The National soil map of Scotland and the Soil map of Scotland (partial cover) provide information on soil types at national and regional scales. The Soil map of Scotland (partial cover) covers the main agricultural areas in more detail. The data these maps provide can give useful background information for agricultural soil management. However, for making decisions on specific management practices you will need to carry out more detailed sampling and analysis.
You can access soil maps for your area through the MAP section of this web page:
You can also access additional information on the soil properties of some of the individual soil series described in these maps from the Soil Map Unit Description Sheets (SMUDS).
Maps have been created that show the capability of land for growing crops, taking into account the soil, climate and where the soil is situated in the landscape. The land is classified taking into account the range of crops a piece of land can grow and how well it could grow them. These maps are available across the country at a national scale and in more detail for the main agricultural areas of Scotland (partial cover).
On a field scale, there are a range of soil properties that will determine what you will be able to grow in your fields including soil texture, structure, organic matter content and chemistry.
You can find out more about these properties and how they affect what you can grow in your fields in the Valuing your Soils booklet which gives practical guidance on how to protect and improve farm soils.
Soils need to have the right pH, balance of nutrients and be in a good structural condition to grow crops efficiently. The best way to find out the pH and nutrient concentrations of your soils is to take soil samples from your fields and have them tested.
A number of accredited laboratories will analyse the soil samples and help with interpretation, including SAC Analytical Services Department and Hutton Soils: soil analysis service (other laboratories are available).
You may need to assess your soil structure to determine compaction and drainage. Soil structure can be assessed visually using the VESS test. The Squelch test can be carried out to work out when to avoid certain farming operations in order to prevent soil compaction.
Soil organic matter is vital for a whole range of reasons. It is probably the most important component of soil because it affects a whole range of other soil properties. A soil organic carbon app (SOCiT) has been developed which allows you to estimate the organic carbon content of your soil.
Soil organisms such as earthworms are also very good for soil. They can improve soil structure by burrowing and moving organic matter through the soil profile. Their burrows also allow water and air to get into the soil. They are useful indicators of biological soil quality – which can be assessed at the same time as the soil structure by taking a spade full of soil and counting the worms!
You can find out more about soil testing and how to take soil samples for different analyses in the Valuing your Soils booklet.
There are a number of approaches that you can use to help keep your soil in good condition and ultimately help you get the most from your land. Keeping your soil in good condition can help protect the wider environment as well.
Soils are at risk from a number of threats including erosion and compaction, and risk maps are being developed. The Valuing your Soils booklet summarises a range of ways to protect your soils, including how to maintain organic matter content, how to prevent erosion and compaction, how to assess fertiliser requirement and how to carry out nutrient budgeting.
Cross compliance includes standards that land managers must meet in order to receive support scheme payments. Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions (GAEC) are a range of standards designed to protect soils, habitats and landscape features on agricultural land. Standards have been developed to prevent soil erosion and to protect soil organic matter content.
Good soil management also helps protect the wider environment, for example, by preventing diffuse water pollution and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. Guidance on how to reduce diffuse pollution risks from agriculture is provided in the Farming and Water Scotland website.
The Farming For A Better Climate initiative works with farmers to find practical ways to reduce the impact of farming on the climate by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting and improving the soil’s carbon store.
Looking after soils can also benefit biodiversity.
There is a wide range of technical notes and guidance providing advice on soil issues:
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