What if there was a simple practice that when implemented regularly would provide opportunities for informed decisions, reduced risks, increased profit, improved confidence and act as an early warning system for unintended consequences arising in your land management system? Monitoring your soil health on a regular basis will provide all of these benefits and yet many land managers struggle to make it a priority to commit to regularly monitoring their soil health.
Here are just a few incentives to encourage you to schedule some time in your calendar every year to monitor your soil health:
Monitoring provides you with an early warning system to pick up unintended consequences
Agricultural ecosystems are not linear in nature, there are many variables interacting which can result in unexpected outcomes arising from our management practices. There are also many factors outside of our control which may mean things don’t always go to plan and that there is never one system or practice that applies everywhere and gives uniform results. Monitoring helps us gauge the effectiveness of the strategies and actions we are taking to regenerate soil health and to ensure these actions are keeping us on track to achieve the outcomes we have in mind in our landscape. In this way monitoring acts as an early warning system so that undesirable trends can be picked up early and actions taken to keep you on track before too much damage is done.
Monitoring helps you make informed decisions
There is no right or wrong decision without the benefit of hindsight which means the best decision is an informed decision based on the most up to date and relevant information you can access at the time. Spending thousands of dollars on the same fertilisers every year without investing a relatively small amount of money on a soil test alongside considering how these inputs are impacting on soil physical and biological health is a common and costly example of an uninformed decision. Spending even more money in an attempt to perfectly balance the numbers on your soil test with inputs alone rather than holistically assessing soil physical health and biological health alongside these chemical indications is another version of a less than informed decision. Soil decisions based on a holistic soil monitoring program which include all aspects of soil health – chemical, physical and biological will provide you with a sound basis for an informed decision.
Monitoring can help to reduce risk
With climatic variability throwing enough extreme challenges at us monitoring and implementing a soil health program helps you to take actions that ensure your management decisions are not increasing the impact of these climatic extremes. Taking informed steps to improve soil health will lead to a more functional water cycle and the improved water infiltration and rainfall use efficiency will create more resilience to withstand the inevitable droughts and flooding rains. Monitoring facilitates the development of a soil health program that is relevant to your landscape and your management which creates a strong likelihood that the money spent is going where it is needed, helping you cut costs and spend money more wisely to generate farm profit. Businesses with less climatic and financial risk will also be more enjoyable for their owners which reduces the risks that increase when the humans in the business are operating in a stressful environment to human health, wellbeing and safety.
Monitoring provides you with clarity on your progress
Degraded farming systems may regenerate gradually and the improvements may be subtle at first. Without digging a hole and gathering reliable data you may not see the signs that indicate whether or not your soil is regenerating as hoped. When we rely on assessing our paddocks by only looking at what we see driving or riding across the landscape our judgements can be coloured by our own attitude and focus at the time. Just as when you are chipping weeds you start to notice these weeds everywhere you look as that is what you are focusing on, when you are focusing on the things that are not working you will see more of these and miss the things that are working. Alternatively an optimistic attitude can blind you to the things that are not ideal. Decisions are clearly influenced by our state of mind so gathering reliable data for decision making can help you be more objective and remove any confirmation bias that may occur.
Monitoring builds your confidence
A lack of confidence often prevents farmers and ranchers from making changes to their practices towards a more regenerative system. A regular practice of monitoring soil health to provide data for more informed decisions along with providing clarity on your progress can boost your confidence to continue along the regenerative path. This data is much more valuable, reliable and relevant for building your confidence in regenerative practices when it is gathered within your own system rather than relying on what happens on other people’s farms as there is no one size fits all, copy and paste approach in agriculture.
Monitoring provides you with valuable data
Monitoring data is a snap shot in time and it becomes more valuable the more it is done. Ongoing monitoring provides useful information on trends and is what creates value for the time spent on this task for your business. A commitment to take action and use the data gathered in your decision making processes is where the rubber hit’s the road.
Monitoring improves profit
A focus on improving soil health is the foundation of improving true profit and climate resilience. For an agricultural business to be truly profitable it must not be degrading the soil resource on which it depends, instead it will be improving soil health on an ongoing basis. Implementing a regular soil monitoring program will facilitate decisions and actions that reward your business with compound interest in your financial, human and natural capital accounts. Soil health is wealth.
Monitoring creates time…
Not having enough time is common excuse for those who haven’t yet decided to make the time to prioritise a soil monitoring program yet monitoring can ultimately help you to prioritise your time better. Running our own business it is easy to get caught up in the day to day activities in the business and neglect to schedule time to work on the business. Yet time spent working on the business has been shown time and time again to lead to amazing benefits on all levels of the business. Business success can be built through implementing monitoring systems where time spent working on the business provides clarity that results in more effective actions and improves the efficiency of time spent working in the business on the day to day activities. Considering time is a non-renewable resource and no one actually has any more time than the standard 24 hours in a day then decisions that helps us to focus that time on actions that create the results we are looking for and that matter most to our success are crucial in making the most of our time every day.
Monitoring is the foundation of the work our team do with our clients as it is an essential practice for continuous improvement and evolving to take your business to the next level.
If you have found a reason to make the time to prioritise a soil monitoring practice but don’t know where to start you might like to get yourself to one of our workshops or contact one of our team to discuss how we can help organise a workshop or a coaching consult. Stay tuned for a future article on how to monitor your soil health.
Without measurement there’s no management!
If you can’t see it… you can’t measure it.
If you can’t measure it… you can’t manage it.
If you can’t manage it… you can’t improve it.
Written by Kim Deans.
Kim is available for coaching to empower you to create a thriving, profitable and regenerative farm business. firstname.lastname@example.org Ph +61 0455 596 464