"Environmental and economic performance and sustainability of pastoral and cropping farms can be greatly influenced by soil quality. The Visual Soil Assessment method (VSA) described in the Field Guide provides land managers and environmental authorities with a simple tool to assess and monitor soil quality and pasture and crop performance. Visual soil properties are diagnostic of soil quality, and provide an effective and immediate way to assess soil quality quickly and cheaply in the field.
VSA brings alive the study of the soil and plant sciences by presenting graphic images of soil, pasture, and crops in good, moderate and poor condition, and the effects of soil condition on plant performance.
VSA is based on the visual scoring of key bio-physical indicators of soil quality, and incorporated on an easy-to-use scorecard. The soil indicators are supported by plant performance indicators that link soil condition to the performance of the pasture/crop and farm management practices. In addition to assessing the condition of the soil and the performance of the plant, the VSA includes three environmental scorecards that help to assess the environmental footprint of a farm and its farming practices. The first scorecard addresses the potential for nutrient loss into the groundwater and waterways and whether a farm is likely to be a low, moderate or high emitter of nutrients. The second scorecard addresses carbon sequestration and whether a farm (or a field) is likely to be C positive, neutral or negative, and therefore in a position to claim C credits or pay C taxes. The third scorecard assesses the potential of a farm to be a low, moderate or high emitter of greenhouse gases.The soil indicators are underpinned by extensive research and are linked to economic and environmental performance and sustainability. Soil indicators used are generic, and their interpretation has the advantage of being largely independent of soil type. This allows the VSA to be applied anywhere.
The VSA Field Guide is self-explanatory, and its use does not require special training or technical skills. While the Field Guides contains a wealth of information about soil quality and plant performance, and their fundamental importance to sustainable resource and environmental management, the information is expressed in a simple and concise way, and provides a useful educational tool. The VSA method also provides a framework that allows laypeople with little or no understanding of soil science or agronomy to assess the condition of their underground economy and plant performance almost as successfully as an expert.
For farmers, the VSA provides a practical farming guide, linking soil, plant, animal health, and environmental performance to farm management practices. The books also provide agricultural scientists, farm advisors, consultants, and regulatory authorities with a useful reference document on soil-plant-animal interrelationships and environmental management.
Confucius said “the best fertilizer for any soil is the footsteps of the farmer”. Spending time observing your soil, pasture, crop, weeds, insects, disease and the farm animals is the art of smart farming. The medical profession make their initial diagnosis of patients based on visual symptoms; we can apply the same principle to the farm.
Seeing is believing. Pick up a spade, and have a go!"