Organic farmers share soil management issues
Mar 27, 2013
By Mike Bridgen
AN organic farm walk gave organic farmers the chance to share experiences on soil management issues and discuss possible management and research solutions.
The event was held at Steve Pierson’s Hook House Farm at Kirby Fleetham, near Northallerton.
One key issue was the use of reduced tillage techniques and green manures on organic farms.
Julia Cooper, researcher at Newcastle University, who is involved in the European-wide Tilman-Org project on this subject reported the findings so far.
The project aims to help organic farmers realise the benefits of reduced tillage and green manures.
Reduced tillage can increase levels of soil organicmatter,improve soil stability, increase soil biological activity and reduce fuel consumption.
But technical difficulties, most notably in weedcontrol,meanthat abandoning the plough can be challenging for organic farmers. To make use of the benefits of reduced tillage, systems need to be adapted to the special conditions in organic agriculture.
Focusing on Hook House Farm, the farmers and university researchers covered the immediate, medium and long-term strategies for cropping, cultivations and soil supplements.
Mr Pierson specifically asked for guidanceon whichreducedtillagemachines to use; which rotations would achieve the best overall return, while managing weeds and red clover; and which crop choices and cultivations the others wouldrecommendfor three fields that had been affected by last years heavy rain. Comments he received included use min-till only when and where the risk of soil compaction is low; use anything with goose-feet to increase weed-kill; use a sub-soiler to release soil compaction,but only when conditions are dry; use approved green waste compost to improve soil condition where most needed; plough in red clover ley; use a summer fallow for a full season, with a min-till cultivator (this has been limited by wet conditions in the last few seasons); control weeds in potatoes with rowing bodies andhoeing;use soiltests to target lime and other nutrients more specifically.
Practical research that would help the farmers – most of whom had managed their land organically for ten years or more – included varieties of saleable cereals that are taller and deeper rooting; the changes in soil after medium and long-term use of green waste compost; using silage analyses and physical soil analyses to understand more about the soil than the standard chemical analyses reveal.
The farmers agreed that they had benefited from sharing their joint experience andmistakesbydoing a farm walk together.
A second walk will be held at Phil and Jim Wadsworth’s Farm at Sinderby, Thirsk, in early June.
Published: Zarai Media Team