Sodden soils prompt the need to protect payments

As fields across the country remain saturated and with the possibility of further rainfall, DEFRA has granted a temporary exemption for working on waterlogged soils across England, Farmers Weekly has learned.


But growers have been reminded to pick up a pen to help protect their single farm payments.


Soil damage from essential fieldwork, including harvesting, is inevitable in many areas after this year’s unprecedented summer rainfall, explains Norfolk-based agronomist Simon Draper, and it must be recorded and the intended remedies outlined.


Advice


Under the Momenta banner Mr Draper is contracted to DEFRA to offer advice to help growers meet cross-compliance rules and avoid jeopardising their SFPs.


Many of the obligatory Soil Protection Reviews which had to completed by last September under cross-compliance could be gathering dust on office shelves, he warns.


“Now’s probably the time to dust them off. If you create damage from whatever activity, be it spraying, swathing, or harvesting, it’s important that you write down what you have done and what you intend to do to correct the problem.”


SPRs are not static documents, he explains. “They are designed to be updated during the year and there’s a section at the end which allows you identify particular problems that arose in 2007.”


That includes damage due to mechanical operations on wet ground, he says.


Under the rules requiring farmers to maintain land in Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition, no fieldwork other than harvesting fruit and vegetables (but not potatoes), is permitted on waterlogged land, Mr Draper notes.








Wet soils dilemma


  • Harvest looming
  • GAEC rules apply
  • Update Soil Protection Reviews
  • Compaction concern


“That’s basically when tractors and combines start getting stuck anyway.”


Given that there should be dry spells when they can travel, compaction will be the main concern, he says.


The upside of damage in tramlines is that it will be clear where it lies. But combining can leave more widespread compaction across fields.


One way to minimise that, apart from fitting tracks, might be to avoid running tractors and trailers alongside and offloading instead on headlands.


“But given the size of the grain tanks on today’s big combines that might actually do more damage.”


In those cases the better option might be to continue collecting on the move, albeit taking smaller loads and not completely filling the trailers, he explains.


Once it is obvious compaction has occurred it would be important to decide how deep it is.


“The first thing to do is get a spade and find out. Under more normal conditions it’s often surprising to find it’s no more than 4-5in down, and there’s no point in working deeper than you need to remove it.


“If the soil is compacted to plough depth then clearly you’ll need to think about subsoiling.


“The main problem is that you can’t subsoil if it’s extremely wet. So this year the options may be limited.”


Exemption


DEFRA’s exemption, which was ratified earlier this week, will hopefully take the pressure off growers trying to rectify damage at the wrong time, Natural England’s Mike Green says.


“It will not exempt growers from rectifying any damage they cause, but would allow them to plan when to do it, and use their soil management plan to record that.”


Given better grain prices, growers will be keen to look after their soils to protect future yields, he points out.


andrew.blake@rbi.co.uk