Soil management

Soil is at the core of our food production system. Soil aids:

  • The flow of air, water and nutrients
  • The ecological infrastructures of plants and animals
  • Seed germination and root development

Soil health has always been important. However, it has too often been neglected as other factors have influenced land management, such as agricultural support and grants, nutrients, crop protection products and rotation profitability. Farms are businesses and have to produce a return on investment to remain viable.

At the Allerton Project we concentrate on the physical, chemical and biological properties of soil. It is important to understand how these areas affect the functionality of soil.

Physical properties    Structure
Composition
Erosion
Drainage
Chemical Nutrients
Biological Organic matter
Earthworms
Other micro and macro fauna

Sustainability in practice: direct drilling for resilient soils

Soil with earthwormsIt is important we get our soil structure right, and that we aim to increase our organic matter so our soils rejuvenate and become a living, breathing entity. Earthworms are particularly important as they assist aeration, root development and nutrient recycling. We have lost touch with what is good for our soil - soil health has been neglected for too long.

At Allerton we are trying to make our soils more resilient. We have successfully widened our rotations, introduced cover crops, and we are now making the transition towards direct drilling. The direct drill approach allows our soils to remain undisturbed by leaving crop residues on the surface from harvest until sowing.

Seeds are placed into narrow slots created by purpose-built drills. We have developed a two pass operation. A low disturbance sub-soiler, such as the Sumo LDS, is used to remove compaction. To complement this we have also reduced the size of our machinery and replaced the tyres on our combine with tracks. This approach to soil management is very dependent on the weather. Due to our heavy soils, direct drilling is more difficult in wet conditions but we think it will be very successful in dry years.

Soil management also helps us to deal with our key challenges around slugs, blackgrass and volunteer crop management. We can grow crops successfully without too many cultivations and our yields are competitive. We have definitely seen the benefits in terms of increased soil flora and fauna. From a financial point of view, there is an opportunity to save on machinery, fuel costs and labour, and hopefully this will increase our profitability. We strongly believe that soil and water protection are key ingredients for a successful farming business.

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