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Five ways to check your soil condition

13 May 2021

Healthy soils are fundamental to ensuring productivity and sustainability on‑farm – and winter through spring is a good time to have a look in the paddock to see what’s happening.

Producers can access practical tips to maximise their soil health and drive pasture performance with a new, three‑part video series.

The Visual indicators of soil condition videos are available on MLA’s healthy soils hub. They are presented by Southern Farming Systems research and extension officer, Jess Brogden.

Each episode focuses on a different aspect of soil management:

  • soil health in the paddock
  • plants and pasture
  • soil surface and clover roots.

The first episode of the series provides producers with simple strategies to identify soil condition in pasture paddocks.

According to Jess, the five key visual indicators of soil condition in the paddock include:

1. Dark green urine patches and paler green pasture

Green patches of high grass growth and other, paler green patches with shorter growth in a paddock are likely to be urine patches. Urine contains high amounts of nitrogen potassium and some sulphur, which increases plant growth.

2. Increased pasture growth around dung

Increased pasture growth around manure pats and shorter paler growth elsewhere is a sign of a nutrient deficiency or selective grazing, as stock will avoid pasture near dung for up to three months while odour remains

3. Yellowing or paler green pastures

Sometimes pastures will look yellow or pale green across the whole paddock or in large areas. This could be due to:

  • a deficiency in potassium nitrogen, sulphur or trace elements like molybdenum
  • waterlogging
  • winter grass flowering
  • plants dying due to insect attack.

If this is a nutrient problem, there will be an abundance of low fertility weeds such as onion grass, silver grass and sorrel, and an absence of high fertility weeds – which may include capeweed, barley grass and marshmallow – in these areas.

4. Increased growth and high fertility weeds around stock camps

Nutrients are concentrated in the areas where stock congregate and therefore high fertility weeds are likely to be present in these areas.

5. Patchy growth

It's worth investigating areas with patchy growth or where plants that were previously established are dying out – use soil testing to determine the reasons for poor pasture.

Jess said the best time to look for signs of nutrient deficiency in pastures is in the late winter or spring, when some nutrients may have been used up due to wet conditions and nutrient demands by plants are increasing.

It’s also important to note that if pasture has adequate nutrition, the grass present will grow fatter and longer leaves, not more leaves.