New irrigation system to maximise organic yield

3 November 2000




New irrigation system to maximise organic yield

A NEW irrigation system is helping a recently converted organic farm near Boston, Lincs, to optimise output under the lower input regime.

At Woodlands Farm, Kirton, Andrew Dennis and his team are establishing a major organic enterprise. About 200ha (500 acres) is already organic and Mr Dennis aims to convert the entire 688ha (1700-acre) farm before 2005.

A greater diversity of crops spreads risk and gives greater flexibility in responding to market needs. Carrots are now being grown for the first time since the war, beetroot has been introduced and the farm is once again growing onions.

Field-scale organic cropping this year comprises 61ha (150 acres) of cereals and 32ha (80 acres) of potatoes and vegetables, including leeks.

To boost productivity and speed establishment, a new irrigation network has been set up by Maddison Water Technology. "So far we have seen yields fall by around 50% after switching to organic," says Mr Dennis. "We hope the introduction of irrigation will help us maximise quality and yield."

The system is based around a 10m gallon lake drawing 1m gallons of water from farmyard roofs and the rest from local fen ditches over-winter. Underground mains and above-ground pipework covering 81ha (200 acres) feed a Briggs hosereel with a specially adapted 52m boom. Checks have been made to ensure the boom is applying water accurately and evenly across the full wetted width.

As in conventional systems, irrigation aids common scab control, but it also raises the risk of nitrate leaching from the limited supplies produced by clover leys. More blight is also feared in the absence of modern fungicides.

In a bid to avoid the wet haulm conditions that favour blight Briggs Irrigation has fitted drop pipes to the boom to place water directly onto the ground between the rows. "The boom remains easy to handle and move and so far this looks like an economic alternative to drip installations," says Woodlands Farm sales manager Richard Drinkel.

The drop pipes are removed for irrigating other crops such as carrots, leeks and beetroot. In beetroot, irrigation provides a means of defence against cutworm.

"In organic growing it is important for the crop to get a good start and outpace the weeds," says Mr Dennis. "Getting the plants off to a good start by ensuring they have enough water is an important part of weed control."

Woodlands Farm recently set up an organic box scheme and sells produce through selected local farmers markets. As production increases, Mr Dennis hopes to find further innovative marketing schemes and to establish Woodlands Farm as a favourite local brand. &#42

ORGANIC IRRIGATION

&#8226 200ha cereals, potatoes, veg.

&#8226 Common scab control.

&#8226 Drop pipes cut blight risk.

&#8226 Monitoring for accuracy.

&#8226 Scheduling cuts N leaching.

WATER FOR FARMING

For all the latest in irrigation visit Water for Farming 2000

Date: Wed 8 Nov.

Venue: Newark Showground, Newark, Notts.

Directions: Signed from the A1, A46 and A17, NE of Newark.

Time: 9am-5pm.

Seminars: 11am-3pm.

Admission: £5 on the day, FREE if booked in advance – Tel: 01539 734725

Water applied with care will boost organic crop production without raising disease risks, says Andrew Dennis.


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