Sunday, 15 June 2014

Advice by the spadeful

At the same time as pressure to improve water quality to meet Water Framework Directive targets, the risk of declining crop yields associated with soil compaction, nutrient imbalance and competition from grass weeds highlights the common ground between environmental and economic objectives for farm businesses.  We are working with farmers in the Water Friendly Farming project catchments to provide them with information and advice that they can combine with their own experience to improve soil and nutrient management to benefit both the bottom line, and the water quality at the bottom of the catchment.  There is also much that we can learn from the farmers involved. There is no quick easy fix, but the process is now underway, and we will be sharing the results with the rest of the local farming community through our events at Loddington and through the Welland Valley Partnership.  More widely, our experience will feed into advice provision across the country, through our links with the FWAG Association and LEAF for example.

A spadeful of soil is a tangible focus for discussion about soil management
The issues that are identified on our local farms are typical of those found on others across the country and include excessive runoff, surface capping and sub-surface soil pans associated with previous tillage operations.  Anaerobic conditions associated with compaction restrict biological activity that is essential for breakdown of buried crop residues, and for the development of the soil microbial communities that improve infiltration and availability of nutrients and water to plants.  In addressing these issues, local farmers can benefit from the results of our own research carried out at Loddington by Allerton Project staff and our research partners, combined with the considerable experience from other sites that is brought to us by independent specialists.

Low (left) and high (right) P fields on WFF project farms
Soil nutrient maps created by Soilquest provide a clear indication of variability of nutrients across fields and help to guide efficient use of valuable inputs such as Phosphorus.  Soil pH and other nutrients such as Magnesium also influence the availability of Phosphorus to crops and maps of these will further inform management decisions that optimise crop performance in the field while minimising loss of nutrients to watercourses.

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