How will you know if your land is steadily deteriorating or improving over time? Regular monitoring is the only way to determine the long-term impact of management decisions.
Did your decision to put mobile chicken pens out in the pasture improve the soil, or did you move them too seldom and increase your bare ground? Is your use of cover crops having the desired effect on your vegetable fields? The only way to know is to monitor it! This seems like an obvious solution, and yet monitoring is where most land management plans fall apart! We can’t just assume we were successful – we need to look for the signs that we were.
So what are these signs, and how do we choose to monitor them? The answer to this will be different for every farm. How formal a monitoring program you put into place will depend on time, resources, how much land you have, and how much information you want to collect.
Indicators to monitor include: erosion, number of different types of plants in a given area, amount of bare soil, perennial versus annual plants in a pasture, and signs of wildlife.
There are many possible methods for monitoring these signs. One of the simplest and most informal is to take annual photos at about the same time every year at fixed points around the farm, both looking down at the ground and looking out across the landscape. This, combined with your anecdotal observations from daily work around the farm can give you a very basic picture of how your management is working.
At the other end of the spectrum, some farmers choose to establish transects across each of their fields, which they walk at least once a year, throwing a dart and then collecting data on each of the signs listed above wherever the dart lands.
You can devise a monitoring system that works well for you. The point is just to do it. When it comes to understanding the long-term impact of your management decisions, having some information is better than having none.