The Agricultural Bill sets out how farmers and land managers will in future be paid for public goods, such as better air and water quality, improved soil health, higher animal welfare standards, public access to the countryside and measures to reduce flooding.
Healthy soil is a combination of minerals, rock, water, air, organic matter (plant and animal residue), microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi and protozoa and a variety of insects and worms. This intricate web carries out a process that continually replenishes the soil and maintains long-term soil fertility (source: ecochem website).
‘Our soils are our principal assets, we must ensure every activity we carry out on the land is done so with the soil health at the forefront of our decisions. These soils are a living medium, with the complexity of the individual elements and properties. We must ensure we manage each element sustainably’
Ross Hewson – Rockscape
One of the ways of improving your soil health is to increase soil organic matter. Adding organic matter will change the amount of nitrogen and other nutrients in the soil, though it?s not easy to predict exactly how much of which nutrient is available to plants at any one time, and it will depend heavily on the type and maturity of the material. Adding organic matter will also improve soil structure and the diversity and number of soil organisms. Soil with good structure has lots of stable aggregates which helps heavy soils to drain and light soils to hold onto water. So a healthy soil, full of life and well managed, is better able to cope with the kind of extreme weather events we are seeing more and more frequently.
Our target of becoming less reliant on using synthetic fertilisers is in full flow. We are methodically achieving this by using the Natural Fertiliser as organic material and thus providing the nutrients the crops require. It is evident that since using the Natural Fertiliser, the soils are showing improved signs of life and greater soil health.
Without a good drainage infrastructure soils will always struggle to maintain a healthy state. Our first thought when trying to achieve healthy soils will be, is whether the land drainage system adequate?
We have invested in drainage across our holdings and have an ongoing maintenance programme in place, the ditches are cleaned out and all drains are jetted and replaced where required.
All our land based activities are carefully planned and emphasis is placed on using the correct equipment for the task in hand. Many considerations are made such as tyre pressures as tyre size and tractor weights can make a huge difference on the compaction created in the soils. RTK guidance is standard across our machinery, allowing greater accuracy, reducing the traffic across the land and improving efficiency of the activities.
Low disturbance equipment is used for cultivations, this helps maintain the soil structure and creates less disturbance to the living organisms.
Strip cultivations are used where possible, this method only disturbs the soil in the row where the seeds are planted.
Drones and satellite imagery are used to provide us with a greater understanding of the soil types, crop development and weed pressures across the holding. We also use them to help create soil maps, which in turn are used to produce variable rate seed plans.
N-Sensor technology is currently used to gain improved accuracy when applying fertiliser to crop areas.
The cropping is carefully planned and implemented using various strategies. We have created our own Maize Strategy plan which we use when identifying fields/land suitable for growing maize. The plan identifies the risk of soil erosion, risk of water runoff, socially sustainable (noise, mud on road etc) and a variety of other areas to consider before deciding where to grow that specific crop.
We carry the plan out for all the crops grown on the holding, with great emphasis placed on the environmental aspects of the plan.
Cover/catch crops are used widely across the holding for a variety of reasons, but the main benefit is to the soil health. The structure of the soils has improved through better drainage created by the good root structure. The organic material left by the crops provides food for the bacteria and other living organisms to thrive on.