Agroscope, BFH-HAFL

Will we in Switzerland be reaching for the spade once again to assess soil structure?

Three widely used and newly revised approaches that optimally complement each other are available to practitioners, trainers and educators. Videos and apps have been designed to facilitate their use.

The monitoring of soils and their quality by farmers is an important means of checking and adjusting management and preventing damage. Spade tests are ideal because they can be carried out quickly, independently and inexpensively. Many different methods have been used and taught in Switzerland to date. Now, not only have the VESS and SubVESS international methods been revised and translated into the Swiss national languages, but several existing national methods have also been harmonised and improved under the already familiar name SoilDoc.

Topsoil and subsoil structure differ in quality

The new versions of the VESS methods are called VESS2020 for topsoil and SpadeSubVESS for subsoil, and take into account the fact that the quality of soil structure differs in the two depths. Each method is based on an illustrated table that expresses the structural quality of the soil in an overall score between 1 and 5. On the base of this score, comparisons between plots, years, etc. can be made. Thanks to its condensed presentation on only one A4 page, an assessment can be carried out very quickly and easily.

In SoilDoc, various parameters affecting soil surface and the internal structure of the soil can be observed and assessed independently of each other, with illustrative examples and explanations in separate documents facilitating the approach. An assessment sheet helps to draw conclusions and identify appropriate measures. Observations for the individual parameters are recorded simply via tick boxes, so conclusions can be retraced at a later stage. This format is also helpful for novices, as it directs their attention to specific details of the soil structure.

Instructional videos and mobile apps as learning aids for spade sampling methods

Depending on the issue and available time, one of the approaches (i.e. VESS2020/ SpadeSubVESS or SoilDoc) will be more suitable, or they can be combined. All approaches are supported by tools to facilitate understanding and self-learning. Instructional videos and mobile apps guide the users step by step through the assessment.

The emerging societal interest in soil structure and the modernisation of spade sampling methods will contribute to a renewed emphasis on soil observation in the training of farmers.



  • A healthy soil structure is an important starting point for successful agricultural production.
  • A spade sample is easy and inexpensive to carry out. Individuals can therefore use it to gain an idea of the condition of the soil beneath their feet, without the need for expensive equipment and complex expertise.
  • The newly revised VESS2020/SpadeSubVESS and SoilDoc approaches provide optimal support for quickly learning about and carrying out spade sampling. Depending on the issue, one of the approaches or a combination of the two is suitable.
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