SQUARE Project

29th June 2018

In our blog this week we will be looking at the recent findings of the SQUARE project which stands for Soil Quality Research Assessment Project. The project was run between Teagasc, DAFM, University of Limerick, UCD and Sligo IT. The aim was to access the soil quality and functions across Ireland.

SQUARE Project

Dr David Wall (Teagasc) defined soil quality as a soils ability to provide functions. This was further broken down into the five functions below.

Soil Functions

  1. To support primary function.
  2. To regulate and purify water.
  3. To provide habitat and biodiversity.
  4. Carbon regulation and sequestration.
  5. Nutrient cycling.

As farmers we tend to be most concerned with the soils ability to produce more food however it has a knock-on effect on all other functions also. A well-preforming grassland sward will also be effective with the other functions.

Dr Gulia Bondi (Teagasc) who co-ordinated the project said that "Compaction is the most common and biggest risk to agriculture production and soil function across Ireland"

Due to this the project has developed a new tool for farmers and advisors to assess and score soil structure called GrassVess. Vess (Visual evaluation of soil structure) is a tool that is available and has been used by many tillage farmers to great success but was not suitable to grasslands as it doesn’t deal with the rooting layer of a grass sward. At the end of this blog there is a flowchart to show how to do a GrassVess assessment.

Soil Improvement Programme

As you have read in our previous blogs and know from our Soil Improvement Programme we agree that structure is vital to soils and encourage you to get out with a spade and try this method out.

Something equally important is the biology in your soils and SQUARE looked into all aspects of this within the study fungi, nematodes and of course earthworms.

Earthworms

Dr Olaf Schmidt (UCD) claimed “earthworms are the heroes of our soils” and that intensive grasslands have an almost equal amount of livestock below the ground as above. When paddocks are stocked at 2,000kg liveweight per ha then earthworms were found at similar levels below the ground.

He also stated the multi-species swards that David mentioned in the last blog greatly increased earthworm numbers.

Why are they so important? Dr Schmidt highlighted some key services they carry out for us-

  • 20-40t of worm cast are produced per hectare every year
  • Create 3-10t of organic matter per hectare every year
  • Release 50-190kg of mineral nitrogen into our soils every year
  • Earthworms eat down through the soil improving structure.

Professor John Ryan who has spent his life as a soil scientist summed up the issues very well and put it down to these points

  • We need to correct pH with the use of lime.
  • Make better use of “wastes” such as slurry.
  • Need to see soils for there functions for wider society such as cleaning water and storing carbon.
  • We need to listen to sound science and move forward with that.

The SQUARE project is a great piece of research and we are very excited to hear more of the results going forward. If you have been reading this series of blogs you will know we have highlighted these issues already. If you want more information or want to know how we can address some of the issues with our Soil Improvement Programme please contact us.

GrassVESS

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