A Michigan Soil Health Progress Report developed by Michigan State University Extension educators is now available for farmers, agribusinesses, agency personal and crop advisors to assist in assessing and tracking soil health on their farms. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA NRCS), soil health is defined as “the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals and humans.” Heathy soils are productive and the foundation of any farm. For farmers wishing to improve soil health on their farms, it is important to take measurements and establish baselines. This can be done using a combination of laboratory analysis and visual observations to build their knowledge base.
The Michigan Soil Health Progress Report will assist farmers and their advisors asses the health of the soil using biological and physical indicators. The indicators include soil structure, biological activity, erosion, soil test organic matter, soil compaction, plant health, residue, infiltration and water holding capacity. The tool includes instructions and an in-field recording sheet. Farmers are encouraged to us the in-field recording sheet each year. Using the progress report and recording values annually can serve as a guide to evaluate soil health changes over time.
Getting into fields with a spade and getting familiar with the soil profile and doing the visual assessments is a good way for farmers to evaluate management. This might include tillage systems, nutrient management, cover crops, detecting problem spots or reinforcing current practices.
Using the Michigan Soil Health Progress Report is just one tool to help track soil health over time. This simple in-field tool and recording observations, along with laboratory analysis, can assist farmers improve knowledge of their soils and how the management decisions impact soil health and function on a specific field over time.