infiltration doesn't work

dt995

Member
Location
Carmarthenshire
Obviously it does work. What I mean is that trying to achieve infiltration doesn't work. Or rather, it doesn't here.

I've read all[1] the books, seen talks about how Gabe Brown et al just get all the rainwater to infiltrate away in 5 minutes, and how valuable every drop of that water is, and I regret spending so much time and money thinking I could achieve the same thing.

Dig down a foot or two anywhere here and you find solid clay, which water can't infiltrate. We dug infiltration test holes when we replacing the septic system some years ago and the water didn't run away.

I've spent three years moving sheep and cattle around every day or two, and the fields are worse than they were before I started. It's like the _soil_ layer has improved, but all that means is that when it rains for days and days (and days) on end, I have a much bigger sponge sitting on top of the impermeable clay, so the fields are just so much wetter than before. Then even if it stops raining for a couple of days the fields don't dry out at all, because it's all just sitting in the soil.

The only way to improve anything is drainage. (Trying to achieve) infiltration is hopeless.

[1] obviously not all the books in the world. I was moving fences around too much for _all_ the books in the world.
 

Kiwi Pete

Member
Livestock Farmer
What sort of impact are you getting and how much litter/wasted feed are you putting down?

Please don't take this at all the wrong way (because this was us!!) but what we were doing was 'animals behind a wire' and 'leaving some grass behind'

It wasn't actually changing anything though

We were still farming
We still didn't want lots of weeds
We still kept grazing all the time

We were NOT creating herd impact with our stock density increase, and we weren't resting pastures nearly enough, and we still overgrazed.
So the same thing happened, as what you said.... 🤏
Our saving grace here is that although we're on brickmaking clay, it's really well aggregated at depth.
I honestly lay much of the credit for that between two things - minimal machinery, and a massive spreading thistle "problem".
Because if you go over the fence on one side, it's almost the same at depth but tight at the surface (setstocked sheep) and the other side is just like brick (dairy) right the way down.
All on the same soil, literally a 5 minute walk apart.

The sheep farmer just lets the grass do its thing and the dairy is always too wet or too dry, and struggling to feed the cows despite new grass and plenty of fert. It's just collapsed the structure from surface right down a spade length because there are no roots there is compaction, and because of the compaction there are no roots
 

dt995

Member
Location
Carmarthenshire
We're only small, and I have a "proper" job, and children, so I can't keep them any tighter-with-more-frequent-moves than every day or two. But we are small, so some areas don't have animals on them for ages.

There have been times putting sheep into waist-high grass areas, and moving them on with most of it trampled down uneaten, as recommended. I can't achieve that every time, but we did do it. Like I say, I think it's great for the topsoil, but it doesn't do anything two feet down. You mention roots, but our roots probably drown here, more than anything else. It's been raining every day for weeks. There's no "valuable moisture to conserve". Bring on the run-off.

The only machinery on the fields in a normal year is for haylage making. We only cut the hedges in the fields every few years (this year was one, unfortunately).

A couple of years back we had the coal authority out to excavate and refill some old bell pits in a couple of the fields. You could see that as soon as they dug through the topsoil layer there was still water just sitting on top of the clay, and that was a spell of dry weather in summer.

When we had a droughty summer in 2018 people kept commenting that our fields were shockingly green compared to everyone else around. I'm not saying it doesn't work at all. But it doesn't work for the weather we get here on the ground we have here.
 
We're only small, and I have a "proper" job, and children, so I can't keep them any tighter-with-more-frequent-moves than every day or two. But we are small, so some areas don't have animals on them for ages.

There have been times putting sheep into waist-high grass areas, and moving them on with most of it trampled down uneaten, as recommended. I can't achieve that every time, but we did do it. Like I say, I think it's great for the topsoil, but it doesn't do anything two feet down. You mention roots, but our roots probably drown here, more than anything else. It's been raining every day for weeks. There's no "valuable moisture to conserve". Bring on the run-off.

The only machinery on the fields in a normal year is for haylage making. We only cut the hedges in the fields every few years (this year was one, unfortunately).

A couple of years back we had the coal authority out to excavate and refill some old bell pits in a couple of the fields. You could see that as soon as they dug through the topsoil layer there was still water just sitting on top of the clay, and that was a spell of dry weather in summer.

When we had a droughty summer in 2018 people kept commenting that our fields were shockingly green compared to everyone else around. I'm not saying it doesn't work at all. But it doesn't work for the weather we get here on the ground we have here.
Because none of us has an answer?? To the post above

Our fields are running, Im hoping it doesn't turn out like last year, I went to investigate something white in the middle of a field, it was a mole run that had erupted into a fountain a foot high.

I have noticed that the soil surface feels completely loose under the grass, we have better cover than usual, and there are worm casts everywhere so perhaps the soil life has been working away in this warm autumn and has created conditions like a fine tilth that got rained on. This gives the impression of an unstructured "wet" farm but those worms will be working away and in dry years they go down and start the process of loosening up the subsoil. (I can't help thinking that those cracks in the clay you can stuff your arm down and not feel the bottom should be a quicker way of achieving the same thing)
 

Macsky

Member
Livestock Farmer
Location
Highland
Obviously it does work. What I mean is that trying to achieve infiltration doesn't work. Or rather, it doesn't here.

I've read all[1] the books, seen talks about how Gabe Brown et al just get all the rainwater to infiltrate away in 5 minutes, and how valuable every drop of that water is, and I regret spending so much time and money thinking I could achieve the same thing.

Dig down a foot or two anywhere here and you find solid clay, which water can't infiltrate. We dug infiltration test holes when we replacing the septic system some years ago and the water didn't run away.

I've spent three years moving sheep and cattle around every day or two, and the fields are worse than they were before I started. It's like the _soil_ layer has improved, but all that means is that when it rains for days and days (and days) on end, I have a much bigger sponge sitting on top of the impermeable clay, so the fields are just so much wetter than before. Then even if it stops raining for a couple of days the fields don't dry out at all, because it's all just sitting in the soil.

The only way to improve anything is drainage. (Trying to achieve) infiltration is hopeless.

[1] obviously not all the books in the world. I was moving fences around too much for _all_ the books in the world.
Would mole draining, maybe with gravel backfill, be an option? Are there old drains/ditches about into which water could be directed?
Theres nothing as effective as drainage at improving ground where it’s needed.
 

Blaithin

Member
Livestock Farmer
Location
Alberta, Canada
You seem to have high expectations of the water cycle.

Your infiltration is probably good. The fact you have 1-2 feet of topsoil above clay is also pretty darn good. What you need to be focusing on is increasing OM/humus to increase the soils water holding capacity. The healthier the soil gets, the more water it can hold before it becomes saturated. What’s the ratio, 1% more OM in soils helps increase the soils water holding by 20,000 gallons/acre. Something like that.

The entire purpose of the water cycle is that some water stays in your soil and some gradually makes its way down to underground streams or through the soil towards water bodies. Unless you live in a bowl or on a completely flat surface the water in your soil is slowly migrating towards other destinations. You want plants to help hold the soil together and slow the water down to prevent erosion and leeching. The fact you say it takes days to start to disappear means you have nice, slow movement instead of a damaging rush. So focus on increasing the humus and the holding capacity of the soil. Many people live above clay or rock that won’t allow water to drain down quickly. Coming from an arid area I say why would you want it to drain away quickly. I want that water to stick around as long as possible. The more I can keep for longer, the better.

Bump up your residue, give good rest periods, feed your soil trash, take videos of your squelchy foot steps in saturated soil and compare them to videos after the same amount of rain next year and the year after.

Clay soil will allow only a small portion of the water cycle to go down into underground streams. Most of it will move horizontally and be up-taken by plants and evaporation. There’s nothing wrong with that, just don’t try and make your location do what someone in sandy locations can do. Focus on soil moisture, it’s holding capacity, and managing surface runoff. Runoff isn’t bad in and of itself, but if your soil isn’t well covered and well anchored then runoff takes your soil with it. You want the water to run clear.
 
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dt995

Member
Location
Carmarthenshire
Would mole draining, maybe with gravel backfill, be an option? Are there old drains/ditches about into which water could be directed?
Theres nothing as effective as drainage at improving ground where it’s needed.
This is my plan for the future. Any money spent on anything that isn't drainage is money wasted.

There are some drains from the 80s but I'm sure most of them are ineffective now and not even findable, without drastic earthworks.

We talked to a pukka drainage contractor last year but actual proper full-on drainage is far too (madly, crazy, eye-wateringly) expensive for us, given this is only a hobby (i.e. there are no real "return on investment"s).

None of our fields are of the "perfectly-level with one gradient" that would make mole-ploughing obvious, and it seems that getting it wrong could make things even worse, so we have to try to find someone who properly knows what they're doing, rather than "the neighbour who bought a mole-plough" type thing.
 

dt995

Member
Location
Carmarthenshire
The entire purpose of the water cycle is that some water stays in your soil and some gradually makes its way down to underground streams or through the soil towards water bodies. Unless you live in a bowl or on a completely flat surface the water in your soil is slowly migrating towards other destinations. You want plants to help hold the soil together and slow the water down to prevent erosion and leeching. The fact you say it takes days to start to disappear means you have nice, slow movement instead of a damaging rush. So focus on increasing the humus and the holding capacity of the soil. Many people live above clay or rock that won’t allow water to drain down quickly. Coming from an arid area I say why would you want it to drain away quickly. I want that water to stick around as long as possible. The more I can keep for longer, the better.
I think the above paragraph shows that, because you're in an arid area, perhaps you cannot possibly understand what it's like here. If I were to say to Australians in the middle of a three year drought that "cor it must be so nice to have a bit of sun, eh?" then they'd think I was taking the pish.

Bump up your residue, give good rest periods, feed your soil trash, take videos of your squelchy foot steps in saturated soil and compare them to videos after the same amount of rain next year and the year after.
I think you miss my point. I've been doing those things (with the exception of actually taking videos) and the fields are _worse_ than five years ago.
 

Kiwi Pete

Member
Livestock Farmer
This is my plan for the future. Any money spent on anything that isn't drainage is money wasted.

There are some drains from the 80s but I'm sure most of them are ineffective now and not even findable, without drastic earthworks.

We talked to a pukka drainage contractor last year but actual proper full-on drainage is far too (madly, crazy, eye-wateringly) expensive for us, given this is only a hobby (i.e. there are no real "return on investment"s).

None of our fields are of the "perfectly-level with one gradient" that would make mole-ploughing obvious, and it seems that getting it wrong could make things even worse, so we have to try to find someone who properly knows what they're doing, rather than "the neighbour who bought a mole-plough" type thing.
Our neighbour moleploughed round and round - on the side of a hill 🤣 what a ballsup
 
What's your OM level now and what is the potential for your soil?

Short term fix could be something like a mole plough or I've used a shakaerator to break into the subsoil. Use on the contour to get infiltration rather than drainage.

Long term. KP mentioned thistles. What are you growing that is deep rooting? Chicory, red clover and cocksfoot are my favourites and should cope with your conditions.
 

dt995

Member
Location
Carmarthenshire
Haven't tested soil in a few years.

I've grown all sorts of herbal and "deep rooter" grass seeds, but that's always been for repairing damage rather than redoing an entire field. All the land has been PP for years, so not a ryegrass desert. I don't see any of them rooting down through a foot or two of delicious topsoil into the inert clay beneath, enough to break it up and let the water drain away. That just seems fanciful. The clay goes down forever :) Anyway, it hasn't happened. Perhaps it would if I'd redone a whole field after subsoiling, or something, but that's not an option.

I'm not sure that deep-rooted wouldn't just suffer with root drowning. I can't see there being much oxygen throughout the saturated soil.

The few places we have which are dry are small areas where the water can run away and there isn't a whole hill above draining into it. I can't regrade the land though, and it's very bumpy and dippy and sloping in all sorts of directions.
 

Clive

Staff Member
BASE UK Member
Location
Lichfield
Infiltration has improved a lot here in a arable situation, it’s one of the most physically tangible changes we have seen

trailed 6000/L 36m sprayers can travel today where 10 years ago a 24m 4000L self prop would not have

drainage is also important but we have done little in the way to improve that in the last 20 years as it’s expensive to do right, it’s something I would love to invest more into however
 

Blaithin

Member
Livestock Farmer
Location
Alberta, Canada
I think the above paragraph shows that, because you're in an arid area, perhaps you cannot possibly understand what it's like here. If I were to say to Australians in the middle of a three year drought that "cor it must be so nice to have a bit of sun, eh?" then they'd think I was taking the pish.



I think you miss my point. I've been doing those things (with the exception of actually taking videos) and the fields are _worse_ than five years ago.
Don’t make the assumption because I live in an arid area I don’t have experience with what you’re talking about. If I said I lived somewhere with 1300 mm of rain annually would my advice be worth more, despite being the same? Maybe if I said I lived on an old glacial lake that had very little elevation change and, while a lot off good topsoil, it was all on top of a great gob of clay and relied on drainage ditches to help encourage water movement.

Also 5 years is not a long time. Generally when switching to regenerative practices it’s a good idea to not look for decisive and consistent improvements for at least ten years. If you just say it isn’t working, I quit, then it won’t work.

Keep doing what you’re doing and work on slopes and drains for draining what isn’t being held by the soil. Clay is not usually a nice thin layer where all you need is some deep rooting plants to poke holes through it. You need to work on getting the water to move horizontally, not vertically.
 
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Samcowman

Member
Mixed Farmer
Location
Wiltshire
First thoughts how are yours ditches? We took on a block of 20 acres pp. your usual not looked after just cut for silage twice a year ditches not dug or running. First year couldn’t drive across it end of April when we could the land next door. Dig the ditches out. Took a couple of years for the water to find its way again but it’s totally different ground now. Still the same pp as was there before.
 

snarling bee

Member
Arable Farmer
Location
Bedfordshire
Infiltration has improved a lot here in a arable situation, it’s one of the most physically tangible changes we have seen

trailed 6000/L 36m sprayers can travel today where 10 years ago a 24m 4000L self prop would not have

drainage is also important but we have done little in the way to improve that in the last 20 years as it’s expensive to do right, it’s something I would love to invest more into however
Typical comment from Clive. Blah Blah Blah this and that. You have NO IDEA what 7 inches of shitty topsoil over 22m of brick making clay is like. (I know its 22 metres thick under the farm buildings as we have recently dug a borehole).
 

Simon C

Member
Arable Farmer
Location
Essex Coast
Obviously it does work. What I mean is that trying to achieve infiltration doesn't work. Or rather, it doesn't here.

I've read all[1] the books, seen talks about how Gabe Brown et al just get all the rainwater to infiltrate away in 5 minutes, and how valuable every drop of that water is, and I regret spending so much time and money thinking I could achieve the same thing.

Dig down a foot or two anywhere here and you find solid clay, which water can't infiltrate. We dug infiltration test holes when we replacing the septic system some years ago and the water didn't run away.

I've spent three years moving sheep and cattle around every day or two, and the fields are worse than they were before I started. It's like the _soil_ layer has improved, but all that means is that when it rains for days and days (and days) on end, I have a much bigger sponge sitting on top of the impermeable clay, so the fields are just so much wetter than before. Then even if it stops raining for a couple of days the fields don't dry out at all, because it's all just sitting in the soil.

The only way to improve anything is drainage. (Trying to achieve) infiltration is hopeless.

[1] obviously not all the books in the world. I was moving fences around too much for _all_ the books in the world.
Completely understand your problem, sounds like the same as here. Old permanent pasture has 6 inches of top soil then it's solid clay which goes down for ever, water does not percolate through it, the natural way the rain water leaves the land is surface run off. Sometimes some clown will put in a soakaway on a new build house, but they just fill up and water finds it's own way across the surface.

In my grandfather's day (1940s, 50s) arable land was stetched up, that is going back and forwards with a conventional plough so as to make water furrow every 8 feet. Then they dug water furrows by hand at right angles to take water to the ditches. The only way we can farm here now is to put in an artificial system which consists of stone backfilled drainage with moling every 2.5 metres across them. As soon as a mole fails, water just sits on the surface and stays there all winter.

I've read all the books too, the trouble is these ideas don't always work on different continents, on different soil types and in different climates. Most of these authors only know there own little piece of dirt and can't possibly comprehend what it is like elsewhere.
 
Completely understand your problem, sounds like the same as here. Old permanent pasture has 6 inches of top soil then it's solid clay which goes down for ever, water does not percolate through it, the natural way the rain water leaves the land is surface run off. Sometimes some clown will put in a soakaway on a new build house, but they just fill up and water finds it's own way across the surface.

In my grandfather's day (1940s, 50s) arable land was stetched up, that is going back and forwards with a conventional plough so as to make water furrow every 8 feet. Then they dug water furrows by hand at right angles to take water to the ditches. The only way we can farm here now is to put in an artificial system which consists of stone backfilled drainage with moling every 2.5 metres across them. As soon as a mole fails, water just sits on the surface and stays there all winter.

I've read all the books too, the trouble is these ideas don't always work on different continents, on different soil types and in different climates. Most of these authors only know there own little piece of dirt and can't possibly comprehend what it is like elsewhere.
But to be fair you farm on reclaimed marshland with a water table very high. So I would expect to do agriculture (artificial production system) you would need to make intervention
 

dt995

Member
Location
Carmarthenshire
We reopened a ditch running the whole length up one side and that carries a hell of a lot of water away. On the other side the contours don't lend themselves to ditching so obviously, so we didn't do it at the same time. I think it would require a mole plough to get the water from the middle into the ditches, though. That or ridge and furrow the whole way down so the entire field is ditches.

We're currently in Glastir though, so we're not allowed to do much. Two years left in the scheme, I think.
 

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