Farmer Focus: Big changes to farm soil management

In my last article I was hoping to tell you all about my cultivations and which methods were proving the most effective, but the wet winter put an end to these plans. Now with drier weather, my mind is turning back to the subject.

Cultivations were one of the main topics at the Royal Agricultural Society of England open day I attended last month. The Enrich Your Soils workshop was inspirational with several key areas I’d like to look into further.

There were some simple ideas to follow, which looked at increasing organic matter to help the soil, keeping a layer of microfauna in the top layer of soil with access to growing root systems and finally monitoring soil to assess what effects come from your management.

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This has led to a number of “changes” in my system. First, I have begun soil testing individual fields to show where I’ve started from and discover what past management has done. Second, I am getting hold of any local and easily manageable organic manure, with beef farmyard manure, green compost and sewage cake all in place.

My next step will be cover crops and bringing livestock into the rotation with overwinter feeds. All of these will be monitored, if only anecdotally, with records of different conditions or techniques. My last point will be to reduce plough usage across the farms.

Finally jumping off this subject entirely, I was asked about the sustainability of UK agriculture based on small and medium farms being driven out of business by the supermarkets’ loss leader culture.

Now, this is more of a livestock question with few combinable crops going direct to supermarkets.

However, it did make me wonder, with global harvests set to be promising this year (currently), EU-led bans on pesticide use, CAP reform stinging the UK for jumping early on to environmental schemes, rising labour costs and worries over skilled labour shortages, increasing pressure on land use in the UK from other sources and jet streams moving around it’s a sensible question to ask.

The Co-op Group certainly seem to have asked that question about sustainability internally. Although, as Ukraine and Russia are demonstrating, relying on another nation for food can bring political problems.

Robert Nightingale manages 600ha of combinable cropping across Sentry’s operations in Sussex and Surrey. Cropping includes winter wheat, oats, oilseed rape, linseed, peas and soon beans