Standing at the top of steeply sloping Wootton Downs field on East Wick Farm near Marlborough, you would think the flatter Bunnies field below was much less at risk of soil erosion.
But the visual picture gives a skewed measure of the real situation.
Farmer Richard Butler was one of the first to attend a soil plan workshop, after which he calculated a score of 14 (moderate risk) for the steeper, clay loam field and 18 (high risk) for the sandy loam in Bunnies.
He picked one crop option for the former and two plus a long-term fix for the latter.
“We haven’t changed our cropping plans, but we have modified cultivations and altered the timing of various field operations to reduce the risk of runoff.
The field assessment showed we needed to subsoil to relieve compaction in Bunnies, and we have planted a buffer strip beside the wood.”
Part of the mixed farm’s 688ha (1700 acres) of rolling Wiltshire countryside has recently been accepted under the Entry Level Stewardship scheme.
Mr Butler and his son, David, had first to address serious soil erosion. Clover ground, 10ha (25 acres) opposite their dairy enterprise and close to housing, scores 19 on the risk scale.
“We knew we had a problem when several years ago just after planting maize, 2in of rain fell in an hour and washed tonnes of soil on to the road.
We established trees in the bottom corner, a grass buffer all around and repositioned the gate further up the field.
We now grow rape on this field because it is a much lower risk than maize.”
Regular use of a spade to check for plough pans and capping helps Mr Butler decide whether to subsoil before ploughing or minimally cultivating.
As a local contractor to other farms, he is fortunate in having all types of equipment.
While he would rather use min-till, he realises it is no good saving money if it costs him in yield.
“We are often stretched with the machinery, so we have to ‘block crop’ to some extent.
But we know we must choose the most suitable cultivations for the field in question, it maximises yield potential and shows due diligence.
Actually, having environmental features can reduce the workload, and it brings us an income under ELS.”