Soil management is an important part of pasture management. Pastures and grazing should be managed to promote ground cover and good root growth. Both are important to soil fertility and protecting the soil. To do this, producers need to understand the soils within their production system and develop a soil management and grazing plan to accommodate the environmental and enterprise requirements.
The properties and management requirements of a soil will largely depend upon the soil texture. This refers to the size of the particles that make up the soil. Large particles are known as sand and fine particles are known as clay.
Soil texture influences soil nutrient and water holding potential. Clay and clay loam soils will have a greater propensity to hold water and nutrients than sandy loams and sand at the other end of the scale. To maintain good ground cover and root growth, different soil types under different environmental conditions will require different fertiliser and grazing regimes. For example, the strategic application of fertiliser may be more critical in sandy soils where nutrients move more quickly out of the soil than in clay soils.
Soil structure describes the way the particles that define the soil texture aggregate and interact. Both the soil structure and texture influence the ability of the soil to support a healthy pasture by affecting the availability of water, air and nutrients to plants.
While there is little that a producer can do to change soil texture, soil structure is influenced by:
- Farming and grazing practices, as well as soil applications (such as the use of gypsum), which in turn affects production.
- The amount of organic matter within the soil. Organic matter improves soil nutrient and water holding characteristics as well as infiltration and drainage. This also reduces the susceptibility of soils to erosion.
- Minimum and no-till farming, which leaves the soil relatively undisturbed.
- Vigorous plant growth and the maintenance of ground cover through strategic grazing. This helps improve soil structure by contributing to surface organic matter and encouraging root growth.
- Good soil structure will promote a productive soil nutrient profile. Consequently, the strategic application of fertiliser will increase production in the short-term by meeting the immediate needs of improved pastures. It will also provide long-term benefits through improved soil structure.