing technical information on topics like cover crops, scouting and grazing. To view all SHP webinars, visit our website here.