What is a Healthy Soil?

Date published: 04 July 2018

A healthy soil is essential to ensure both high grass and crop yields and allow environmental protection through carbon sequestration.


Soil health can be defined as a -soil's ability to function and sustain plants, animals and humans as part of the earths’ ecosystem. However, due to our relative lack of understanding of soil and the fact that (most of the time) grass and crops grow, the health of the soil is often over looked.

Five main factors impact the health of the soil and influence grass/crop growth and how it functions from a drainage perspective. The five factors are:

  1. Soil structure
  2. Soil chemistry
  3. Organic matter content
  4. Soil biology
  5. Water infiltration, retention and movement through the profile

A healthy soil will have a good combination of all these factors, whilst an unhealthy soil will have a problem with at least one of these. Structural problems such as compaction, plough pans or water-logging will have a knock-on effect on all the other aspects of soil health.

A healthy soil will provide a buffering effect against extremes in temperature and rainfall, reducing the impact of extreme weather events. A healthy soil has plenty of air spaces within it, maintaining aerobic conditions.

When a soil has limited air spaces, anaerobic conditions dominate, leading to waterlogging and stagnation of roots and the proliferation of anaerobic microbes and denitrification (the loss of nitrogen from the system). These soils have a distinct odour or smell when handled.

A healthy soil will filter water slowly, retaining the nutrients and plant protection products applied to the crop. If rainfall moves through the soil profile too quickly or if it is prevented from entering the soil through compaction or soil sealing, surface runoff increases, taking valuable nutrients with it.

To address soil health issues following the long wet winter of 2017-18, CAFRE are organising two Open Days on Sustainable Soil Management on:

  • Tuesday 31 July at Greenmount Campus, Antrim

11.00am to 6.30pm

  • Thursday 2 August at Enniskillen Campus

11.00am to 6.30pm

The open days will feature a guided tour around a series of five stops focusing on:

  • Assessing soil structure and health
  • Avoiding soil compaction
  • Correcting soil damage
  • Soil nutrient management
  • Grass sward improvement

In addition, CAFRE staff will be available to discuss individual soil management issues and relevant trade exhibits will be featured.

Refreshments will be available to purchase at the events.

More information can be found at the CAFRE website.

Notes to editors: 

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