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Visual Soil Evaluation: Realizing Potential Crop Production with Minimum Environmental Impact

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Visual Soil Evaluation (VSE) provides land users and environmental authorities with the tools to assess soil quality for crop performance. This book describes the assessment of the various structural conditions of soil, especially after quality degradation such as compaction, erosion or organic matter loss. Covering a broad range of land types from abandoned peats to prime arable land, this useful handbook assesses yield potential across a range of scales. It also appraises the use of VSE in determining the potential of different land types for carbon storage, greenhouse gas emissions and nutrient leaching, and for diagnosing and rectifying erosion and compaction in soils.

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1:Describing Soil Structures, Rooting and Biological Activity and Recognizing Tillage Effects, Damage and Recovery in Clayey and Sandy Soils

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1  Describing Soil Structures, Rooting

and Biological Activity and Recognizing

Tillage Effects, Damage and Recovery in Clayey and Sandy Soils

Anne Weill1* and Lars J. Munkholm2

Center of Expertise and Technology Transfer in Organic Agriculture and

Local Food Systems (Centre d’expertise et de transfert en agriculture biologique et de proximité – CETAB+), Cégep de Victoriaville, Québec,

Canada; 2Department of Agroecology – Soil Physics and Hydropedology,

Aarhus University, Tjele, Denmark

1

Soil compaction and erosion have emerged as major threats to global agriculture as they negatively affect plant production and have detrimental impacts on the environment. Soil compaction is responsible for decreased crop yield and quality, emissions of greenhouse gases and increased water runoff (Hamza and Anderson, 2005; Ball et al., 2008). Unless severe, it is often unrecognized because plant growth can appear normal, especially when mineral fertilizers are used liberally. The major cropping factors affecting soil compaction are the weight of machinery, poor timing of field operations with respect to soil water content and intensification of crop production. Soil erosion is responsible for losses of soil particles, nutrients and agrochemicals resulting in decreased soil fertility as well as eutrophication of rivers and lakes (Rasouli et al., 2014). Site characteristics (rainfall quantity and intensity, slope and soil texture) have strong effects on soil erosion; in addition, important cropping factors related to soil erosion are crop rotation, percentage soil cover and management practices affecting soil structure and compaction (Pimentel

 

2: Assessing Structural Quality for Crop Performance and for Agronomy (VESS, VSA, SOILpak, Profil Cultural, SubVESS)

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2 

Assessing Structural Quality for Crop

Performance and for Agronomy (VESS,

VSA, SOILpak, Profil Cultural, SubVESS)

Tom Batey,1 Rachel M.L. Guimarães,2* Joséphine Peigné3 and Hubert Boizard4

1

Plant and Soil Science, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Scotland, UK;

2

­Agronomy Department, Federal University of Technology – Paraná, Brazil;

3

ISARA Lyon, Lyon, France; 4INRA, UPR1158 AgroImpact, Péronne, France

2.1  Introduction

The physical properties of a soil are a key factor in evaluating land quality whether for agronomy or for other purposes. Soil structure is an important component of the physical properties.

Its qualities are transient and may be altered by both anthropic and natural events. For example, cultivation, the passage of harvester and trailer wheels, grazing when the soil is wet and intense rainfall can all alter soil structure. Methods to assess the quality of soil structure are therefore important tools in the management of soils.

Such methods should be cost-effective, widely available and the results easily interpreted.

 

3: Reduction of Yield Gaps and Improvement of Ecological Function through Local-to-Global Applications of Visual Soil Assessment

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3 

Reduction of Yield Gaps and

Improvement of Ecological Function through Local-to-Global Applications of Visual Soil Assessment

David C. McKenzie,1* Mansonia A. Pulido Moncada2 and Bruce C. Ball3

1

Soil Management Designs, Orange, Australia; 2Universidad Central de Venezuela, Maracay, Venezuela; 3Scotland’s Rural College, Edinburgh, UK

3.1  Introduction

Although global hunger was reduced in the decade up to 2014, about one in every nine people in the world still had insufficient food for an active and healthy life (FAO et al., 2014). An estimated

25% increase in 2015 population to approximately 9.1 billion people in 2050 will aggravate the shortages of food. This means that the world’s farmers will be expected to boost their outputs, possibly by as much as 60% by 2050

(Fischer et al., 2014), and maintain those improvements indefinitely into the future in our pursuit of ‘food security’.

Food security is defined by the Food and

Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

(FAO et al., 2014) as: ‘A situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life’. Based on this definition, four food security dimensions can be identified: food availability, economic and physical access to food, food utilization and stability over time.

 

4: Visual Evaluation of Grassland and Arable Management Impacts on Soil Quality

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4 

Visual Evaluation of Grassland and Arable Management Impacts on Soil Quality

Lars J. Munkholm1* and Nicholas M. Holden2

Aarhus University, Tjele, Denmark; 2University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland

1

4.1  Introduction

Soil management has a profound influence on soil quality1 through land use, crop rotation, manure spreading, fertilization, irrigation, liming, tillage and traffic. Management effects on soil quality are in many cases complex interactions, and therefore extensive research has been carried out to describe, quantify and understand these effects. Visual soil evaluation (VSE) is one of the tools developed over the last century to specifically evaluate management impact on soil quality.

During the early days of modern farming there was a focus on soil nutrients and mineral fertilizer; however by the mid-20th century

Görbing realized that factors like soil compaction, crusting or drainage also caused poor growth.

Görbing and others recognized that there was a need to supplement assessment of chemical properties with visual assessment of soil structure, root growth and biological activity. His visual assessment spade method (Görbing, 1947) has since been refined by Preuschen (1983), Beste (1999),

 

5: Choosing and Evaluating Soil Improvements by Subsoiling and Compaction Control

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5 

Choosing and Evaluating Soil

Improvements by Subsoiling and Compaction Control

Richard J. Godwin1* and Gordon Spoor2

Harper Adams University, Newport, UK; 2Model Farm, Maulden, UK

1

5.1  Introduction

Soil compaction can seriously affect crop

­production, soil quality and biological activity, and considerable time and energy are often expended in attempts to alleviate it. Problems arise through increased mechanical impedance restricting water availability, root development and air and water movement, increasing the risk of anoxic conditions. Figure 5.1 illustrates how alleviating the compaction layer or pan in a sandy loam soil has transformed the root development of sugarbeet.

The influence of compaction on crop production depends on the thickness, location, macroporosity and moisture status of the compact layer, together with the prevailing weather conditions and soil management techniques.

Compaction can also significantly influence soil infiltration rates and the efficiency of sub-surface drainage. These are important locally at farm level, but also at catchment level through their influence on soil erosion and surface flooding, concerns likely to increase in these times of increasing extremes of weather. Visual soil assessment (VSA) has an important part to play in identifying all such potential problems (Ball et al.,

 

6: Valuing the Neglected: Lessons and Methods from an Organic, Anthropic Soil System in the Outer Hebrides

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6 

Valuing the Neglected: Lessons and

Methods from an Organic, Anthropic Soil

System in the Outer Hebrides

Mary Norton Scherbatskoy,1* Anthony C. Edwards2 and Berwyn L. Williams3

1

Blackland Centre, Grimsay, North Uist, Scotland, UK; 2SRUC,

Craibstone, Aberdeen, Scotland, UK; 3formerly Macaulay

Land Use Research Institute, Aberdeen, Scotland, UK

It is too simple to say that the ‘marginal’ farms of New England were abandoned because they were no longer productive or desirable as living places. They were given up for one very practical reason: they did not lend themselves readily to exploitation by fossil fuel technology . . . Industrial agriculture sticks itself deeper and deeper into a curious paradox: the larger its technology grows in order to ‘feed the world’, the more potentially productive ‘marginal’ land it either ruins or causes to be abandoned.

(Wendell Berry, 1979)

6.1  Introduction

Small-scale abandoned agricultural systems can be found worldwide: throughout Europe (MacDonald et al., 2000; Marini et al., 2011), on American prairie and hill farms (Manning, 1995; Berry,

 

7: Evaluating Land Quality for Carbon Storage, Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Nutrient Leaching

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7 

Evaluating Land Quality for Carbon

Storage, Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Nutrient Leaching

Joanna M. Cloy,1* Bruce C. Ball1 and T. Graham Shepherd2

1

SRUC, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK; 2BioAgriNomics Ltd,

Palmerston North, New Zealand

7.1  Introduction

Recently the importance of good soil structure in mitigating climate change and environmental contamination has been recognized because soil structure influences the storage of carbon (C) sources and sinks of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and cycling of nutrients, which are key soil system processes. This is because the maintenance of soil structure by aggregation, particle transport and formation of soil habitats operates across many spatial scales to regulate water drainage, water retention, air transfer to roots for favourable gas exchange and mineralization of nutrients for release to crop roots (Kibblewhite et al.,

2008; Ball et al., 2013a). For the functions being considered, the most important aspect of soil structure is the soil pore network, which determines the movement of gases, liquids and associated solutes, as well as particulates and organisms, through the soil matrix (Haygarth and Ritz, 2009;

 

8: Soil Structure under Adverse Weather/Climate Conditions

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8 

Soil Structure under Adverse

Weather/Climate Conditions

Rachel M.L. Guimarães,1* Owen Fenton,2

Brian W. Murphy3 and Cássio A. Tormena4

1

Department of Agronomy, Federal University of Technology – Paraná,

Brazil; 2Teagasc, Environmental Research Centre, Johnstown Castle,

Co. Wexford, Ireland; 3Honorary Scientific Fellow with the New South Wales

Office of Environment and Heritage, Cowra, Australia; 4Department of Agronomy, Universidade Estadual de Maringá, Paraná, Brazil

8.1  Introduction

The use of the Earth’s natural resources in a sustainable manner has increased in importance over the past few decades. This is particularly true for soil, with soil degradation likely to continue being a serious problem throughout the

21st century, due to its impact on food security and environment quality (Eswaran et al., 2001).

Soil degrades by losing its actual or potential productivity or its function as a result of natural or anthropogenic factors (Lal, 1997). Soil degradative processes include physical, chemical and biological processes. The most important of the physical processes is the deterioration of soil structure leading to crusting, compaction, erosion, anaerobism, salinization, acidification, decrease in cation exchange capability, leaching, volatilization, nutrient imbalance, reduction in soil biodiversity and a decrease in soil organic carbon. The main degradative processes are

 

9: The Expanding Discipline and Role of Visual Soil Evaluation

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9 

1

The Expanding Discipline and Role of Visual Soil Evaluation

Bruce C. Ball1* and Lars J. Munkholm2

SRUC, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK; 2Aarhus University, Tjele, Denmark

9.1  Introduction

Drawing on the conclusions of previous chapters, our objective here is to show that methods of visual soil evaluation (VSE) are key aids to the management of soils. They can identify and quantify soil degradation, particularly compaction. These methods can be used to monitor soil quality and thus to maintain its cropping potential. We also identify the future roles of VSE in soils and the environment and suggest improvements in the methods to support these roles.

The prominence of the role of soils for food security and environmental sustainability is likely to increase as the area of land available shrinks and the quality of what is left decreases. Soil is basically a non-renewable resource and, with limited scope to bring new land into cultivation, degradation needs to be decreased or negated by conservation and by restoration of prior degraded land (Lal, 2013). New technologies such as genetic modification are restricted in their ability to increase crop yields by limitations in soil water and/or nitrogen supply (Sinclair and Rufty, 2012) and the constraints of photosynthetic efficiency.

 

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