Soil Management BAG103

Learn to better manage agricultural soils

Many a farm has greatly increased it's productivity and sustainability by focusing on soil improvement. Better soils grow better crops and better pastures; and in turn, this can have a greater impact than almost anything upon the long term viability of farming.

Without a good soil, everything else on a farm may well fail.

This course gives you a fundamental understanding of soil science and the knowledge to start improving soils on any farm.


Course Duration is 100 hours, approximately.


There are 8 lessons as follows:

    Lesson 1: Physical and Chemical Properties of Soils
    • Understanding Soils
    • Naming the soil
    • What is pH?
    • Nutrient Availability and pH
    • Cation exchange capacity
    • Salinity build-up
    • How soils develop naturally
    • Chemical weathering
    • Minerals and Rocks
    • Types of Rock
    • Understanding compost
    • Indore method
    • 14 day method
    • Sheet composting
    • Worm digester method
    • Trench composting
    • Improving soils
    • Organic matter
    • Nutrition
    • Terminology
    Lesson 2: Soil Test Methods
    • Soil sampling
    • Common Soil Tests
    • Soil Characteristics
    • Determining bulk density
    • Drainage rate
    • Measuring pH
    • Measuring salinity
    • Conductivity and plants
    • Water content of soil
    • Affect of Lime on Soil
    • Laboratory Testing of Soils
    • Understanding Soil analysis
    • Deciding when and how to test
    • Terminology
    Lesson 3: Sustainable Soil Management
    • Organic growing
    • Use of organic principles to help overcome soil problems
    • Natural plant nutrition
    • Organic fertilisers
    • Earthworms
    • Mycorrhizae
    • Vesicular-Arbuscular Mycorrhiza
    • Producing VAM inoculum
    • Mulch
    • Natural Fertilisers
    • Mineral rock fertilisers and soil conditioners
    • Earthworms
    Lesson 4: Soils and Managing Earthworks
    • Earth forming
    • Drainage
    • Improving Drainage
    • Improving infiltration of water
    • Improving surface drainage after construction
    • Provision of sub-surface drains
    • Layout of drains
    • Outlet
    • Gradients
    • Depth of drains
    • Types of drains
    • Surface drainage
    • Terminology
    Lesson 5: Land Degradation and Other Soil Problems
    • What can go wrong
    • Chemical damage
    • Builders rubbish and soils
    • Salinity
    • Overcoming salinity
    • Overcoming dry soils
    • Types of soil degradation
    • Erosion - water and wind
    • Loss of soil fertility
    • Compaction
    • Soil Acidification
    • Physical plant protection
    • Terminology
    Lesson 6: Container Growing
    • Grass and green forage growing
    • Forage production units (grass incubators)
    • Using pots as containers
    • Comparing container materials
    • Soil cleanliness
    • Potting up plants
    • Nutrition Management for Container plants
    • Factors affecting fertiliser application
    Lesson 7: Soil Science and Health
    • Organic carbon
    • Available phosphorus
    • Soil colour
    • Texture and its effect on Plant Growth
    • Structure and its affect on Plant Growth
    • Consistency and its effect on Plant Growth
    • Depth Profile and how it relates to Plant Growth
    • pH and its effect on plant growth
    • Porosity and how it relates to plant growth
    • Profile description - horizons
    • Soil classification and Description
    • Key properties of a selection of different soil groups
    • Factors in soil Formation
    • Climate, biosphere, topography,time, organisms and relief
    • Weathering processes - Physical, Chemical and Geo-chemical
    Lesson 8: Soil Management
    • Nitrogen fixation with legumes
    • The Rhizobium bacteria
    • Main types of legumes used in agriculture
    • Soil Management in Orchards
    • Fertiliser applications
    • Soil covers
    • Soil management in market gardens
    • Crop rotation
    • Fertilisers
    • Soil Management for vegetables
    • Define terms related to the production and management of agricultural soil, such as – manure, micorrhyzae, amelioration, pore space, micro-nutrient, denitrification, ammonium fixation, chemo autrophic organisms, colloids, buffering capacity, leaching, compaction.
    • Create a compost heap;
    • Discuss ways that human activity can destroy soil structure;
    • Explain how pH affects nutrient availability;
    • Explain the function of different nutrients in soils/growing media, such at nitrogen and phosphorus;
    • Analyse a soil test report in order to evaluate the soil for horticultural or agricultural use;
    • Describe appropriate soil testing methods for different situations;
    • Compare the use of organic and inorganic fertilisers in different situations;
    • Develop a detailed nutritional management plan for a particular crop, following organic principles;
    • Identify suitable earth moving equipment for different tasks, and the conditions of use;
    • Explain various methods for assessing drainage at a site;
    • Evaluate the use of earthworks to refurbish or improve a specific site;
    • Research Environmental Protection Agency (or equivalent) recommendations for cleaning up chemical spills and for disposing of old household chemicals and their containers;
    • Discuss advantages and problems of importing soil from elsewhere for crop production;
    • Explain appropriate methods of stabilising an unstable or erosion-prone slope;
    • Remove a soil profile, describe the different soil layers, and compare the effects of different soil treatments on the soil profile;
    • Report on prevention and control methods for soil degradation, and development of sustainable soil management practices in a case study.

    Soils are Complicated

    Soil may to the untrained person seem to be a relatively simple thing. One might think they are either hard or loose; drain well or don't drain, and are fertile or in need of nutrition. All these things are true, but soils are immensely more complicated than that. There are so many different things that interplay with each other to give any soil it's characteristics. Those characteristics then will determine how well a crop or pasture might grow.

    This course will expand your understanding and awareness of soils; and may leave you with more questions than you start with. Being aware enough to know what questions to ask however, is a key part of becoming competent in managing soils in agriculture, or anywhere else for that matter.

    Consider Water Repellence (Hydrophobicity)
    Water repellence affects the wetting of soils and results in an uneven wetting pattern.  In the paddock, patches of wet soil alternate with patches of dry soil which results in the poor germination of crops and pasture.  Water repellent soils require more rain before sowing to thoroughly wet them than non-repellent soils need. This means that seeding may be delayed, reducing the yield potential. 

    Water repellence is caused by a build-up of waxy organic compounds in the soil which come from native vegetation as well as legume crops. Some fungi can also contribute waxy compounds, especially those associated with legume crops.  

    Water repellence can be demonstrated by placing a drop of water on the soil surface of repellent soils. It is advisable to remove a few millimetres from the surface before doing this. If a soil is repellent the droplet will form a bead and not penetrate quickly.  Sandy soils are particularly susceptible to water repellence because particles have a smaller surface area and so are affected by a smaller amount of waxy compound in the soil.

    Water repellence is generally influenced by past management and land use. Susceptible soils may or may not be water repellent depending on the paddock history and the time of the year. The only reliable method of diagnosing soil condition is to assess each paddock with susceptible soils.

    There are two methods:
     Field observations are simple, but the degree of repellence may be strongly influenced by seasonal conditions.  If field observations detect water repellence, a laboratory test is recommended.
     Laboratory tests are the most accurate method, and can be used to monitor change in the medium-term.

    When soils are hydrophobic, an appropriate response may be any of the following:

    • Harvest or collect water runoff and reuse it
    • Sow seeds in furrows where water can collect and have longer to be absorbed.
    • Add soils that are more water absorbent to the site (eg. to cover the hydrophobic layers) 
    • Grow plant species that are better adapted to hydrophobic soils
    • Don't let the soil become completely dry (Completely dry hydrophobic soil is harder to wet)
    • Cultivating in the rain to get moisture mixed deeper (only on some soil types)
    • Lowering surface tension with soil wetting additives
    • Promote decomposition of organic matter (microbial consumption of hydrophobic organic matter)

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