Institute for Soil Conservation and Sustainable Agriculture

Institute for Soil Conservation
Sustainable Agriculture

Analysis - Consulting - Training

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The increase of inundations develops more and more into a threat of life quality in Europe. However, what unfortunately finds little entrance in the media discussion is the fact that not only the sealing for settlement and traffic areas or possible climate changes are responsible for increasing flood events but - in a large extent - also the reduced water infiltration, storage and filter capability of our soils suffering more and more strongly compaction through an intensive agriculture and forestry.

The increasing susceptibility of soils in Europe for compaction and erosion shows syndromes of soil degradation which cause enormous macroeconomic costs and must be termed as a serious threat for the maintenance of life quality.

Many statements in science and in policy summarise the urgent necessity of research to step further in combating soil degradation. Soils fulfil substantial functions for production, landscape balance and social life quality. Soils degrade, if the balance between the soil functions is disturbed. Therefore, different forms of land use must be able to ensure maintenance of soil functions on a long-term basis, in order to be sustainable. >Literature

Zero tillage is currently high recommanded for soil conservation. The increasing amount of earthworms is statet to be a sign of good soil structure. But: Earthworms often feel very well in amazingly compacted soils and therefore aren't in every case a serious indicator for healthy and well balanced soil functions.
Macro pores surrounded from compacted soil structure - as it has been found often with zero tillage - can implicate endangerment of groundwater due to the fast, unfiltered flow of agochemicals with percolation water.
The buffer and filter function (regulation function) of soil is sufficient only with a healthy non compacted crumbly structure. The question if soil structure ensures enough filtering capacity can only be answered by an qualitative soil structure analysis.
> Literature

For an ecologically and economically long-term balanced productivity and maintenance of soil functions for agricultural productivity and social and ecological life quality, the living space and regulation function of soils must be taken strongly more into account. To document the effects of soil and land management systems on ecological soil functions, sensitive indicators and economic suitable scientific methods have to be defined, which are able to show the influence of management systems on soil vitality. These indicators and the methods, which serve the examination, must react sufficient sensitively to changes of management practice, in order to point out changes in soil quality as early as possible.

The specification of limiting-, task-, or reference-values for soil conservation presupposes that these also can be checked by a corresponding measuring. The costs of the administration and control effort are a general problem at the fixing of limiting values. Especially at the problem of soil compaction and structure degradation, till now, usable measuring techniques with real evidence about structure conditions aren't applied for general data collection.

With regard to the on-site and off-site symptoms of soil degradation in Europe as there are: erosion, compaction, increasing fertilizer and plant protective substance effort, decreasing plant health, decreasing soil fertility, floods and endangerment of soil water recharge and quality - chief attention has to be given to the condition of soil structure because of its close connections to water circulation, soil life activity, transformation capacity and aggregate stability. If the structure of our soils is in good condition, the symptoms described above - which threaten production and life-quality - are reduced decidedly and high costs can be saved.

The good suitability of a structure examination for the judgement of management measures has been documented and confirmed repeatedly by soil experts and farmers. Some years ago the field method "Spadediagnosis" has been rediscovered and further developed for scientific use in a recent study.
In this research paper the proposal is made to use soil structure as indicator for sound soil functions because of its close connections to water circulation, soil life activity and transformation capacity. With the Improved Spade Diagnosis a methodology has been presented, which combines new structure evaluation schemes developed on current knowledge about sound soil structure conditions and their connection to soil functions and measurement of common soil structure parameters. >Literature<

2001 the independent Institute for Soil Conservation and Sustainable Agriculture, was founded at Mainz, Germany, - offering analysis, Consulting and training in soil evaluation and management by means of Improved Spade Diagnosis. Much of practical experience with ISD has been gained since 1996 with analysis, Consulting and training work for the Food Industry, Universities, Advisory Services, Development Projects etc..

In the context of the EU-SCAPE Project (Soil Conservation and Protection for Europe) guidelines for the recommendation of soil examination methods (Guidelines for soil assessment) are in preparation which shall standardize and facilitate the collection of soil data. A guideline for qualitative soil assessment by means of Improved Spade Diagnosis as a simple, practical and economic method has been worked out by the Institute of Soil Conservation and Sustainable Agriculture in commission of EU-SCAPE-Project and will be available in 2006.

With the toolkit for farmer a short brochure is available wich includes clear and easy description of methodology for practice, including CD-Rom with interpretation aid and example pictures. You can order it here.

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Soil compaction

Soil compaction

biological activity in soil

Soil analysis

Structure analysis

compacted soil structure

conservation tillage



soil tilth




Qualitative Analysis of Soil Structure

Demonstration of field conditions in matrix of soil quality

"good" = Soil functions in well condition

"need for action" = Soil functions disturbed

Soil structure field evaluation

As an indicator for a sustainable soil management which aims at
  • combating erosion,
  • flood prevention,
  • avoiding compaction,
  • protecting water quality,
  • improvement of soil fertility,
  • support of plant health and quality
  • reducing expense of mineral manure and plant protection

chief attention has to be given to the condition of soil structure because of its close connection to water circulation, soil life activity, transformation capacity and aggregate stability.

The good suitability of a structure examination for the judgement of management measures has been documented and confirmed repeatedly by soil experts and farmers.

As part of the methodology of "Extended Spade Diagnosis" (ESD) 2003, a standardized scientific version of soil structure evaluation has been presented by BESTE. This evaluation scheme has gained much international appreciation due to its application in scientific projects or Consulting work.> Literature

For the EU-Project SCAPE a "Guideline for Simple Soil Quality Assessment" shortly published by the has been worked out by Joint Research Centre (JRC) of EU in Ispra, Italy.

For Farmers there has been written a Toolkit for qualutative soil analysis wich can be ordered here.

Qualitative Analysis of Soil Structure

... with Structure evaluation

Compacted Soil Structure  
Compacted Soil Structure

Compacted Soil Structure, magnified  
Compacted Soil Structure, magnified
Loose Soil Structure
Loose Soil Structure

Loose Soil Structure, magnified  
Loose Soil Structure, magnified

Grobporen bei Minimalbodenbearbeitung

Macropores in a compact soil matrix - Filtering and storage-capacity are disturbed.

schwammartige Bodenstruktur

Sponge like soil structure - Filtering and storage capacity in optimum.

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Soil Structure Evaluation by BESTE

To facilitate soil structure evaluation a special description of soil characteristics basing of current research knowledge about ecological soil functions has been developed.
see literature: BESTE, A. 2004
For Farmers there has been written a Toolkit for qualutative soil analysis wich also shortly will be published by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of EU in Ispra, Italy.
  • The structure evaluation is soil type specific (clay-, loam-, and sandy soils)
  • The evaluation of structure quality is not based on the measurement of physical and spatial parameters (e.g. amount and dimension of pores or lumbricid hollows) but on the difference between the existing visible state of structure arrangement and the given description of task value.
  • The task value is given by a pictorially described optimum state of structure closely related to the requirement on soil functions. This facilitates the decision in marking different qualities of soil structure also for non professionals and it is less time consuming as well.
  • The task value (structure mark 5) puts the main emphasis on a soil morphology, which stands for high biological activity and a sound regulation function.
  • The vertical graduation in structure marks takes the soil stratigraphy and typical habitat layering of soil biota as well as the influence of agricultural soil treatment (especially tillage) into account.

Soil structure analysis is importand to evaluate the soil impact of no-till-management.
The minimum cultivation - also called no till or direct seeding - is defined as "management without any cultivation since the last harvest. Disk-machines open seeding-slits, into which the seeds are put down. Then they are covered with soil. Weedcontrol is mainly done with chemicals" (PHILLPIPS/PHILLIPS 1984).
This technology is recommended frequently as means against soil erosion and compaction, but brings however a partially strong increase of weeds as well as the desease- and pest- pressure. With minimum cultivation frequently as favourably stated large number of vertical macropores, which are produced by earthworms, increased the water absorption capacity, but however are nearly always accompanied with compact structure and increased bulk density and/or increased penetration resistance.
If the soil is compacted metabolism decreases, nitrogen will be fixed, surface flew and erosion start and the existing water in the pores is not available for the plant because of the high water tension in the fine pores.
If a compacted soil matrix is only passed through by vertical earth worm aisles but doesn't show a network like pore system (like a sponge structure), water is percolating very fast and unfiltered and groundwater quality is endangered - even particularly if high amounts of agrochemicals are applied. Storage and filtering function can be disturbed.

Penetration resistance will not show if soil is compacted with a wet loamy soil. Bulk density will not show structure quality because it does not differenciate between macropores in a compact soil matrix or a sponge like structure.

For that qualitative structure analysis is urgently needed to evaluate the impact of management practices on soil.


Qualitative Analysis of Soil Structure

... with the simple Test of Aggregate Stability

Types of Soil Fragments

Crumbly Aggregate, magnified 8 times  
Crumble (3-5 mm) magnified 8 times,
porose "swamb-structure"

Crumble, magnified 20 times  
Crumble, magnified 20 times -
many holows and pores are visible.
Soil organisms have living spaces.

Polyeder, magnified 8 times
Polyeder (3-5 mm), magnified 8 times.
Compacted! Like concrete.

Polyeder, magnified 20 times  
Polyeder, magnified 20 times - no pores visible. Living space and metabolism is reduced.
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Silting TestTeste of Aggregate Stability for loamy soils

The methodology of aggregate stability test, which is introduced with ESD, goes back on an idea of SEKERA/BRUNNER (1943).

The bowl method, referring BESTE (2003) represents a further developement of this methodology. The test has been standardised using a silting evaluation with verbally defined, soil type specific silting images.

see literature: BESTE, A. 2004

Silting Test: Testing Bowl

The main silting grades are defined as 0, 1 and 2.
With those calculation of percentage is done. Highest status of stability obtains 40 (20 cavities x grade 2),
40 x 2 bowls = 80 = 100%.

Compared to other common methods of aggregate stability measurements ("Wet Sieving" by DE LEENHEEER/DE BOODT 1954, KEMPER/ROSENAU 1986 and SCHLICHTING/BLUME 1995; "Percolation Method" by SEKERA/BRUNNER 1943 and BECHER/KAINZ 1983), which request high technical expenditure and intensive preparations of samples the bowl method with silting evaluation offers the following advantages:
  • Less request in sample preparation
  • Facilitation of implementation and imparting of results
  • Less time consuming
  • Simply to learn

Consulting & Training

Agro-Consulting and Training in Soil Conservation
Saving soil functions...
How to make soil fit for climate change...

Consultance and Training in Soil Conservation

Soil Profile

Total Engagment!

Soil analysis training seminar in Finland

Conservation tillage

Soil tillage: Plough  
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- Soil Analysis

- Soil Fertility

- Tillage Management

- Soil Erosion

- Soil Compaction
- Green manure and Intercrops

- Rooting Analysis

- Field Workshops

- Crop Rotation Management

For Example: Soil Analysis in the Field
Various methodologies exist to assess the chemical, physical and biological constitution of soils. Because of the complex interconnection of factors only few aspects of soil quality can be discovered with every examination (e.g.: nutrient availability for plants in chemical soil examination).

Even if efforts are high, scientific investigations only deliver small views of the whole soil system (e.g.: microbiology).

A direct and comprehensive impression of soil quality and health is delivered by the examination of soil structure. With reference to ecological soil vitality, the condition of soil structure represents a complex and sensitive indicator. Water circulation, soil life activity and transformation capacity are interconnected complexly with the state of soil structure.
The practice of the qualitative soil analysis is to dig a 'soil-brick' with a spade out of the field. This soil brick or block is immediately examined concerning the condition of soil structure (loose, medium, dense, possible existence of compaction layers) and other parameters (moisture: dry, less wet, medium-wet, wet).

It is an applicable farmers tool to assess the structure of the soil in a simple way. The comprehensive impression has been proved as very helpful for the judgement of previous management practices (crop-rotations, tillage-treatments...) and appropriate decisions about modifications for future soil management by agricultural consultants and farmers.

Compaction layers of tillage treatment can be located simply.
The rooting quality of intercrops is made visible and gives a vital impression of food supply for the soil live activity as the basis for soil fertility.

The methodology has been scientificly improved by BESTE (2003). The soil structure evaluation scheme facilitates the classification of an actual soil condition in "good" or "need of action".

> Literature
> Analysis