How do I assess soil condition?

Soil condition is assessed by examining visual surface characteristics. A stable soil has little evidence of surface disturbance. A healthy soil that has good soil structure will have optimal potential for soil water infiltration and a healthy population of soil microbes to cycle nutrients.

Use this table to determine the soil condition rating of each land type area in your paddocks. Look over the whole area and decide on an average rating. If only a small area of a paddock is disturbed, you might record in the notes where that is and the area’s size. Make the notes simple but descriptive enough so you can refer to them later and see whether changes are occurring over time.

Surface description Soil condition rating Indicators
Stable 1 No visual evidence of soil movement
Slight disturbance 2 Soil slightly disturbed by erosion. Indicators include:

  • Soil surface compaction or crusting
  • Signs of increased surface runoff
  • Signs of increased soil movement by wind or water
  • Cattle tracks affecting water movement
Moderate disturbance 3 Soil moderately affected by erosion. Indicators include:

  • Plant pedestalling occurring
  • Definite signs of sheet or rill erosion
  • Definite signs of soil mounding around obstructions
  • Salt-affected areas occurring
  • Gravel and stone pavements common, having a concrete look
Severe disturbance 4 Soil severely affected by erosion. Indicators include:

  • Any rocks or plants on pedestals
  • Runoff concentrated in channels
  • Prominent sheet, rill or gully erosion to 15cm deep
  • Prominent sand mounds blown against object
  • Vegetated areas isolated in mounds or depressions
  • Scalds, exposed subsoil
  • Gravel and stone pavements prominent
  • Bedrock at the surface
Very severe disturbance 5 Soil very severely affected by erosion. Indicators are as for severely disturbed above, but more extreme.

  • Sheet, rill or gully erosion >15 cm deep