What lies beneath

Digging soil (Countryside online)_53743

For an arable farmer, there’s not much that’s more important than soil – it can make or break a harvest and is vital in producing healthy crops to feed the nation. Not only this, but maintaining healthy soil is also key to building up resilience to events such as floods and droughts.

Farmers across the country are advocates of good soil management and work hard to ensure crops have the best possible growing medium, full of nutrients, and that the soil stays put in the fields.

It’s not always easy though, particularly when farms sit on clay, a fertile soil perhaps, but one that can be difficult to work.

5 ways to improve soil health

1. Cover crops

Cover crops improve the organic matter levels in the soil, provide a crop canopy to stop erosion from the weather, recapture nutrient levels in the soil and generally add to the soil biodiversity by enhancing the water capture and nutrient content. Examples of cover crops include brassicas such as mustard, broadleaves such as radish, and those that are leguminous such as clover and vetch, which can fix nitrogen from the air, supplying nitrogen to the succeeding crop via the soil.

2. Reducing soil compaction

Control traffic farming (a system which consciously reduces the damage to soils caused by heavy or repeated agricultural machinery passes on the land) and reducing tyre pressures are measures that farmers take to maintain a healthy soil.

3. Crop rotation

Farmers use crop rotation as a method of maintaining soil fertility. The crop can be strategically grown to replenish nutrients that the previous crop may have reduced, which prevents nutrient exhaustion within the soil.

4. Soil management

By monitoring, measuring and managing soil, farmers ensure that soil health is optimised and their greatest asset is protected.

5. Preventing soil erosion

With careful management of cover crops to protect bare soils over winter, buffer strips on field margins, hedges acting as barriers and less invasive cultivation methods to retain a good soil structure, the effect of wind and water erosion is limited. Maintaining organic matter levels will also reduce soil erosion.

Last edited:08 March 2019 at 17:19

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