infiltration doesn't work

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.
What would the water table be at for natural vegetation? ie what is your woodland like. Water table is water table.

Also this sort of grazing in the UK is about extending your winter and improving your summer grazing not eliminating your need for bringing stock in in the winter. Holistic Management principles would recognise this - no one size fits all.

Every farm is different.
 
I am having similar problems and similar thoughts. Putting fields into grass with deep rooted stuff like chicory seems to help, but if its already grass then not so easy to do.
 

Secret Agronomist

Member
Arable Farmer
I guess it depends on what the natural state of the landscape would be, before it was broken. In big chunks of North America it would be grass prairie, so its obvious a grazing based type of regenerative ag would work easily. Especially where rainfall is much lower than we have here. A lot of the farmland in Britain is obviously derived from wetter weather systems. So basically wet Heather moorland and woodland over clays, dry heath over chalk. Peaty soils that are wet year round, salt marshes etc etc. In essence if you want to get your wet soils over clay to behave like a prairie soil you need to remove the water (drainage) or just accept that the system has to be enacted slightly differently in each case. Essentially taking the Gate Brown et al model and expecting it to work everywhere is a fools errand. Yes there will be lessons you can learn but things need to be adapted to each situation, and having someone in a prairie area saying "give it time" doesn't help.
 

Blaithin

Member
Livestock Farmer
Location
Alberta, Canada
someone in a prairie area saying "give it time" doesn't help.
Never been to Manitoba have you.

Farmers are much too likely to have “You just don’t know” syndrome. There’s no way anyone else can deal with what individual farms deal with. Oh you live in another county/country/continent/field, you just can’t know. There’s no way any advice you’d give would be worthwhile, you live in a utopia compared to this farm with regulations/weather/neighbours. It’s like people have to attach a resume of places they’ve lived to be worth listening too.

You know what stops people the most from getting their land working in a cycle?

Saying others can’t understand and writing them off.

Human ego and psyche gets in the way, not the land.

So some people live where the water can infiltrate down a half mile before it hits clay or rock while others live where the water can only infiltrate down a few feet. Principles still apply. What happens to the water after it gets down half a mile and hits clay? It percolates horizontally with the watershed. Yes each will likely have different surface issues, but the ideas are still the same. Slow down the water, move it horizontally. I’m not going to tell people which equipment will work best or whether they should do underground drains or work on dykes, it’s an individuals choice. But in a situation of excessive soil moisture, getting that water to flow horizontally in some way is the goal. Unless you want to live in a pond.

And yes, I’m sorry if it’s not the answer people want to hear, but give it time. A broken water cycle doesn’t heal in a handful of years. It. Takes. Time. Doesn’t matter if you’re in North Dakota or the UK. Also be realistic. If you live in a slough and drain the land, you’re still not going to have a nice, dry location.
 

Secret Agronomist

Member
Arable Farmer
Never been to Manitoba have you.

Farmers are much too likely to have “You just don’t know” syndrome. There’s no way anyone else can deal with what individual farms deal with. Oh you live in another county/country/continent/field, you just can’t know. There’s no way any advice you’d give would be worthwhile, you live in a utopia compared to this farm with regulations/weather/neighbours. It’s like people have to attach a resume of places they’ve lived to be worth listening too.

You know what stops people the most from getting their land working in a cycle?

Saying others can’t understand and writing them off.

Human ego and psyche gets in the way, not the land.

So some people live where the water can infiltrate down a half mile before it hits clay or rock while others live where the water can only infiltrate down a few feet. Principles still apply. What happens to the water after it gets down half a mile and hits clay? It percolates horizontally with the watershed. Yes each will likely have different surface issues, but the ideas are still the same. Slow down the water, move it horizontally. I’m not going to tell people which equipment will work best or whether they should do underground drains or work on dykes, it’s an individuals choice. But in a situation of excessive soil moisture, getting that water to flow horizontally in some way is the goal. Unless you want to live in a pond.

And yes, I’m sorry if it’s not the answer people want to hear, but give it time. A broken water cycle doesn’t heal in a handful of years. It. Takes. Time. Doesn’t matter if you’re in North Dakota or the UK. Also be realistic. If you live in a slough and drain the land, you’re still not going to have a nice, dry location.
I never said you were wrong OR right, its horses for courses, 24" of loam over clay will always be 24" of loam over clay. You could leave it in grass for 1000 years and it would then be better soil and the A horizon would drain better but at the end of the day there would still be an impermeable clay layer below that so the water would then have to sit there or go sideways. Just as you were saying.
As always the rules of sustainability are;
1) You need economic sustainability first of all, unless you're a charity.
2) John 8:7
3) Matthew 5:45
 

martian

DD Moderator
BASE UK Member
Location
N Herts
Are you saying people without sin should stone me? :ROFLMAO::ROFLMAO:
As we used to sing in the sixties: Everybody must get stoned...

To be fair to Gabe and the Soil Health Academy, they are not selling a one size fits all system, they are pointing out their six principles which lead to better soil; the first one is context, i.e. what's your subsoil like, your climate, your markets, your objectives etc etc Having tried a bit of out-wintering here with our cattle, I've realised that life is much easier if we bring them in for a month or two when the ground is as wet as it is now. We're mostly arable, so we've got machines to make a bit of hay or silage and the dung, when converted to compost, is the best addition to our arable acres.

I've just been walking across a pasture that the cows reduced to what looked like a ploughed field last week as we brought them home. It's turned green again, but there's a lot of surface compaction and water, like the OP, we've got pretty impenetrable clay just below the topsoil under most of our permanent pasture. Looked after, it'll grow good grass all summer, trash it and it won't...eight years of mob-grazing experiments have resulted in deeper topsoil though, it is definitely improving. Allowing the vegetation to grow tall and the roots to grow deep has helped no end, but it is still very wet now...
 

Blaithin

Member
Livestock Farmer
Location
Alberta, Canada
If you live where it’s wet, you live where it’s wet.

Me improving soil health isn’t going to help with the fact the ground here is frozen for 7 months of the year (try getting infiltration through that!). Need to be realistic about the limiting factors of where one lives. Wet, dry, frozen, desert, etc. They can’t just be made to be generic through a few processes. They can usually be improved upon - because we’ve damaged them - and there’s a variety of tweaks we can do based on our goals and ideals - but you can’t just change the entire ecosystem. Theyre called limiting factors because they limit, not erasable factors because you can erase them. In most cases it’s encouraged for people to work with an ecosystem.

Got a low spot that just won’t drain? Always saturated. Wants to be a pothole. Let it be a pothole! Plant some rushes, plug whatever you’ve done, fence it off, have a healthy and functioning riparian area. Yeah you will “lose some land” (biggest excuse here for fighting with low spots instead of just letting them be riparian areas) and yeah, easier said than done if your entire field seems to be a pothole. That said, riparian areas are greatly encouraged because they are natural water filters/cleaners and a functioning one will have different soil qualities and promote horizontal AND vertical water movement. If one could have a healthy riparian area, be it slough, pond, creek, etc. it could help with the consistent saturation of nearby soil.

Now I’m sure the answer to this is not in a million years or through a gross amount of regulatory paperwork, but what’s the chance of people in the UK being able to dig a dugout?

It’s a running theme on the holistic thread to “promote diversity!” But that topic only ever usually stretches to diversity of plants - different grasses, legumes, and sometimes trees - and diversity of animals - cattle, sheep, chickens, the odd wildlife. Monoculture arable crops are despaired upon, but what about the lack of ecosystem diversity in a field just being a field. Ive seen great cell set ups and grass growth, unique and nifty water set ups, the inclusion of trees in plans, but rarely ever are riparian areas discussed as an increase in diversity in the regen grazing regime. Mainly because they aren’t a consistent grazing option, instead they’re a factor for the health of your ecosystem. Also it could be because most main contributors are from areas where water is in abundance so the power of a riparian area is easily overlooked when someone is just sick of water and the goal has always been to just get it off the land and on to the next persons.
 

Kiwi Pete

Member
Livestock Farmer
As we used to sing in the sixties: Everybody must get stoned...

To be fair to Gabe and the Soil Health Academy, they are not selling a one size fits all system, they are pointing out their six principles which lead to better soil; the first one is context, i.e. what's your subsoil like, your climate, your markets, your objectives etc etc Having tried a bit of out-wintering here with our cattle, I've realised that life is much easier if we bring them in for a month or two when the ground is as wet as it is now. We're mostly arable, so we've got machines to make a bit of hay or silage and the dung, when converted to compost, is the best addition to our arable acres.

I've just been walking across a pasture that the cows reduced to what looked like a ploughed field last week as we brought them home. It's turned green again, but there's a lot of surface compaction and water, like the OP, we've got pretty impenetrable clay just below the topsoil under most of our permanent pasture. Looked after, it'll grow good grass all summer, trash it and it won't...eight years of mob-grazing experiments have resulted in deeper topsoil though, it is definitely improving. Allowing the vegetation to grow tall and the roots to grow deep has helped no end, but it is still very wet now...
Thanks.

So many people read a book, follow "the" recipe, wonder why it doesn't work for them in two years.

Are they actually leaving 3-4 entire crops on the field like Gabe Brown had to do?

In order to get our landscape turned around, we needed to completely abandon farming (as in, producing) in order to graze better. Had to abandon rotational grazing as a bad way of approaching the grazing issue.

It was difficult .
 
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exmoor dave

Member
Location
exmoor, uk
Just a thought..... one I've been thinking for a while, but probably talking nonsense.

What effect does atmospheric pressure have on infiltration?

Take this past week, we had 5 days of foggy dank wet days, but over those 5 days we didn't actually have much rainful.
By day 5, even on a normally reasonably free draining farm, the quad was marking the ground quite badly.
I carry a small spade on the bike so dung some holes and the water was just sitting in the top 2/3", completely sopping!
The soil below was damp and there was nothing obvious to stop the water moving down.

Roll on day 6 and we get 31mm of heavy rain in about 12hrs, of course we see some fair run off.
The rain is followed by a high and clear skys.
Now after that amount of rain, surely we should be marking the fields worse then ever??
But come the next morning (yesterday) the previously sopping wet 2/3" of top soil has disappeared and the profile is equally damp through the profile and I'm marking the ground less than any point in the last week


🤔🤔🤔🤔🤔
 

Macsky

Member
Livestock Farmer
Location
Highland
Just a thought..... one I've been thinking for a while, but probably talking nonsense.

What effect does atmospheric pressure have on infiltration?

Take this past week, we had 5 days of foggy dank wet days, but over those 5 days we didn't actually have much rainful.
By day 5, even on a normally reasonably free draining farm, the quad was marking the ground quite badly.
I carry a small spade on the bike so dung some holes and the water was just sitting in the top 2/3", completely sopping!
The soil below was damp and there was nothing obvious to stop the water moving down.

Roll on day 6 and we get 31mm of heavy rain in about 12hrs, of course we see some fair run off.
The rain is followed by a high and clear skys.
Now after that amount of rain, surely we should be marking the fields worse then ever??
But come the next morning (yesterday) the previously sopping wet 2/3" of top soil has disappeared and the profile is equally damp through the profile and I'm marking the ground less than any point in the last week


🤔🤔🤔🤔🤔
I know exactly what you mean. We get absolutely no shortage of rainfall here, but the place can be just as wet on the damp misty weeks as it is after days of serious rainfall. I always thought evaporation had a fair bit to do with it, the damp misty days are close to 100% humidity and there’s just no drying at all, and possibly even condensation adding to ground surface moisture, but like you say, a good clear day and the place can dry amazingly.
 

Kiwi Pete

Member
Livestock Farmer
I noticed it as a kid, we had "The Cutting" paddock which had a lot of springs tapped and drained into a pond for stockwater via an open drain/ swale.

That swale would be dry for ages, then all the drains would begin to run. It would rain that night.

Funny how that atmospheric pressure can affect water underground but the old place was hardly compacted, you'd hear rain drawing air into the soil with a gurgle all the time.
I reckon the moon has an effect as well, if it can haul the oceans about then it surely pulls groundwater too.
 

Poorbuthappy

Member
Livestock Farmer
Location
Devon
Just a thought..... one I've been thinking for a while, but probably talking nonsense.

What effect does atmospheric pressure have on infiltration?

Take this past week, we had 5 days of foggy dank wet days, but over those 5 days we didn't actually have much rainful.
By day 5, even on a normally reasonably free draining farm, the quad was marking the ground quite badly.
I carry a small spade on the bike so dung some holes and the water was just sitting in the top 2/3", completely sopping!
The soil below was damp and there was nothing obvious to stop the water moving down.

Roll on day 6 and we get 31mm of heavy rain in about 12hrs, of course we see some fair run off.
The rain is followed by a high and clear skys.
Now after that amount of rain, surely we should be marking the fields worse then ever??
But come the next morning (yesterday) the previously sopping wet 2/3" of top soil has disappeared and the profile is equally damp through the profile and I'm marking the ground less than any point in the last week


🤔🤔🤔🤔🤔
Yep commented about that difference here too. The drier North wind also had to be having an effect.
 

puppet

Member
Livestock Farmer
Location
sw scotland
Not sure exactly what this thread is about. The west of UK is wet. In winter the soil will be saturated much of the time even if, like us, you have a lot of rock underneath. You are grateful for lack of infiltration in the dry spells.
The OP talks about turning sheep onto waist high grass. That just acts like putting a layer of plastic across the land.
Open up some ditches to allow the water table to drop, graze/cut fields to allow soil to dry underneath and grass to lose moisture by transpiration. I don't see how moving stock around every 2 days helps. Either need a shed or sacrifice an area each winter outside. If you need to do that in summer then give up livestock.
 

Guleesh

Member
Livestock Farmer
Location
Isle of Skye
Not sure exactly what this thread is about.
I'm not really sure what it's about either. personally I'd rather have the improved soil that moving stock regularly and leaving plenty residual can create, this healthier soil will absorb more water as it's not as compacted and has more pore spaces, Is better soiI health not the goal? A small compromise to be made is we do need to be more careful when this ground is very wet - no vehicles, but if the stock make a bit of a muddy mess, well, we've found it's not really a big problem because the ground is healthy enough and has sufficient time to recover behind them.

Most years we have a dry spell where growth slows to a halt on the thin poor soils- the continued growth in the healthier and more water retentive soils is much appreciated.

All that being said I don't see much connection between having healthier soil with higher infiltration and the need for drainage to allow excess water to run off. If the water table is near to or on the surface it needs lowering, but you still want the soil that is sitting above the water table to be able to absorb water. I don't perceive waterlogged soil and water retentive soil to be the same thing.

I don't really see the problem. Unless having firm ground in the winter is more important than anything else.

Should you judge your soil by how much grass it can grow each season or by how good it is for driving on in winter and what weight of vehicle it can support?

It was difficult
This is true ^ When you try changing things you can expect new challenges to appear.
 

The new Sustainable Farming Incentive

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The new Sustainable Farming Incentive

Written by Tom Lewis


Source: Natural England

At NFU21, The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs...
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