The importance of soil health in livestock farming

Tuesday 04.06.2024 , News

For livestock farmers, production is driven by multiple factors, including the quality of pasture cultivars, renewal techniques, sowing times, pasture management, weather conditions, and more. One factor deserving special attention is soil health, given how underperforming soils can hold back even the best pasture seed mixture or perfect renewal.

Here to explain the importance of soil health in pasture-based agriculture is Fiona Foley, Plant Breeding Trials Manager of Germinal Horizon Broadfield.

Soil fertility and pasture production

For plants to grow, they need a healthy balance of essential nutrients – nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and sulphur – available in the soil. Newly sown pasture could fail to thrive without the correct balance of nutrients available – at best, the pasture will underperform.

Before starting a major pasture renewal, soil testing can reveal any nutrient deficiencies and the pH, with 5.8 to 6.2 the ideal range for pasture. With soil pH corrected, there will be a more abundant supply of essential nutrients.

By managing soil health, farmers can ensure that pasture is successfully established and productive for a livestock system. Just remember that a failed pasture renewal will leave you with a headache for the years to come.

Soil organic matter

When soil organic matter is high, soils can benefit from improved structure, aeration, water retention and drainage. Vital nutrients such as phosphorous, potassium, sulphur, and nitrogen will also be available to pasture. Microbial activity is also supported, helping to decompose organic matter and provide nutrients to plants.

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With high micronutrients available, pasture establishes stronger and deeper roots to increase organisms. This creates a positive loop of optimal pasture yield, with healthy plants feeding organisms that produce more organic matter, which helps soil retain nutrients and improve water retention.

Soil structure

Good soil structure improves water infiltration and retention, ensuring pasture receives the moisture it needs to grow productively. When water can filter through effectively, this can help to distribute nutrients and improve soil health.

If soil is compacted, however, water struggles to flow through the structure and waterlogging can occur. Root growth and air movement are also stunted by compaction. Soil with a poor structure is also vulnerable to wind erosion, causing vital topsoil to be lost.

You can maintain a healthy soil structure by keeping it covered with grass and clover and carefully managing cultivation. Herd movement should be controlled when pasture is waterlogged.

Productive pasture options

Germinal’s highly productive Aber High Sugar Grasses can be combined with DoubleRoot hybrid clovers that grow above and below ground to improve soil structure, reduce erosion and provide a natural source of nitrogen to reduce your input costs.

Submit the contact form to transform your pasture.