2013-12-23   facebook twitter rss

The Key to Better Profit Lies in the Soil

A study of soils sampled from farms across the South West of England has produced results that could help the region’s farmers increase yields and provide environmental benefits, Natural England’s Soils for Profit (S4P) Project Team has said.

The results give a useful insight into the nutrient status of soils across the South West, providing vital pointers to ways that farmers could further improve their productivity and also enhance their local environment.

Farm Images

One of the most important findings is that 47% of the soil samples had a pH value below the target specified in Defra’s RB209 fertiliser manual, meaning that the fields from which the samples were taken cannot be meeting their full potential and the effectiveness of any fertilisers applied will be limited. A low soil pH can restrict crop growth and impact on yields. It can also have wider impacts on the structure of the soil and its nutrient balance.

Another key finding was that less than 30% of the soils sampled had phosphate (P) and potassium (K) levels within the target range as specified in Defra’s RB209 fertiliser manual. This suggests that care needs to be taken in the application of fertilisers and manures to keep nutrient levels in line with cropping requirements and reduce the risk of wider environmental impacts.

The study also revealed low levels of soil organic matter on many farms, particularly in arable systems, which could contribute to an increased risk of soil erosion.

The sampling was funded by Natural England’s Soils for Profit project and is based on a total of 3,447 soil samples collected from 699 farms between 1 September 2011 and 31 August 2013.

Steve Marston, S4P Project Manager, said: “Soil testing and nutrient balance is one of the basic building blocks of good agronomy. Considering that fertilisers typically represent around 30% of the variable costs of crop and forage production, soil testing is a cheap and effective management tool and is vital for accurately planning nutrient use. Soil analysis provides the kind of practical evidence that farmers need when making important business decisions. This in turn helps save money on expensive inputs and contributes to the protection of the wider environment.”

Since it was launched in October 2009, more than 3,000 farmers (who between them manage more than 400,000 hectares of land across the South West) have benefited from farm-specific advice funded through the S4P project. Since 2011 participants have been offered a free analysis of five soil samples, which has been used to inform the on-farm advice.

Steve added: “What these findings all demonstrate is the importance of careful nutrient planning in maintaining soil productivity and producing optimum crop and forage yields. Nutrient applications should be based on a reliable nutrient plan and up-to-date soil analysis results. These results are a timely reminder to keep an eye on fundamental agronomy requirements.”

The Soils for Profit Project, which draws to a close on 31 December 2013, has provided farm-specific advice to over 3,000 farmers and has organised nearly 300 group events to provide practical hands-on training and demonstrations to over 3,000 farmers to help them to manage their soils, manures and nutrients more efficiently.

The overall response to the initiative from farmers, students and other participants has been overwhelmingly positive. NFU SW Environment Adviser, Paul Cottington said: “I think this has been one of the big winners of the current programme and has helped to address many environmental issues on farms across the South West and at the same time deliver effective farming focused solutions. We would hope that something similar is available in the next round of the Rural Development Programme funding.”

Natural England

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