Archive Article: 1997/07/05

5 July 1997

HAVE you wondered why soil scientists and soils specialists are looking so pleased with themselves lately? Quite simply – their day has come.

Early results from both the HGCA precision farming project and the MAFF LINK research into targeting fertiliser inputs indicate that the underpinning influence on crop establishment, development and nutrition is – soil.

Why did a sizeable proportion of 1997 cereal crops struggle in the spring? Droughted soils were the culprit.

Where do experts at variable cost-cutting see the greatest scope for savings as cereal prices stay low? In cheaper soil cultivations.

The message is clear for all growers to think soil throughout the farming year .

Of course, a wet harvest could spell difficulties in the fields for many growers but a little care will avoid starting next season off with flawed soil structures.

Many growers are shocked to learn that their wheat plants will send roots down 1.5m (5 ft), in some soils, in search for water. Its soil water that boosts growth and nutrition in the early and middle development stages.

Soil maintenance and preparation needs to be geared to allowing these roots to perform to best effect. This can be done while reducing cultivation costs. Equipment manufacturers are alive to the challenge.

Tractors in the medium horsepower ranges are being delivered with more robust and powerful hydraulic systems to cope with bigger cultivation tackle.

Provided growers dont mismatch their equipment, fuel costs can be brought down in this way on some farms, by leaving larger tractors to those units where the big machines are not an over-specification.

Take a look too at the new generation of cultivation equipment, including ploughs which can now be adjusted to suit the tractor to a much greater extent than ever before.

Equipment makers are now well aware that many of their customers are moving away from multi-pass systems. They have responded with innovative tackle for preparing seedbeds and with versatile combination drills.

Economist Michael Murphy, of Cambridge University, blames the arable aid payments system for allowing cereal production costs to move back upwards when the last threat of £80/t wheat prices had steadied them.

Whether he is right or wrong about the cause, the means and know-how to reverse the all-too-evident drift is becoming readily available. Investment now in gaining more knowledge on how to deal with your soils, and in equipment to match, will reap immediate and long-term dividends in reduced costs and soils fit to produce at their optimum.

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