24 May 1996

Yorkshire digs deep to avoid water shortage

By Alan Barker

YORKSHIRES deepening water crisis has prompted one tenant farm to construct its own storage lagoon to protect its crop irrigation capability. And the process has brought an additional benefit for light bodied land nearby.

Tenant farmers Peter and Kath McNeil are constructing a 5.6m gallon water storage lagoon on their 295ha (730-acre) Woodhouse Farm, Sutton-on-Derwent, near York.

Irrigation is vital for potato cropping on the drought prone sand land farm and water abstraction licences have become increasingly difficult to get over the past two years in a county where reservoirs are only half full.

Construction of the 5m (16ft) deep lagoon, carried out with the full backing of the Environmental Agency and the agents to the Crown Commissioners, is nearing completion. But it will take next winters rainfall to bring the lagoon anywhere near storage capacity.

Full advantage

Meanwhile, the McNeils and David Atkinson, who carries out a full contract farming operation for them, are taking full advantage of the spoil from the lagoon construction. It is being applied to 9.4ha (23 acres) of adjoining light sand land to put body into it in a traditional marling operation.

Thousands of tons of heavy clay dug from the lagoon has been spread 30cm (12in) deep and is now being turned-in using a 200hp tractor and a single furrow forestry plough, working to a depth of 0.6m (2ft). Weather conditions for the job have been ideal, says Mr Atkinson. There has been little rain and cold winds dried the clay as it was spread.

This has led to a rapid rethink of plans for the field. The original intention was to leave it fallow. But the clay and sand mix is working down well, says Mr Atkinson, with a couple of passes of a power harrow and a single pass with a Cousins V former soil loosener.

It is now the intention to go straight in with a crop of protein peas, using a 3m (9.8ft) Simba free flow drill.

The effect of next winters frosts and a liberal dressing of FYM will give body and fertility to the field, says Mr Atkinson. &#42

Cold, dry weather has helped marling operations at Woodhouse Farm, Sutton-on-Derwent, Yorks, say Peter McNeil (left) and contractor David Atkinson.The resulting clay/sand mix will be sown with protein peas.

Unearthing hidden benefits… The McNeils new irrigation lagoon has been a good source of soil-enriching marl for nearby light sand land.