Has your soil structure suffered in the wet?

Article taken from Agronomist & Arable Farmer

In well structured soil the ratio of solids-water-air should be approximately 50:23:23; with around 4% organic matter.  This includes a range of nutrients as well as a vast array of micro and larger organisms which co-exist to form the soil ecosystem.

Many fields have suffered serious damage to soil structure in recent years.  Looking into soil profiles with spades and penetrometers, some fields are now showing several levels of compaction.  This can be through pans, other cultivation damage such as scroll makrs from power harrows, or damage from tines working below their critical depth or working when the soil is in a plastic state as has been the case in recent seasons.  In addition to this, harvest traffic and the sheer weight of heavy rain have also compounded problems.

Less Resilience

A deterioration in organic matter content over the last few decades, exacerbated by a reduction in well-managed grass leys within the rotation alongside fewer applications of bulky organic manures, means that many soils are less resilient and less well equipped to restructure themselves.  Last year’s relatively dry summer provided some much-needed natural repair of the soil.  It also allowed the opportunity for the first time in a number of seasons for growers to help nature out through the use of cultivation techniques to help remove compaction and restructure soil.

Nowhere is this clearer than at Agrovista’s Development Farm at Doncaster, courtesy of Robert Atkinson, where it is working very closely with Great Plains, Vaderstad and Amazone using one-pass techniques for establishing oilseed rape.  As the soil was friable down to a depth greater than 10 inches (25cm), tines were able to remove any compaction down to this depth.

This helps nature to restructure the soil and produce a much more open and crumblier soil structure for developing an oilseed rape plant.

This can be clearly seen in the photos from the site and the improvement in soil structure is having a significant benefit on early root development of the oilseed rape plants.

Companion Plants

The other clear difference with the soil structure at the Doncaster site is the benefit of companion plants in improving soil structure.  Previous work at our Growcrop Gold sites, along with years of data from the Continent, suggests that sowing a mixture of specific varieties of berseem clover, purple and common vetch, which were chosen among other key characteristics for their root exploration capability, significantly improves soil structure and indeed the microclimate within the whole rhizosphere environment.

The differences in soil structure are dramatic, particularly after fewer reduced cultivation techniques where berseem clover has been the dominant species alongside the oilseed rape.  The roots of the berseem clover have been able to penetrate through the tight soil, breaking up compaction and providing a more friable soil structure for the developing oilseed rape roots as can be seen below following establishment with a Claydon strip drill. 

 

17 March 2014

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