This enterprising idea came from the Canadian Soil Association as a #soilmyundies challenge but is more than just a bit of fun. Biologically active soils grow better grass for beef and dairy herds because microbes and earthworms help to break down plant and animal matter which releases essential nutrients. Worms also bring nutrients up to the soil surface, where they are more available for grass growth. Their burrows create pores, improving aeration and drainage which makes for more fertile soil.
Soil structure can be destroyed by livestock out-wintering and excessive machinery movement, which close up the beneficial open-spaces. Ploughing also reduces the number of useful earthworms by breaking up their burrows.
The experiment highlighted this effect; a recently ploughed and seeded field revealed relatively intact underpants, indicating low activity and poor soil health. This contrasted with fields receiving a healthy dose of farmyard manure, which had excellent activity and produced heavily degraded pants.
Mike Harvey and his brother Christopher manage Middle Tregerest, a 120-hectare dairy farm in West Cornwall. They milk 150 Holstein-Friesians and also produce beef. The livestock relies on 80 hectares of grazing and silage pastures and Mike attributes their business success to a plentiful supply of good quality grass for grazing and silage. "A fertile and healthy soil is an essential part of our farm management. Looking at these pants I get the impression that there is plenty of action going on down below in our fields! In recent years we have been ably assisted by FACTs qualified adviser Jan from Cornwall Wildlife Trust who has carried out soil analysis for the farm. Recently she has provided much-needed help and advice on nutrient management planning and is helping us to comply with the new Nitrate Vulnerable Zone regulations for all of the Drift reservoir catchment area; a service which has been much appreciated by many farmers involved."