Poor soil health can be farming away the profit

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Farmers at the Northumberland Monitor Farm open day learnt how soil health can have a direct impact on a farm’s profitability.

Soil scientist Dr Liz Stockdale, of Newcastle University, and Donald Dunbar, of Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), gave in-depth talks and demonstrations to farmers on practical soil science and cover crops.

Dr Stockdale demonstrated the different effects of cultivation techniques within the same field and what impact they had on plant growth.

Three soils pits showed that soils which had not been cultivated or compacted for a period of years near the field boundary had a far better structure than those in the compacted gateway and even the centre of the field.

Over-working the field ahead of planting spring beans meant that excess preparation was not resulting in better plant establishment or growth.

Dr Stockdale said: “Big clods forced down by cultivating in the wrong conditions won’t allow roots to penetrate and not only reduce the amount of available soil but, with it, the amount of available nutrients and moisture for the plant.”

Farmers discussed how it was not always necessary to create the ‘perfect’ seedbed for good crop establishment, and it was far better to leave clods to weather down naturally, especially in a crop where a fine tilth was not needed.

Monitor farmer Richard Reed said: “I’ll certainly consider the need for rolling in future. We had 60mm of rain shortly after planting and, as Liz has shown us, what we’ve done hasn’t helped the crop.”

The farmers concluded their discussions by encouraging the Monitor Farm host to try cover crops ahead of spring barley next season.

The Berwick-upon-Tweed Monitor Farm is hosted by Richard Reed, who, with his father, farms a mix of owned, contract farmed land and contracting totalling 1170ha near Berwick-upon-Tweed.

For details on Richard’s farm and to find out about the next meeting, visit cereals.ahdb.org.uk/berwickupontweed or contact Harry Henderson, regional manager Harry.Henderson@ahdb.org.uk