Monday, 5 December 2016

World Soil Day - Keeping soil in good shape

To celebrate World Soils Day (December 5) we asked NFU Environment Forum member Philip Jarvis how he maintains healthy soil on the GWCT Allerton Project Farm at Loddington.

He writes…

As a farmer, soil is one of my most important assets and its careful management is key to my farming operations.  My overall aim is to make my soils more resilient.  I look at it as my shop floor; what I put in has a direct impact on what I take away come harvest time.
My first step to a healthy soil is to know what type of soil I have on-farm and understand how it reacts to different conditions. Having light sandy soil can lead to issues with wind erosion, whilst soils with a high concentration of clay can be badly affected by water erosion and poor drainage.
The main challenges to healthy soil on my heavy clay soils in the East Midlands are:
  • Erosion
  • Compaction
  • Reduction in organic matter
  • Climate Change
Practices that I have adopted on my farm include introducing cover crops, importing muck and making the transition towards direct drilling.
Cover crops can help prevent soil erosion as well as increase the percentage of organic matter in the soil. This aids the growth and health of the cash crop once sewn.

Spreading imported muck on my fields also helps increase the number of earthworms’ on-farm.  In an effort to “promote the good things” I hope to increase the amount of earthworms in my soil from 400 p/m2 to 800 p/m2 without dramatically increasing the number of slugs.
In a bid not to overwork the soil, I am a real advocate of direct drilling.  To prevent compaction it is necessary to determine the appropriate levels of cultivation. To this end diverse rotation, minimum soil disturbance – through direct drilling and reduced tillage – alongside continuous crop cover can go a long way in the conservation and nourishment of my soil.
_39384Looking towards the future, I am involved in and aware of various research groups which look into ways to improve soil health whilst maintaining productivity. As a member of the Kellogg’s Origins Programme, I am one of a community of European farmers who meet to combat various challenges, trial new ideas and share knowledge.

By nurturing the land and taking care of my soil I aim to help maintain the balance between food production and the environment and carry on producing efficiently for generations to come.
good soil structure_29351