Does No-Till solve all our problems?

Jim Bullock

Never Forgotten
Honorary Member
I was very interested to read Andy Barr's column in this weeks FW.
http://www.fwi.co.uk/arable/farmer-focus-surprised-by-soil-ph-tests-results.htm
He is one of the few contributors that I actually read and believe..
I get very concerned by the growing band of no-tillers who seem to think that by growing cover crops and direct-drilling all your problems are going to be solved. We have owned a direct-drill for 17 years and hired several in for three years before then...and yes we have had some good results and have cut our establishment costs. BUT with changing weather patterns and ever more weed and soil structure problems we are just not getting the sort of yields we were ten years ago... When we started down this route we saw yields drop in years 2-4 and we thought that was acceptable as they appeared to pick up again...however on some of our longest no-till fields after 10- 15 years we are seeing some significant yield drops.. due to soil fertility (pH) and structural problems. There is no getting away from the fact that by running any sort of machinery over land you are going to cause soil compaction and by mono cropping you are going to create a soil fertility and weed problems.
As our only drill is a direct-drill we have got to make the system work..
I often read Michael Horsch's comments that direct-drilling in western Europe is not a long term solution and initially I thought as many others that he would say that as he is selling cultivation kit.. But I have to say he has a point.
My solution is going to be put land into long term fallow with some fertility building cover crops, change our drill and find a source of income outside the farm!!!
Discuss (for those of you not watching the rugby..:unsure:)
 

Clive

Staff Member
NFFN Member
Location
Lichfield
I agree that zero-till is no panacea, I also worry about some that seem to be adopting it as such like the latest new fashion, many are unfortunelaty doomed to fail, they haven't thought it through as a system and as a result are only half in, they have put machinery and chemistry ahead of rotation and biology - a fundamental error

What I don't agree with is that the UK is particularly different to anywhere else, it has certain unique situations and issues but so do many other places, all are possible to sort if you are prepared to make the changes needed.

zero-till doesn't suddenly mean you can stop farming "properly" soils that need lime and other basic nutrition N P K Mg etc will (unsurprisingly) always need those things probably, It gets harder to accurately test for these things and I was discussing this today in fact with ST. getting this right is going to be a big challenge going forward but I'm sure its possible

There is little doubt that carbon / SOM is key to yield IMO especially on light soils, when I get a chance I will post a yield map of a field I harvested for a neighbour this year, (not zero till) half has been long term grass / FYM and half long term arable, a hedge was removed last year - the wheat is around 7t/ha on the arable bit and 17t/ha on the grassland bit !! - all these world record wheat yields all come form soils with LOTs of FYM. Cover crops are a great way for arable farmers to get some of this BUT I am concerned when I see farmers spending £30/ac etc on doing it and even more concerned when they think its going to fix their BG problem as well !

I don't think soil structure is a problem, I'm certainly only seeing improvements here but I'm also flexible enough to drag a carrier about if I think there is need or subsoil the odd headland etc if needed,
 
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Buttomline and not yield has to be the key factor. Almost everybody here in DK talks yield, while they hardly don't know their costs per hectare!
A students project this year compared my economy numbers in a benchmark to other farmers.
It showed I had 2000 Dkr (200£) more earning per hectare than other farmers in the same group.
This means that I could actually have 2 t less yield/ha and have the same result.
In average I have the same yield level as others have, and some times actually higher.
This year was the second highest average WW yield here ever (9,3 t/ha but much lower than UK yields because of the danish N regulations!).
The soil becomes better and better and there is more life in it. No insecticides applied for several growing seasons which I explain with many more ground beetles and spiders IMG_7739.jpg IMG_7742.jpg .
Won't even mention worms.
Machinery costs a lot of money, and farmers like new toys!
Even before you turn the key, there is costs is running......
When this is said, what really means a lot for the economy is the sale strategy. Grain prices has been changing 30% this year! To sell wrong can cost more than seed, fertilizer and chemicals costs all together!
 
I think you can get into a negative spiral with some fields where there is a structural problem which causes poor yields which means poor rooting and low biomass returns which in turn doesn't sort out the structural problem and so on.

I think there's not point hoping that serious structural problems will disappear with the odd cover crop. Is there an underlying cause for the structural problems? What's the drainage like? Is the moling up to date? Have the ditches been cleaned?

We have just bought a new old 360 digger. Without fail our least productive fields (and nearly always our worst BG problems) are where the ditches are not performing adequately. In some cases drain outfalls are well below the level of the ditch. I also just met with a contractor yesterday who has a circular saw on a long reach 360 to start taking down our overgrown hedges. We plan to start with the worst areas first and go over the whole lot eventually. Next door estate has really gone hell for leather with their ditching - they did 30 miles of ditching last year - and apparently some of their farms have been transformed.
 
No Till was always about a system and aiming for good quality and longer term thinking. Direct drilling to me was about just changing the drill.

With no till you need to remember to replace what you do with cultivation with something else which could be anything depending on the circumstance - could be s herbicide, could be education, could be crop change etc.

I can't quite pinpoint what JIms point is specifically though.
 

Louis Mc

Member
Location
Meath, Ireland
Jim if you thought the reason for your reduced yield and lack of profitability was direct drilling, then surely you would just reintroduce tillage and continue cash cropping 100% of your land to give you an income withiut having to look off farm??? Is direct drilling just a coincidental factor taking the blame for other soil ph /fertility/ca:mg issues?????
 

Douglasmn

Member
My limited experience has taught me that there are far worse things in farming than moving a bit of soil. For the few out there who can make long term no till work then I take my hat off to them. For everyone else just use your plough or cultivator or whatever it may be and keep getting good results the tried and tested way. Best crops(cleanest, highest yielding, highest margin) here have always involved a plough or max till cultivator. I think Horsch, Vaderstad etc are so popular(much more so than Claydon, John Dale etc) for a very good reason.
 

Jim Bullock

Never Forgotten
Honorary Member
Jim if you thought the reason for your reduced yield and lack of profitability was direct drilling, then surely you would just reintroduce tillage and continue cash cropping 100% of your land to give you an income withiut having to look off farm??? Is direct drilling just a coincidental factor taking the blame for other soil ph /fertility/ca:mg issues?????
Louis Mc
I have probably not been as clear as I should have been in my initial posting. First and foremost I am 100% in favour of direct-drilling for all of the financial and environmental reasons. And by adopting the technique I am actually able to take time out from the farm for other business activities. However I think I need to highlight the fact that D-D is not an easy option and if conditions go against you have to adapt and make changes and if necessary hit the "re-set button".
 
The reading that I've done fairly clearly suggests that no-till on soils which are poorly structured / not draining properly is environmentally more damaging than cultivating to provide temporary drainage if you get increased incidences of anaerobic conditions and therefore higher N20 losses, lower biological activity and reduced yields.
 
The reading that I've done fairly clearly suggests that no-till on soils which are poorly structured / not draining properly is environmentally more damaging than cultivating to provide temporary drainage if you get increased incidences of anaerobic conditions and therefore higher N20 losses, lower biological activity and reduced yields.


Indeed. It's worth doing a water infiltration test on land to see how it takes water.
 
Having now read what Andy Barr said I don't find it that surprising. Acidity on the top is high where as lower down it's OK.

I suppose given all the npk that can go on (and s) then I would expect acidity here. Maybe even top dressing 1/2t lime every two years is would help? All depends on soil and parent material I expect.

The idea of 2t /acre of lime every 4-5 years that is traditional in this area is a compromise really, its would be much nicer to have a constant pH of 6-6.5 all the time!
 

rob1

Member
Location
wiltshire
Having now read what Andy Barr said I don't find it that surprising. Acidity on the top is high where as lower down it's OK.

I suppose given all the npk that can go on (and s) then I would expect acidity here. Maybe even top dressing 1/2t lime every two years is would help? All depends on soil and parent material I expect.

The idea of 2t /acre of lime every 4-5 years that is traditional in this area is a compromise really, its would be much nicer to have a constant pH of 6-6.5 all the time!
Put on two tonnes on some ground a couple of years ago and it locked up some trace elements I think, was a mistake as should have done as you suggest and put a bit on at a time
 

rob1

Member
Location
wiltshire
Its bound to in a way - it makes the top 1cm have a ph of about 9 I expect albeit temporarily.
Trouble with DD is that everything you did before when tilling could react differently with DD and I forget sometimes to think hard enough about that. curve steep and learning come to mind
 

Clive

Staff Member
NFFN Member
Location
Lichfield
Having now read what Andy Barr said I don't find it that surprising. Acidity on the top is high where as lower down it's OK.

I suppose given all the npk that can go on (and s) then I would expect acidity here. Maybe even top dressing 1/2t lime every two years is would help? All depends on soil and parent material I expect.

The idea of 2t /acre of lime every 4-5 years that is traditional in this area is a compromise really, its would be much nicer to have a constant pH of 6-6.5 all the time!

I was talking to Steve Townsend yesterday and he is of the opinion we should be applying a routine amount of Ca every year regardless of pH but as an essential plant and biological nutrition, this despite our soils base saturation being Ca dominated.

I reckon there are some massive myths surrounding how we all use lime in ag - it's a valuable product but its use and role is seriously over simplified in it's consideration as simply a neutralising product when I think it is probably so much more than that
 

rob1

Member
Location
wiltshire
The problem is if we start using covers, starter fert, a bit of lime, trace elements etc etc every year to achieve the yield we got when ploughing and PH drilling the cost saving of DD will be more than wiped out.IF DD is better for the soil and soil life and therefore crops we should be able to use less of these things not more(at least after a couple of years)
 
I was talking to Steve Townsend yesterday and he is of the opinion we should be applying a routine amount of Ca every year regardless of pH but as an essential plant and biological nutrition, this despite our soils base saturation being Ca dominated.

I reckon there are some massive myths surrounding how we all use lime in ag - it's a valuable product but its use and role is seriously over simplified in it's consideration as simply a neutralising product when I think it is probably so much more than that

Well maybe yes. But would you test that with a foliar test beforehand to see if the plant is getting Ca?

A counter argument is sometimes there is a Calcium fetish perpetuated by Albrecht followers. There is often a lot of Ca in the ground!
 

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Man fined £300 for bonfire-related waste offences

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Written by William Kellett from Agriland

court-640x360.jpg
A man has pleaded guilty at Newtownards Magistrates’ Court to waste offences relating to a bonfire next to the electrical sub-station on the Circular Road in Newtownards, Co. Down.

Gareth Gill (51) of Abbot’s Walk, Newtownards pleaded guilty to two charges under the Waste and Contaminated Land (Northern Ireland) Order 1997, for which he was fined £150 each and ordered to pay a £15 offender’s levy

On June 25, 2018, PSNI officers went to Gill’s yard, where they found a large amount of waste consisting of scrap wood, pallets, carpet and underlay.

Discussion with Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) officers confirmed the site...
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