Two thirds of UK soils deficient in key nutrients, survey shows

NRM’s annual national soil summary points to nutrient deficiencies across two thirds of UK soils
NRM’s annual national soil summary points to nutrient deficiencies across two thirds of UK soils

Two thirds of soils in the UK are deficient in key nutrients, continuing a trend of almost 30 years, a new survey has shown.

NRM, a provider of soil analysis, has published its annual summary report for 2021-2022, with consolidated data from thousands of soil samples across the UK.

Results show that the majority of soils in the country are deficient in magnesium, phosphorus and potassium.

One key finding was that wheat crops had almost 10% less nitrogen and a quarter less phosphorus in spring 2022 than in 2021.

This year’s soil summary includes data from soil samples collected between June 2021 and May 2022.

The survey aims to help farmers understand current nutrients status, benchmark against other farms with current data, and improve soil health to optimise crop production.

Sajjad Awan, agronomy manager at NRM, said: "We had a colder and drier spring in 2022, which prevented soil mineralisation, a necessary process that allows nutrients to be taken up by the crop.

"The situation was made even worse due to the soil moisture deficit during the hot and dry summer, which was then exacerbated by rapid crop growth.

"This is why crops couldn’t take up all they needed to thrive."

He said it was important to keep an eye on weather conditions throughout the year, as farmers might need to make quick decisions to improve crop performance.

For the first time, NRM has also published consolidated data on plant tissue and grain gathered from its CropCheck and GrainCheck analysis services.

This aims to help farmers optimise production and form a fuller view of how their soils and crops are doing.

CropCheck measures the nutrients cereal crops contain at key growth stages that coincide with the fertiliser application window.

GrainCheck measures the nutrient levels in grain, which helps farmers calculate the actual crop offtake at harvest.

Mr Awan said there were some fascinating trends already, demonstrating the importance of analysing throughout the year to adjust plans before it’s too late.

"Not only does this help crop performance, but it also improves nutrient use efficiency. This helps protect our planet by reducing nitrate and phosphate losses to the environment."