Soil, water and metaldehyde debated at farm business forum

A farmer ploughing his field at Bayfield.Picture: ANTONY KELLY

A farmer ploughing his field at Bayfield.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

Soil cultivation techniques, water management and pesticide pollution were among the topics under debate at an annual farm business seminar in Swaffham.

The event at the Green Britain Centre attracted about 100 delegates to hear from organisations including the Country Land and Business Association, the Campaign for the Farmed Environment, the National Farmers' Union, Defra, the Farming Advice Service, the Environment Agency and Anglian Water.

The keynote speaker was Philip Wright of Wright Resolutions Ltd, who aimed to pass on soil husbandry lessons from his 30-year career developing machinery for cultivation and tillage.

He said compaction, waterlogging and poor aggregation would all take their toll on yields and profits – and mechanical equipment used was not the only consideration.

'As a guy who has spent 30 years designing various bits of metal to drag through the soil, it has taken me nearly 30 years to realise that there are other ways to skin a cat,' he said.

A key theme was reducing soil compaction, caused by high axle loads, high ground pressures and 'random trafficking' of vehicles across the surface. Mr Wright said up to 75pc of tyre damage to soil structures occurred in the first pass – making it essential to get the optimum tyre size, pressure, axle load and ballast for each job.

He said compaction would reduce the porosity of the soil, skewing the ideal 50/50 split between pores and solids, and reducing its ability to hold water and air. He encouraged farmers to use this time of year to dig into their land to see and understand its structure and layers of permeability.

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'There are challenges in 'controlled traffic' – it may be that the equipment does not match each other, and the width of the seed drill might not match the width of the harvester,' he said. 'But the bottom line is if you can minimise the amount of traffic, the bit of land which you cultivate will be improved.'

Mr Wright added that while many farms are now exploring the use of cover crops for nutrient retention and disease control, their additional benefits in restructuring the soil and removing excess water between commercial crops are 'features that are not to be overlooked'.

There were also presentations on the greening requirements under the new Basic Payment Scheme, updates to Countryside Stewardship systems, and a new Environment Agency consultation on river basin management plans.