Farmer Focus: Surprised by soil pH tests results

My record in the department of cunning planning took a hit recently when my drone-mounted slug pelleter accidentally tore through the local “village bake off” marquee, firing out 30 bait points per cake.

However, in a bid to grow some oilseed rape that survives beyond stubble height without hourly insecticide spraying I have direct-drilled some turnip yellows virus-resistant Amalie with a bean companion crop and left the cereal volunteers for as long as I dare, while surrounding the field with (legally) Cruiser-treated kale.

I considered plating the kale with my Clearfield variety as a companion and then disposing of it with the Imazimox, but with the oilseed rape enjoying a main road stage this year, I eventually played it safer.

See also: Read more from our arable Farmer Focus writers

I was rather shocked when the results of my three-yearly whole-farm variable rate soil testing came back, indicating the requirement for a small mountain of lime.

On further investigation, and bearing in mind we have been direct-drilling for five years, we found that the very top of the soil was a full pH point lower than 10cm down, where it was fine.

In addition, a direct-drilled field previously limed according to conventional wisdom was found to have had its pH increased by far too much, so we have gone for a reduced-rate application. This is much friendlier on the pocket and, hopefully, more appropriate to the new system.

Nutrient indices were also a point higher at the surface and overall organic matter increased to between 4% and 6%.

I enjoy seeing the subsidies argument continue to smoulder in the Farmers Weekly opinion pages, but of course food production is an issue for society as a whole.

I find the idea of operating in “the white heat of the marketplace”, as David Alvis calls for, quite exciting, but how would I survive? Perhaps become part of a large company using massive kit with less labour on bigger fields? Try to build houses, warehouses, solar parks and anaerobic digester plants?

Society is not always keen on any of these either.

Andy Barr farms 630ha on a mixed family farm in Kent, including 430ha mainly of winter wheat, oilseed rape and spring barley. The rest is in an OELS scheme and grazing for 500 Romney ewes and 40 Sussex cattle

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