Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Improved soil management giving improved yields

Another successful workshop for Welland farmers today, supported by the Welland Valley Partnership and the Campaign for the Farmed Environment.  Here's a guest blog from the Allerton Project's Jim Egan who organised the event - 

The line-up of speakers was very varied and I thought I’d share some of the key points I picked up from each one. Allerton Project Director, Alastair Leake kicked the day off by looking at why soil organic matter is important. Soil organic matter:
·         Improves seedbed quality
·         Increases water infiltration
·         Increases Water Holding Capacity
·         Helps keep nutrients available
·         Produces simple nutrients from complex organic molecules
·         Fuels the Carbon Cycle

He also talked about how worms can be a farmer's best friend!

Next up was Ron Stobart who is the Head of Agronomy Knowledge Transfer and Training at NIAB TAG. Ron was given the task of talking about rotations and how this can influence soil organic matter.  It was great to hear about some long term research and gain some new knowledge. Ron reinforced the messages Alastair had delivered. Soil organic matter influences physical, chemical and biological properties including:
·         Improved drainage/workability of heavy soil
·         Improved available water capacity of light soil
·         Improved stability of soil crumbs
·         Assists root exploration
·         Improved nutrient holding capacity
·         Releases nitrogen to plants
·         Encourages earthworms, soil fauna - those worms again!

'Why Grow Cover Crops?' was the topic that Phil Sumption from the Organic Research Centre was given. Apart from re affirming my belief that there is a lot that conventional and organic farmers can learn from each other, here are my key points from Phil’s presentation. Consider growing cover crops to:
·         add nitrogen to the system by fixation
·         prevent leaching
·         modify the availability of nitrogen and other nutrients
·         build soil organic matter and encourage microbial activity
·         prevent soil erosion
·         help with pest, disease and weed control

Last of the formal speakers was Matt Taylor from ADAS who tackled 'Recycling of Organic Materials to Land'. Again lots to learn but my key take home messages were: 
  • Know what you are applying - use laboratory analysis
  • Apply accurately and evenly - if you can use precision application machinery
  • Make best use of nutrients - NPKS costs money but can boost yield which gives a better financial return
After lunch our guests went out with Allerton Project Farm Manager, Phil Jarvis to look at what we are doing here at the Allerton Project.

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