Improving soil health in a profitable way is a challenging task. If landowners and farmers had endless supplies of money, achieving good soil health would be easy. To successfully enhance both soil health and profitability, operators need a plan, accurate data to assess progress, and the agility to make changes to their soil health management strategy when needed.
No two farms are alike.
One of the main challenges in achieving optimal soil health is that no two farms are alike. Every field within a farm has soil differences and have been managed differently in some way since the beginning of time. Years ago, fields were treated differently based on the proximity of the field to the livestock. Manure was treated as an evil of raising livestock, and in most cases, it was applied to the closest fields. Different treatments aside, soils also have different intrinsic characteristics that influence its health.
Evaluate with soil test data.
When evaluating your nutrient management plan, the first thing you need is good soil test data. Soil samples should be collected often and systematically. Collecting soil samples every year is the best way to ensure data is accurate and provides the best information for your evaluation. In some cases, a biannual sampling schedule can work, but this leaves gaps in the information you need to make the best possible choices for your fields. The more data you collect, the better you can hone your strategy to attain optimal results. The agricultural industry has taken soil health for granted in the past, and nutrient management has been treated like making a pot of soup: toss in a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and bingo! You have a good crop. Many farmers have gotten by doing this, but it doesn’t allow the operation to be as profitable as it can be.
Make a plan, monitor, and adjust.
When implementing your soil nutrient management practices, it’s important to start out with a plan for each field to improve its soil health over time. It has taken decades and more for your fields to develop their current conditions, and the process of optimizing their soil health can be a long one. Monitoring each field as you work to improve the condition of its soil and making appropriate adjustments as you progress is vital to a good nutrient management plan. While you won’t be able to dramatically improve soil health overnight, every step you take is important to achieving the best possible results.
Developing improvement goals for each field is a key component of any nutrient management plan. Without specific goals for improvement, an evaluation is very difficult to conduct. Your plan should include 2-year, 5-year, and possibly longer-range goals, depending on the longevity of your relationship with the land. What kinds of goals should you set? Most would say that yield improvement is the greatest indicator of success, but yield does not always translate into profitability. A good nutrient management plan must be attentive to profitability and seek to enhance profit and soil health simultaneously.
Just as you’d pay off your credit cards with the highest interest first, you’ll want to prioritize the soil health needs of your most problematic fields over those that are performing relatively well so you can maximize the impact of your spend. As you move forward, continually measure and assess progress, and make adjustments to your priorities and strategy along the way. Regular sampling and ample data allow you to make appropriate changes to your practices as you see improvement and keep your farm business as profitable as possible.
If you're ready to develop a plan to improve soil and plant health in your fields, SoilRight can be a valuable partner. Click the link below to request a free soil consultation to discuss how we can help you nourish your soil and plants and improve the profitability of your farm business.