Trace element poser for Andrew Charlton: June column

Andrew Charlton farms 92ha (277 acres) at Stow Bridge in south-west Norfolk where he is a stockless organic arable producer, adviser and council tenant. Crops include cereals, potatoes, vegetables and fertility-building clover.

The saying: “You’ve got to go there to come back” seems to sum up most farmers’ experience in taking on new land.

This summer a 32ha block that I started to farm in 2006 and immediately put into organic conversion, is taking some understanding.

Leaf analysis of “in-conversion” winter wheat on it has shown sulphur, copper and zinc deficiencies.

None of these have been deficient before on any other part of the farm in eight years of cropping, and the land was previously well managed and productive – so why these problems this year?

It’s unlikely that there’s a simple, single cause. My theory is that the main problem was last summer’s vast amounts of rain which caused the land to “swill”, washing soil particles into impervious deep layers.

That, and not top dressing with nitrogen, has made any low patches look quite yellow while the rest of the field looks fantastic.

All measured deficiencies have been corrected by derogated applications of elemental sulphur, copper oxychloride and zinc sulphate – not my favourite job as each is applied separately and is considerably more bulky than the chelated single products available to conventional farmers.

It’s a safe bet too that there will be some serious subsoiling going on after harvest, even though there have been no obvious signs of compaction anywhere.

There has been some interesting regional news reporting that the area of new land entering organic conversion in the East of England has slowed to almost nothing.

This was predictable and unsurprising. No one is going to rush into taking land out of production for one or two years in the current grain markets.

But with nitrogen possibly £500/t this time next year and a forecast large world cereal crop I suspect this is a picture which will not last long.

More columns from Andrew Charlton

Other Farmer Focus columns

See more