Becky Wilson from Farm Carbon Toolkit visited Hillmount Farm last week to deliver the Farming Carbon Training day.
Our own Prof Jim McAdam set the context - explaining what soil types are predominant in Northern Ireland, showing us soil maps and why it's so important to understand your soil. We rely
on Water, Sunshine and Soil - we can't do much about the first two but the third we can work on.
The advice was that we need to think of ourselves as soil farmers - if we don't keep that right we'll be in a constant battle and dependent on expensive inputs.
Becky talked through the wide variety of soil testing - the main point being not to just test willy nilly - we need to think about what we are trying to learn from the tests - she said our spades are out best friends - dig a pit and have a look.
We headed out into the field - you dig three sides of a square then lift out the sod - don't put the spade down the fourth side as you want to see the profile of the soil without the spade smearing it.
Becky explained that we need to look at the soil in three ways - the chemistry (N,P,K,Mg etc), the physics (soil structure) and the biology (microbes, fungi, bugs, worms). The fact that soil was clinging to the roots was a sign of good biology. One of the fields was a little compacted from heavy machinery which meant the roots would struggle to get down.
Worms are one of the big indicators - we found 3 types - surface dwelling, the mid layer guys who act as nature's power harrow and the big deep dwelling worms which are nature's plough - these are the real gold star indicators of healthy soil. We should expect 10-15 in a spadeful.
We discussed how to reduce fertiliser use and bring soils back to good health. Becky said that all we need is healthy soil and legumes to draw nitrogen out of the air and fix it in the soil. It takes time but legumes like clover and bird's foot trefoil can exist in the seedbank for years and given the chance they can re-establish.
A really good day, lots of chat and we all went away knowing a lot more about worms!