Managing soil pH is fundamental to the maintenance of crop production. Soil acidification is a major cause of soil degradation across the world. The chemical principles of soil acidification are well understood but changes in atmospheric deposition and climate are constant challenges. The impact of lime on soil respiration and CO2 emissions is also a cause for concern in terms of climate change. It is well known that pH strongly affects both carbon and nitrogen cycling, however, there is significantly less understanding of the effect of pH on soil biology in relation to soil function, particularly the relationships between soil biology, soil health and crop production.
The pH plots at Craibstone have provided land-users and biological/environmental scientists, both in Scotland and worldwide, with a uniquely powerful resource to understand this pivotal role of soil pH in regulating agricultural productivity and environmental pollution. The long-term pH trial in Woodlands Field at SRUC Craibstone near Aberdeen was established in 1961 and investigates the impact of different pH levels (ranging from 4.5 to 7.5 in 0.5 increments) on soil properties and crop performance of an 8 course rotation comprising: 3 year grass/clover ley, winter wheat, potatoes, spring barley, swede and spring oats (undersown with grass/clover). Each crop in the rotation is present every year enabling a comparison of the response of all crop types within the same season. The influence of soil pH on crop yield is available over a 60 year period. More recent studies have explored the influence of soil pH on crop and grass quality. As part of the AHDB Soil Biology and Soil Health partnership we have unique information about the impact of pH on the soil microbiome.
This paper explores the impacts of soil pH on productivity, soil biology and soil health in the Woodlands Field experiment in the light of information from other long-term pH studies across Europe.