Building resilience in heavy soils

Wigeon

Member
Arable Farmer
This autumn and last year have well and truly shown the value of soil structure, and highlighted in particular where problems exist.

My farm is generally grade 3 heavy silty clay loam with flints, with a decent chunk at 55%- 60% forecast establishment rates, according to Soyl. It also has no land drains or ditches, but it does have some hills. Its renowned locally as a wet farm, but will comfortably do 10t ha in a 'normal' yr.

Extremes of weather are obviously a major challenge at the moment, and the thing that exercises me most is how to improve resilience. Spring 'droughts' I can cope with, more or less. 6 inches of rain over an october weekend I can't.

Obvious solutions:

Get some grass leys with deep rooting legumes etc into the rotation. Fine- i have put in 1/4 of the farm down for 2 yrs. All well and good but no schemes available as still in hls, and will only earn sps and a few pennies from sheep, but basically naff all, after topping etc.

Got some compost. There isn't any.

Zero till. Great theory, but have struggled thus far. 4 yr experiment looked good - loads of worms, walked cleaner etc, but consistently underperformed at harvest, and then c35% of the winter barley on it failed due to wet feet last year.

Cover crops. Only managed to grow one decent one ever. Timeliness of establishment usually a challenge if wheat not off till end of Aug.

Plaster it with muck. I'd love to, but there isnt any.

Diverse rotations. Have dropped osr this year, and now have a mix of wheat, grass, beans, linseed and oats, probably.

Subscribe to direct driller. I do.

Smaller tractors and bigger tyres. Tricky one- timeliness in seemingly ever decreasing weather windows vs tiptoeing along when you can. Ultimately only damage limitation rather than improvement.

Have i missed anything? What are others doing? With forecast rain tonight I'm at the point of shutting the gate till spring, in the less than comforting position of knowing that a decent chunk of my winter wheat isnt going to make it, not counting the stuff that's still in the bag...

Must be others in this boat?

Thanks
 

Will7

Member
BASE UK Member
This autumn and last year have well and truly shown the value of soil structure, and highlighted in particular where problems exist.

My farm is generally grade 3 heavy silty clay loam with flints, with a decent chunk at 55%- 60% forecast establishment rates, according to Soyl. It also has no land drains or ditches, but it does have some hills. Its renowned locally as a wet farm, but will comfortably do 10t ha in a 'normal' yr.

Extremes of weather are obviously a major challenge at the moment, and the thing that exercises me most is how to improve resilience. Spring 'droughts' I can cope with, more or less. 6 inches of rain over an october weekend I can't.

Obvious solutions:

Get some grass leys with deep rooting legumes etc into the rotation. Fine- i have put in 1/4 of the farm down for 2 yrs. All well and good but no schemes available as still in hls, and will only earn sps and a few pennies from sheep, but basically naff all, after topping etc.

Got some compost. There isn't any.

Zero till. Great theory, but have struggled thus far. 4 yr experiment looked good - loads of worms, walked cleaner etc, but consistently underperformed at harvest, and then c35% of the winter barley on it failed due to wet feet last year.

Cover crops. Only managed to grow one decent one ever. Timeliness of establishment usually a challenge if wheat not off till end of Aug.

Plaster it with muck. I'd love to, but there isnt any.

Diverse rotations. Have dropped osr this year, and now have a mix of wheat, grass, beans, linseed and oats, probably.

Subscribe to direct driller. I do.

Smaller tractors and bigger tyres. Tricky one- timeliness in seemingly ever decreasing weather windows vs tiptoeing along when you can. Ultimately only damage limitation rather than improvement.

Have i missed anything? What are others doing? With forecast rain tonight I'm at the point of shutting the gate till spring, in the less than comforting position of knowing that a decent chunk of my winter wheat isnt going to make it, not counting the stuff that's still in the bag...

Must be others in this boat?

Thanks
My solution (not yet proven.......)
 

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farmerm

Member
Location
Shropshire
Must be others in this boat?

Thanks
In a very similar boat here and also searching for better paddles... We do have a comprehensive drainage system, some fields have overlapping stone drains, horseshoes systems and clay pipes..! just got to keep on top of the repairs or we would grow very little! We have at least managed to get finished up drilling this week.
 

Cropper

Member
Location
N. Glos
Same story here, field drains struggling due to age and river silting up due to EA inactivity/agenda.
Looking at rainfall records, these last two autumns have been exceptional in the amount of rainfall we have had and you have to wonder if it’s a blip or the new normal due to climate change.

I think we forget that we have had bad/wet seasons in the past. I have always struggled to complete autumn planting if I’m honest. In fact my first year farming here (32 years ago!) we were 100% spring crops due to a disastrous wet autumn. Ploughing with 85hp 2wheel drive!

So now, having mined the soil organic matter I inherited from the previous dairy farming system my soil has had enough, it can still grow a decent crop when conditions are good - but when it gets too wet and it becomes anaerobic in the soil for long periods around establishment there is no hope of growing a crop.

I am planning on grassing down at least half the farm to try to increase soil om and improve soil structure, mob grazing, making hay, applying lashings of fym and if I’m brave enough cleaning up the banks of the river to get the water away quicker. My aim being to reduce my reliance on bought in inputs and be more resilient to extremes of climate be they too wet or too dry
 

Hobbit

Member
Arable Farmer
Location
South West
This autumn and last year have well and truly shown the value of soil structure, and highlighted in particular where problems exist.

My farm is generally grade 3 heavy silty clay loam with flints, with a decent chunk at 55%- 60% forecast establishment rates, according to Soyl. It also has no land drains or ditches, but it does have some hills. Its renowned locally as a wet farm, but will comfortably do 10t ha in a 'normal' yr.

Extremes of weather are obviously a major challenge at the moment, and the thing that exercises me most is how to improve resilience. Spring 'droughts' I can cope with, more or less. 6 inches of rain over an october weekend I can't.

Obvious solutions:

Get some grass leys with deep rooting legumes etc into the rotation. Fine- i have put in 1/4 of the farm down for 2 yrs. All well and good but no schemes available as still in hls, and will only earn sps and a few pennies from sheep, but basically naff all, after topping etc.

Got some compost. There isn't any.

Zero till. Great theory, but have struggled thus far. 4 yr experiment looked good - loads of worms, walked cleaner etc, but consistently underperformed at harvest, and then c35% of the winter barley on it failed due to wet feet last year.

Cover crops. Only managed to grow one decent one ever. Timeliness of establishment usually a challenge if wheat not off till end of Aug.

Plaster it with muck. I'd love to, but there isnt any.

Diverse rotations. Have dropped osr this year, and now have a mix of wheat, grass, beans, linseed and oats, probably.

Subscribe to direct driller. I do.

Smaller tractors and bigger tyres. Tricky one- timeliness in seemingly ever decreasing weather windows vs tiptoeing along when you can. Ultimately only damage limitation rather than improvement.

Have i missed anything? What are others doing? With forecast rain tonight I'm at the point of shutting the gate till spring, in the less than comforting position of knowing that a decent chunk of my winter wheat isnt going to make it, not counting the stuff that's still in the bag...

Must be others in this boat?

Thanks
Hi. Could you expand on your 4 year no-till experiment please.
Will.
 

Will7

Member
BASE UK Member
Indeed. Well proven. Though both or either at any scale seem like route 1 to bankruptcy at the moment....
Don’t say that.....
I am nearing the end of redraining 330ha out of 345!!!! I have been here since 2005, but only receiving the full BPS since 2012 and all the subsidy money has gone into either drainage, new buildings and yard or a new house. If nothing else it will be a nice modern farm for the receivers to auction off!!
 

Wigeon

Member
Arable Farmer
Of course.

Osr scratched in with horsch direct into wheat stubble, with berseem clover. Did well. Then wheat with metcalfe points. Was ok, but more than 1t/ha down on solo & cultipressed land either side. Then spring oat and vetch cover crop grazed hard for a few weeks in jan. Then spring barley. Did ok, but still down. Then winter barley, and 35% failure. Now in grass & clover (looks good, but did cultivate)

Combine on tracks, trailers only on tramlines, drilled earlier than cultivated land etc, tine drill.
 

Wigeon

Member
Arable Farmer
Don’t say that.....
I am nearing the end of redraining 330ha out of 345!!!! I have been here since 2005, but only receiving the full BPS since 2012 and all the subsidy money has gone into either drainage, new buildings and yard or a new house. If nothing else it will be a nice modern farm for the receivers to auction off!!
Interesting. If I did it I would have 375ha to drain! Very well done though, will keep you in good stead for many years to come.
 

robs1

Member
We have been dd since 2011 on parts and since 2013 all dd, 2019 we had record yields, 2020 bits were good but lots drowned, this year we have had over 9 inches of rain since oct1st 75 % of wheat rotted, no system can beat the weather, if it carries on like this every year then it either grass all the farm down grow entirely spring crops, praying it dries by April and then rains again before june or retire and go into environmental schemes.
 

Hobbit

Member
Arable Farmer
Location
South West
Of course.

Osr scratched in with horsch direct into wheat stubble, with berseem clover. Did well. Then wheat with metcalfe points. Was ok, but more than 1t/ha down on solo & cultipressed land either side. Then spring oat and vetch cover crop grazed hard for a few weeks in jan. Then spring barley. Did ok, but still down. Then winter barley, and 35% failure. Now in grass & clover (looks good, but did cultivate)

Combine on tracks, trailers only on tramlines, drilled earlier than cultivated land etc, tine drill.
Was the 1t/ha drop off set buy the reduced establishment cost?
I’m no expert and I don’t know your farm. No till is working here but it’s been a long process Started with strip till then moved to no till. Some say strip till let’s the soil adapt to not being moved but I think it alloweds the farmer time to get their head round the idea. We are on heavy land mostly and I think the soil is coping well with the last 2 autumns and the crops look well. Yields have been varied but profitable. Still trying to do more cover cropping, diversity is key with them. Earlier drilling with high seed rates where possible (BG allowing). Sorry if this isn’t much use to you.
 

Simon C

Member
Arable Farmer
Location
Essex Coast
Drainage is the number one most important thing, if water is not draining away, forget doing no-till. Cultivations will hide a multitude of problems.

Unless soil conditions are good, do not drill. If you put welly boots on when you can out of the house, it is too wet.

You have to accept that yields won't always be top notch, remember you are trying to work with nature which is inherently more variable than a system where you are dictating how you want conditions to be. Savings on cultivation cost will not be enough to cover these reduced yields.

It is the savings on input costs due to the enhanced soil health of a no-till environment that really start to push up profits. For example- no seed dressings, no p or K, no lime, no growth regs, no slug pellets, reduced nitrogen, reduced fungicides.
 

Warnesworth

Member
BASE UK Member
Location
Chipping Norton
Of course.

Osr scratched in with horsch direct into wheat stubble, with berseem clover. Did well. Then wheat with metcalfe points. Was ok, but more than 1t/ha down on solo & cultipressed land either side. Then spring oat and vetch cover crop grazed hard for a few weeks in jan. Then spring barley. Did ok, but still down. Then winter barley, and 35% failure. Now in grass & clover (looks good, but did cultivate)

Combine on tracks, trailers only on tramlines, drilled earlier than cultivated land etc, tine drill.
Ok. Somethings not quite right here if you are getting such variance in yield especially as you have the right tools, a Horsch and Metcalfe points👍
How were you establishing prior to your foray into CA? What’s the grass weed situation and when are you drilling in the autumn?
As a general rule most people see a dip when they don’t react to the (rapidly) changing soil C:N ratio and demands as the soil biology returns.
 

Wigeon

Member
Arable Farmer
Thanks. Horsch gone now actually as was bggered, and replaced with aitchison.

Do have some grass weeds, though not had to spray out any bg for a couple of yrs. Soft/ meadow bromes on a few headlands though.

Typical establishment otherwise of solo / shakaerate, cultipress with tines, + - top tilth, Horsch and roll. Costs c140/ha. Aim to drill 2nd week oct ish, conditions allowing.

Indeed re CN, though funnily enough my spring barley after vetch and sheep had massive soil residual n and only gave it 50kgs.
 

Spud

Member
Arable Farmer
Location
YO62
This autumn and last year have well and truly shown the value of soil structure, and highlighted in particular where problems exist.

My farm is generally grade 3 heavy silty clay loam with flints, with a decent chunk at 55%- 60% forecast establishment rates, according to Soyl. It also has no land drains or ditches, but it does have some hills. Its renowned locally as a wet farm, but will comfortably do 10t ha in a 'normal' yr.

Extremes of weather are obviously a major challenge at the moment, and the thing that exercises me most is how to improve resilience. Spring 'droughts' I can cope with, more or less. 6 inches of rain over an october weekend I can't.

Obvious solutions:

Get some grass leys with deep rooting legumes etc into the rotation. Fine- i have put in 1/4 of the farm down for 2 yrs. All well and good but no schemes available as still in hls, and will only earn sps and a few pennies from sheep, but basically naff all, after topping etc.

Got some compost. There isn't any.

Zero till. Great theory, but have struggled thus far. 4 yr experiment looked good - loads of worms, walked cleaner etc, but consistently underperformed at harvest, and then c35% of the winter barley on it failed due to wet feet last year.

Cover crops. Only managed to grow one decent one ever. Timeliness of establishment usually a challenge if wheat not off till end of Aug.

Plaster it with muck. I'd love to, but there isnt any.

Diverse rotations. Have dropped osr this year, and now have a mix of wheat, grass, beans, linseed and oats, probably.

Subscribe to direct driller. I do.

Smaller tractors and bigger tyres. Tricky one- timeliness in seemingly ever decreasing weather windows vs tiptoeing along when you can. Ultimately only damage limitation rather than improvement.

Have i missed anything? What are others doing? With forecast rain tonight I'm at the point of shutting the gate till spring, in the less than comforting position of knowing that a decent chunk of my winter wheat isnt going to make it, not counting the stuff that's still in the bag...

Must be others in this boat?

Thanks
You're not on your own!

Do you grow barley? Early start to harvest to get some cover crops sown pre direct drilled spring break crops

Dont drill cover crops too thick or land won't dry and weeds won't grow. More happens below ground than above (especially in a year like this)

Any call for vining peas in your area? Plenty chance for a cc, then an early pea harvest and good entry for wheat

DD winter beans and wheat after beans have been the most reliable for me, and spring oats after a winter cc

Shallow worked soil dries faster than deep worked soil

Any call for silage grass in your area, for cows or AD? 2yr ley?

Lighter kit sinks less than heavy kit - a big combine running faster forward speeds with a 25' header instead of slower with 30' sinks less

My heavy land (We have a kiln on the farm from the days when it produced drainage tiles for the local area, if that gives an indication of soil type!) grows WW, WW, w beans (more reliable than springs and I can use Kerbflow to control bg) ww, ww, muck, cover crop, spring milling oats. If my storage facilitated it, I'd have 3 breaks and 3 wheats, but for now the second wheats are ok. Currently direct drill the oats, beans, wheat after the beans, and the cover. Wheat after oats this time was shallow cultivated then drilled - slowly, land is improving.

Lighter land is Potatoes, wheat (shakerator combi), w barley (ploughed, mostly due to wheat volunteers in the barley), cc, (sometimes turnips for sheep grazing) muck, sugar beet, seed oats, wheat, w barley, cc, muck, back to spuds. If wild oats dictate, spring barley will replace seed oats, which are then followed by winter barley not wheat - its also a good option if situations dictate that there are less root crops in any given year. Seed oats occasionally after spuds (like this last season.... Lots of changes in establishment across this lot over the years, but your situation sounds like its heavier land, so not really relevant?
 

2019 did not drill any crops after 23 september because it was too wet (by 30 september we would have ben drilled up )
2020 completed drilling on 2nd october fortunately it did not rain on fields where autumn planting was planned

no till on heavy land since 2012 bigdisc now a gd
did some direct drilling before that with a moore drill

mole drain regularly use gps to add new moles between the old ones (ahdb has a very good webenar )
heaviest fields are always dryer after mole draining
i do it in the spring after drilling a spring barley or spring bean crop or before a late april planted crop

controlled traffic with grain trailers on tramlines only
use wider drill at slower speeds

drill autumn crops early last week of september here

but most important do not drill when it is too wet the drill may go but it is not right to drill
dont worry about the neighbours notill never looks a good from the road
remember the grass is always greener over the fence
 

Wigeon

Member
Arable Farmer

2019 did not drill any crops after 23 september because it was too wet (by 30 september we would have ben drilled up )
2020 completed drilling on 2nd october fortunately it did not rain on fields where autumn planting was planned

no till on heavy land since 2012 bigdisc now a gd
did some direct drilling before that with a moore drill

mole drain regularly use gps to add new moles between the old ones (ahdb has a very good webenar )
heaviest fields are always dryer after mole draining
i do it in the spring after drilling a spring barley or spring bean crop or before a late april planted crop

controlled traffic with grain trailers on tramlines only
use wider drill at slower speeds

drill autumn crops early last week of september here

but most important do not drill when it is too wet the drill may go but it is not right to drill
dont worry about the neighbours notill never looks a good from the road
remember the grass is always greener over the fence
Interesting, thanks.

Problem is that there's no point in moling as I have no drains or ditches to mole across or to unfortunately.
 

martian

DD Moderator
BASE UK Member
Location
N Herts
You have to accept that yields won't always be top notch, remember you are trying to work with nature which is inherently more variable than a system where you are dictating how you want conditions to be. Savings on cultivation cost will not be enough to cover these reduced yields.

It is the savings on input costs due to the enhanced soil health of a no-till environment that really start to push up profits. For example- no seed dressings, no p or K, no lime, no growth regs, no slug pellets, reduced nitrogen, reduced fungicides.
Headline figures from our Groundswell benchmarking group back this up, variable costs for no-till farms were £74/ha less than conventional and capital value of machinery was £186/ha less. Of course there's a huge variation between farms, but these are the averages
 

In conversation with a soil health pioneer

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In conversation with a soil health pioneer

Written by Janet Hughes



https://www.buzzsprout.com/1657363/8311877-janet-hughes-and-gabe-brown-the-six-principles-of-soil-health.mp3

In this month's Future Farming podcast, Janet Hughes talks to Gabe Brown.

Gabe has been named one of the twenty-five most influential agricultural leaders in the United States. He farms at...
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