By Olivia Cooper A PASSIONATE INTEREST in soil analysis has turned into a big business for one Yorks farmer.

Gordon Coggrave and his wife Debs, who farm 140ha (350 acres) at Cote Hill, Caldwell, North Yorks, have set up Rootwise, a company supplying ammonium sulphate fertiliser and gypsum to farmers across the country.

They work alongside many big soil analysis companies and have secured rights to a natural supply of gypsum for which they have obtained Soil Association approval for organic use of the product.

Mr Coggrave became interested in soil analysis in the mid-1990s. As crop prices were falling, he examined his input costs and came to the conclusion that the 37-50/ha (15-20/acre) spent on PK fertilisers was not producing yields high enough to warrant the outlay.

A detailed soil analysis revealed that high magnesium and low calcium levels in the soil were adversely affecting soil structure and hindering yields.

Mr Coggrave began analysing soils on many other farms in the region, finding similar problems. With so many farms requiring gypsum, the problem was finding it.

Natural Gypsum:  Ex-industry gypsum was unavailable, leaving expensive, natural gypsum as the only choice. In 2000, Mr Coggrave supplied local farmers with 3000-4000t of the product, at about 30-35/t. The high price was a disincentive, but results were encouraging, he claims.

 “Soils have been noticeably easier to work, available phosphates have increased and yields are improving each year.”

In just eight years, the venture has become a main part of Mr Coggrave”s business, and the use of gypsum on the home farm has cut seed-bed preparation costs and boosted yields. “It”s a major turnaround for our business.

“Because of the quantities moved and the contracts made we are now in a position to supply gypsum to farms at an affordable price,” says Mr Coggrave. The company is now selling about 15,000t of fertiliser and 15,000-20,000t of gypsum each year.

 “But the main goal is for people to look at soils in a more holistic manner.

“It is not just a case of feeding the crop as you always have done and hoping for the best, grain prices no longer allow it.” olivia.cooper@rbi.co.uk