Identifying barriers to routine soil testing within beef and sheep farming systems

Jennifer M. Rhymes, Sophie Wynne-Jones, A. Prysor Williams, Ian M. Harris, Duncan Rose, David R. Chadwick, David L. Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Soil testing in agriculture is associated with many economic and environmental benefits. However, previous studies have shown that a significant proportion of beef and sheep farmers in the UK do not carry out standard soil index testing (pH, available Mg, P and K); with much fewer again carrying out more extensive soil tests (e.g., organic matter, micronutrients). This study identifies barriers and motivations to soil testing amongst the beef and sheep sector, using a combination of farmer surveys, expert interviews, and a 5-year soil testing dataset from the largest commercial UK soil testing laboratory. Evidence for differences in the adoption of soil tests by beef and sheep farmers compared to the arable and dairy sectors is explained in relation to: (1) the extent of soil pH and nutrient imbalances, linking to the intensity of management in the different sectors; and (2) the extent to which farmers perceive links between their soils and their outputs (profits, yield, livestock health). We show a greater likelihood for farmers to engage with soil testing when the links to declining outputs are clearer. Our results showed that beef and sheep farmers who did engage with soil testing showed greater levels of innovation and were more likely to seek advisory support, most often associated with larger farm sizes. Our data also highlights the importance of an output-driven approach to initiate an interest in soil analyses amongst less engaged farmers. We argue that this avenue offers greater potential for enhancement of farmers’ knowledge of the soil system than a primarily regulatory-driven approach, where soil testing becomes a compulsory action but does not lead to subsequent improvements in farm management.

Original languageEnglish
Article number115298
JournalGeoderma
Volume404
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2021

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