Over the years, we have carried out numerous research projects on soil management to deliver benefits to both cropping and the environment. In particular, we have explored the potential benefits of reducing tillage intensity. Through a combination of two erosion plot experiments, we have been able to identify benefits of reduced tillage in terms of reduced runoff (and therefore impact on water), reduced crop establishment costs, and increased soil biomass. Increased microbial biomass was demonstrated to reduce soil loss in surface and sub surface runoff.
These research results have informed our decision to move from the plough, through reduced tillage systems, to a no-till approach on our own farm over the years. Some of the challenges such as increased herbicide costs, and compaction in the early stages of conversion have guided both our continuing research, and our management on the farm.
Tramlines were identified as delivering 80% of the surface runoff and stimulated another erosion plot experiment, which revealed low ground pressure tyres as the most effective means of reducing runoff (by half) on our clay soils. Surface disruption of the tramlines to improve infiltration was unsuccessful on our clay soils, but worked better on lighter soils at other sites. Similarly, the use of small field corner detention ponds to capture soil once it had left the field was more effective on sand and silt soils than on clay.
Our latest research projects
We are one of 16 study sites across Europe for this EU-funded project. The project will test soil management practices intended to increase farm business profitability, while also delivering environmental benefits. Our local farmer network helps to set the research agenda to ensure that the research is relevant to their interests and needs.
Soil Biology and Health
This research project is funded by the AHDB (levy board) and investigates the role of soil biology in improving soil function and associated benefits to crops. Initially, we will be assessing the effect of cultivating part of a field at Loddington that has been no-till for seven years, but we will explore other management practices with local farmers in due course. The project is a partnership with Newcastle University, ADAS and others.
Soil Quality for Environmental Health
This is a research translation project funded by SARIC (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Innovation Club) and aims to apply an Australian initiative to the UK. This will enable farmers to contextualise measured properties of their own soils in relation to their local region. The project is led by Newcastle University.
We currently have PhD students from Nottingham and Leicester working with us. Stephen Jones (University of Nottingham) is exploring the differences between scientists and farmers in their assessment of soil properties. Falah Hamad (University of Leicester) is investigating the relationship between soil physical and biological properties, especially the impact of compaction on soil function. Sam Reynolds (University of Nottingham) is studying the role of cover crops on phosphorus cycling within arable soils.