Sludge stops soil blow and raises profits

SEWAGE SLUDGE has stopped sandland blowing on a Shropshire farm and made it productive enough to grow profitable crops.

Chris Ashley”s 50ha (120-acre) farm at Hodnet Heath, lies on free-flowing sand and used to suffer badly from wind erosion and blowing soil that frequently blocked roads.

Sometimes the blows were so bad he had to redrill sugar beet, which prompted him to first try sewage sludge over 20 years ago.

“I began using liquid digested biosolids, and more recently we changed to dewatered digested cake from Severn Trent, which has allowed us to start growing wheat for the first time,” says Mr Ashley.

Soil structure has been enhanced, fertility increased and the blowing problems have ceased.

“The difference has meant getting a good crop where once I wasn”t getting a crop at all.” 

The soil is less drought-prone and fertiliser need has been cut, he adds.

The farm has reduced nitrogen rates by 40kg/ha (33 units/acre) on winter feed wheat. The sandy soils remain potash deficient requiring annual heavy dressings for all crops.

The sludge is also rich in sulphur and phosphate, eliminating the need for extra dressings.

Cropping has changed in the past couple of years, says Mr Ashley. Winter barley and winter wheat are beginning to replace triticale in the rotation, and sugar beet last year looked “quite outstanding”.