Soil Fertility Assessment for the UBC Farm

Upon completion of this case study, students should be able to:

  1. Characterize the soil chemical environment and its modification to enhance plant, animal and human health.
  2. Describe processes of soil genesis, recognize diagnostic features of natural soils, and relate management practices to information available in soil survey reports.
  3. Discuss the relationship of soil management to government and private sector policies.

The UBC Farm is a 24 hectare student-driven, model farm located on the University of British Columbia's Campus in Vancouver, Canada. The UBC Farm has developed a program that integrates sustainable land management and food production practices with basic and applied research, innovation, education and community outreach. More information on the UBC Farm may be found on its website.

The heart of the UBC Farm’s operation is its market garden, which produces over 200 products. Other enterprises, including free-range poultry, apiculture, tree fruit, beef cattle, berry, herbal tea and truffle production are in various stages of development. Small-scale farming like that at the UBC Farm is an expanding sector of agriculture, especially as new farmers seek to enter agriculture with a relatively low initial investment. Much of the production from farms like this is aimed at the growing organic market. For more information on organic farming practices, please refer to the website of the Certified Organic Association of BC (COABC). The COABC web site is linked to another website intended for farmer training, which also serves as a rich source of background soil management information for this case.

Learning Objectives

  1. Assess the physical attributes of the UBC Farm (including soil, landscape and microclimate) that could be relevant to crop production.
  2. Examine and interpret the historic soil test data for a farm
  3. Sample agricultural soils, prepare for submission to laboratory and indicate the key soil quality variables to be analyzed.


  1. Review sites sampling in the Spring of 2014
  2. Interpret the results of past soil testing at UBC Farm with respect to management effects on soil quality and the Farm’s sustainability.
  3. On-farm site visit: schedule

On-site Sampling Objectives

On-site visit to assess landscape and soils, and discuss the fields sampled, and the farm manager’s interest in those fields and the samples taken in the spring.

Probably the most variable and error-prone step in the soil testing process is in field sampling. The goal is to represent the area to be monitored as accurately as possible and to reduce the possibility of including an anomalous area that could skew the results such that the intended sample population is not fairly represented.

A second requirement for making good use of soil testing as a tool for sustainable management is that sampling protocols be similar from year to year and field to field and that good records are kept to enable easy comparison among fields and identification of trends in the key soil fertility variables. The soil test data available for the UBC Farm can be found on the APBI 402 website and provide us with a starting point for assessing the results of previous sampling and analysis. We will make available upon request a copy of the 1981 BCMAF publication by John Neufeld which contains interpretations tables for most of the methods used by Pacific Soil Analysis Incorporated, the local laboratory used by the UBC Farm to analyze its soil samples.

Research by former Soil Science Masters student, Julia Wagner, indicated that organic farmers (likely true of many conventional farmers as well) appreciate the importance of soil fertility to the success of their farms but lack understanding of the principles and interpretations of soil chemical testing. Hence, the soil tests done to secure or maintain organic certification are not well used to inform management decisions. Your results will definitely be important input for the management of the soils at UBC Farm.

You should familiarize yourself with the biophysical characteristics of the Farm, including the main soil, the Bose series, as described in the publication by H.A. Luttmerding “Soils of the Langley-Vancouver Map Area”, as well as the Soil Management Handbook for the Lower Fraser Valley. Finally, you might want to watch video on UBC Farm soils featuring Dr. Art Bomke.

Guiding Questions

  1. Describe the processes of the formation or genesis of the Bose soil, including the five soil forming factors; parent material, topography, biota, climate and time.
  2. Briefly describe the Bose soil diagnostic features that would be significant for management considerations (e.g. soil texture and Bf horizon).
  3. The soil chemical environment derives from the complex interaction of the soil mineral and organic colloids, weathering processes, vegetation and past management. Given the information for the Bose soil in the above referenced publications, what are important indicators of its chemical conditions for plant growth?

Learning Objectives

  1. Interpret soil test results for UBC Farm fields.
  2. Characterize the soil chemical environment and its modification to enhance plant and human health for the upcoming growing season
  3. Discuss soil management with respect to the Farm’s policy of adhering to organic farming practices.
  4. Recommend soil management practices with emphasis on soil chemical indicators, but including other landscape and soil physical properties that interact with the variables.
  5. Describe the policy environment relevant to soil management at UBC Farm.
  6. Prepare group presentation.

Guiding question

  1. How does the Farm’s policy of adhering to organic practices influence your interpretations of soil test results and the resulting recommendations?


  1. Group presentations and synthesis
  2. Prepare individual reports on learning via the UBC Farm project.
  3. Summary report for the farm – based on combination of top reports (Community Service; +2 bonus marks for those involved).

Post image: UBC Farm. By Dr. Maja Krzic. Used with permission.