Understanding the role of soil testing in modern agriculture

A bit of a background

The increase of food production across the years has been mainly due to higher yields resulting from greater inputs like fertilizers, water, pesticides, and other technologies of the “green revolution”. But even if those practices led to enormous gains in food and helped improve food security, they also had greater negative impacts on the environment, putting the productivity of the future at risk. Since not so long ago, most agricultural paradigms followed that strategy of high production often to the detriment of the environment. Likewise, many environmental conservation strategies focus only in preserving the environment. Therefore, to achieve global food security and environmental sustainability, the agricultural systems must be transformed to address both.

The need for more precise agriculture

Just like there has been a shift in other sectors, the agricultural industry has changed drastically with the help of the technology over the last few decades. Recent developments in information and data technologies, digital processes and smart solutions have cause substantial impact on the way of farming. Today, modern, smart, or precision agriculture has helped farmers reach a level of profitability that was previously unthinkable and created a vast industry that thrives with strictly calculated return of investment, yield projections and cost reduction. But besides the elevated levels of efficiency achieved by precision farming techniques, it has also helped to create a sustainable attitude to farming, one that is more ethical and environmentally conscious.

As the word says it, precision agriculture is precise. In this way, the crop and the soil only receive the exact amount of inputs (either water, nutrients and fertilizers, herbicides, etc) that are needed, and for that its crucial to test the soil.

A soil test is important for several reasons: to optimize crop production, to protect the environment from contamination by runoff and leaching of excess fertilizers, diagnosis of plant problems, to improve the nutritional balance of the soil and to save money and conserve energy by applying only the amount of fertilizer needed.

Though the agricultural sector is striving for precision agriculture it remains to be out of reach for many farmers globally due to limited land size, lack of machinery or access to field data. Regardless, whether a farmer is focused on high production precision agriculture or runs a small-scale profitable farming business the optimization of management practices because of soil testing remains equally relevant. Knowing the soil nutrient levels of your soil is the first step to mapping soil parameters and precision agriculture.

Why test the soil and what are the advantages of it?

To know the current status of your soil’s health and how to improve it

Physical properties are easier to determine because there are visible to the human eye, for instance soil structure, texture, and colour. Nonetheless, it is difficult to see the chemical composition of the soil like for example soil’s pH, nutrient content, etc. As soil fertility is determined by the soil’s biological, chemical, and physical properties and fertile soils are essential to grow healthy crops, the need for soil diagnosis through sampling is critical. By testing the soil, farmers can make informed decisions about which crops to plant, define the amount and type of fertilizers and how to manage their soil to maximize their yield.

To optimize the level of fertilizer’s use, reduce environmental impact and potentially save money

Knowing the nutrient content of the soil allows farmers to avoid under or over-fertilization. On one hand, under-fertilization can lead to poor plant growth, higher susceptibility to pests and diseases, etc. On the other hand, over-fertilization might result in crop burning, water pollution, nutrient leaching, and irreversible environmental damage. Moreover, the excessive use of fertilizers translates into wasting limited resources such as time and money. Utimately both cases can contribute to severe land degradation processes which are difficult to restore on a short term.

To prevent soil depletion

Land degradation and soil depletion represent a real and increasing global threat. Every year 12 million hectares of land are degraded, affecting the livelihood and health of around 1.5 billion people. This occurs mainly because of unsustainable soil management practices that lead to loss of soil organic matter, nutrient imbalance, soil erosion, etc. By considering that soil restoration is not an effortless process, improving the management of the soil by testing it, appears as a feasible and effective solution.

To ensure fertile soils to feed the world’s growing population

Today more than ever there is a need to ensure healthy and fertile soils that can sustain high yields to feed a growing population. As mentioned previously, fertile soils are the only ones capable of supporting different crops (by providing the right amount of nutrients and water) and achieve high yields, good quality, build resilience against climate impact and potentially help to solve food insecurity issues. Soil testing is therefore, the first step to improve soil management, because it will eventually lead to a healthy soil, healthy crop and increase food production.

Analysing soil samples, understanding the needs of soils, and making informed decisions have always been key actions for farmers. Therefore, at AgroCares we ask ourselves how we can push forward the smart farming technologies and get better results in soil testing. We strive to support farmers and advisors to make informed decisions with our SoilCares services that are created with diverse data management solutions.

Contact our team to discuss about the advantages of soil testing and learn more about SoilCares!