The British Society of Soil Science’s Annual Conference 2021, sponsored by Arcadis, considered soil health from five different perspectives, providing insight into a prominent topic across professional and academic practice.
Elizabeth Stockdale presented “Developing scorecards for soil health with farmers – promoting understanding and discussion of soil function”. Farmers and growers have often not waited for soil science but have taken the initiative to understand the health of their own soils and to develop on-farm approaches to optimise soil biology and health. Within a five-year cross-sector programme of research and knowledge exchange (AHDB and BBRO, Soil Biology and Soil Health Partnership, 2017-2021), Elizabeth and her team worked with farmers and growers to maintain and improve the productivity of UK agricultural and horticultural systems through better understanding of soil biology and soil health.
In her presentation, Elizabeth discussed the steps taken, and challenges faced, in the development and testing of a rotational soil health scorecard for routine use on farm. A logical sieve approach was used at first to reduce the list of 45 potential indicators to 8 (pH, routine nutrients (P, K, Mg), organic matter, microbial activity, nematodes/earthworms, visual assessment of soil structure (VESS)) for evaluation during the programme. Stakeholders were Involved to develop a ‘traffic light’ giving a visual overview of the status of each indicator by drawing on existing knowledge to delineate the categories. Soil health monitoring from existing medium- and long-term trials and on-farm was used in parallel to validate and optimise the scorecard and to evaluate the overall approach.