Measuring soil quality in the Wageningen Student Farm

Published on
October 5, 2021

Wageningen Student Farm (WSF) is a community farm run by students on the campus of Wageningen University & Research (WUR). In collaboration with the Soil Science cluster, they set up a long-term soil monitoring scheme. The aim is to link easily measurable parameters to farming practices.

In 2016, five Plant Sciences students decided that they wanted to found a community farm run by students. Around the same time, WUR reserved the Field, an area for projects that try to bridge the gap between science and practice. This area between Dijkgraaf and the Dassenbos soon became the home base of the Wageningen Student Farm.

The students have divided the land they use in different projects, for example creating an intercropping area and a permaculture garden. Behind each project, there is an enthusiastic group of students who plan all the soil and land management that has to be implemented during the year. There is much space for experimentation and trying out many different farming practices. Some examples are cover crops during winter, green manure and different forms of mulching and compost.

Science Team

After a few years of successful vegetable growing and community building, a group of members decided they wanted to acquire more knowledge on their soil and biodiversity. One of the reasons was that there have been many attempts at good soil management, but their effect was never thoroughly assessed. As soil health and biodiversity are important drivers of farming success, more knowledge about them could help improve farming practices. Moreover, the students were eager to connect WSF more strongly to environmental sciences. This resulted in the founding of the Science Team in 2020.

Long-term monitoring

Martina Tosato, one of the Science Team members, laid the foundation for a long-term soil and biodiversity monitoring scheme as part of her internship last year. For the soil part, she took multiple samples at each farming project. Researchers from the Soil Science cluster then analysed those samples in the lab. Among the measured indicators were available N, P and K for nutrient availability and Cd and Zn for pollution. Furthermore, total nutrient concentrations, pH, soil organic carbon and soil bulk density were measured.

Martina obtained some first results that provide a picture of the current soil conditions. However, the measurements scheme has to be repeated over multiple years, to tell something about trends and their connection to farming practices. In collaboration with the Soil Science cluster, the measurements can be turned into a long-term monitoring scheme.