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Dereham Monitor Farm reveals the full range of farming ideas, from buried underpants to bio-stimulants

AHDB Dereham Monitor Farm open day. Picture: Ian Burt

AHDB Dereham Monitor Farm open day. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant 2017

From digging up buried underpants to the application of bio-stimulants and micro-nutrients, the broadest range of new farming ideas was discussed at a showcase Norfolk farm.

AHDB Dereham Monitor Farm open day. Picture: Ian Burt AHDB Dereham Monitor Farm open day. Picture: Ian Burt

Swanton Morley Farms, based at Hoe Hall, near Dereham, hosts the county’s Monitor Farm, part of a knowledge-sharing network run by AHDB Cereals and Oilseeds, a branch of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board.

Its summer open day gave about 40 farmers a chance to examine zero-tillage and bio-stimulant trials, discuss cover crop experiences and examine the progress at a wheat field which is part of a national competition.

The Yield Enhancement Network (YEN) competition involves farmers across the UK battling to achieve both the highest yield, and the highest percentage of their potential yield by making the most of the available sunlight and water.

Farm manager Simon Brock has given his field extra attention including more in-field measurements, regular tests for deficiencies in minerals like zinc and boron, and using higher rates of potash and magnesium.

Dereham Monitor Farm: Prof Roger Sylvester-Bradley from ADAS in the YEN competition field's soil pit. Dereham Monitor Farm: Prof Roger Sylvester-Bradley from ADAS in the YEN competition field's soil pit.

He said: “Given the available light and water, the field should theoretically be able to get 19 tonnes per hectare. So why am I not getting that? Is it diseases, soil structure, or the cultivation we are using? We will never be 19t/ha but we want to see how close we can get.”

Visitors were invited to inspect the results and look at the roots via a soil pit.

Prof Roger Sylvester-Bradley, head of crop performance at agricultural consultancy ADAS, said during the very hottest part of this week, the sandy clay soil would have lost 10mm of moisture in two days through evaporation – enough to cause a yield loss of half a tonne per hectare.

But he said there were still good signs for the competition entry. “I think its a good field,” he said. “I would be optimistic in terms of root exploration, and it is getting a lot of heads – but it needs the leaves for another month. It is a question of whether they will last.”

AHDB Dereham Monitor Farm open day. Pictured is Simon Brock with the underpants buried in his zero-till field. Picture: Ian Burt AHDB Dereham Monitor Farm open day. Pictured is Simon Brock with the underpants buried in his zero-till field. Picture: Ian Burt

“It (the hot weather) is not altogether a bad thing. The crop will be photosynthesising and after things settle down overnight the early morning sunshine will be out and it will form sugars which will be used later in the day or the following night to grow the grains. So it is not all bad.”

‘SOILED UNDIES’

During the Dereham Monitor Farm open day, farm manager Simon Brock also dug up six pairs of buried underpants in a less-than-scientific experiment to test soil health.

It was part of an online trend called #soilmyundies, in which farmers bury pairs of cotton pants in the topsoil of their fields, and then dig them up eight weeks later to assess the damage done by the underground ecosystem.

AHDB Dereham Monitor Farm open day. Pictured is Simon Brock with the underpants buried in his HLS field margin. Picture: Ian Burt AHDB Dereham Monitor Farm open day. Pictured is Simon Brock with the underpants buried in his HLS field margin. Picture: Ian Burt

If they are relatively undamaged, it is an indication the soil could be too dry, too wet, too acidic, too alkaline, over-worked, lacking nutrients, or low in organic matter. But if the biology has dissolved the 100pc natural carbon of the cotton, it indicates the soil is in good shape.

While Mr Brock’s underpants in the YEN competition plot and zero-tillage trial fields were satisfyingly destroyed, the sample dug up from a field margin under environmental stewardship were almost untouched.

He said: “That stewardship field has had no chemicals and has not been touched for 18 years, so I have no idea why that has happened.”

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