Taking Key Steps to Improve Soil Health

– Farmers Guardian

Seeking to improve soil health and reduce black-grass, Ed Pritchard, who farms with his father Andrew at Redhouse Farm, Waddingworth, Woodhall Spa, where the cover crop demonstration day took place, had been working with Farmacy agronomist Alice Cannon.

Mr Pritchard said: “During the last few years, we have been changing how we do things from rotational ploughing one in three or five years and growing two wheats and a rape.

“Black-grass is a factor. Because we are on predominantly heavy land, we like to drill winter wheat no later than mid-late October. Hence we have increased the spring crop acreage.

“Now we just grow first wheats. We are still growing oilseed rape and also introduced cover crops three years ago, primarily to keep the land we are spring drilling in good order to enable us to successfully establish a spring crop.”

Mr Pritchard grew a mixture of white mustard, which he said died off naturally, plus crimson clover and phacelia, which was sprayed off with glyphosate two weeks before drilling. Spring crops were direct drilled into the cover crop residue.

Spring oats

This year, he was growing 80ha of spring oats, with 56ha being grown on contract for GFP Agriculture for seed.

“We have tried spring barley, spring linseed and spring beans,” he said.

“We are quite new to it and in the process of finding one we get on well with. I have heard good reports about spring oats.”

Cultivation on the farm had been reduced “drastically”.

“We are trying to keep to two to three passes before drilling winter cereals,” he said. “This year we used a Simba X-press, followed by a Tillso ultralite subsoiler running at 8in deep. For winter oilseed rape we drilled it into stubble using a Tillso ultralite leg.

“I hope the soil structure and texture will improve, then we will think about direct drilling. I think cover crops are essential to improve soil condition.”

Using sludge as well as cover crops is helping to boost organic matter levels, says Ms Cannon.

“There have been remarkable improvements in just 18 months,” she said.

“You can put a spade in easier. Previously there were tight areas which impeded crop growth. Visually, there has been a massive increase in worm numbers and a greater variety in worm species including deeper burrowing worms.”

Redhouse Farm cropping 2019

  • 120 hectares winter wheat
  • 100ha winter oilseed rape
  • 80ha spring oats