Sunday, 9 October 2016

Looking Underground for Long Term Solutions

I had a really nice comment, via a good friend, from a local retired farmer. "Bredon Hill is looking very green".  Now I am not sure it was meant as a complement or a statement but I shall take it as the former as that is what we are trying to achieve.  We need to cover up, indeed don't farm naked, to protector our biggest and most valuable asset, our soil.
Buckwheat Companion Crop with Oilseed Rape
We have had a really super summer and autumn, after the damp and cloudy June, we've had good sunlight, warm temperatures and periodic rain events.  It reminds me of the summers I can remember growing up as a child, endless days of sunshine.  Harvest ran like a dream, our new header performing very well and crops nice and dry, although the yields were disappointing they were on par with our neighbours, which with a completely new system is very encouraging indeed.

The cover crops we have planted have all grown very well indeed and are now producing many environmental benefits.  The most obvious to see is the huge array of flowers producing pollen and nectar for insects to feed on.  During the sunny afternoons these fields are filled with bees.  There is so much insect feed available that a local bee keeper has brought 6 hives down for his bees to feed on the flowering buckwheat.

Buckwheat Root, Root Hairs and Mycorrhizal Fungi
There is also a lot going on underground that we are unable to see, unable to really understand, but we are starting to explore the dark world of the plant and fungal interaction.  The fact that we have plants growing in our soils means that they are capturing every bit of sunshine and turning it into organic matter.  They are growing roots, root hairs, leaves, stems and even fruit.  All of this is capturing carbon from the atmosphere and locking it up in the soil.  The roots are pushing into the soil, helping to repair soil structure so that when we get heavy rains it will infiltrate the soil rather than run off.  The leaves will intercept rain droplets and stop them compacting the soil surface.  The roots are feeding the fungal and bacterial populations in the soil, helping to build a web of different colonies able to scavenge for nutrients as the plants need them.  As these populations grow, they excrete waste which the plants can use.  The waste has a high level of nitrogen in it, which is a key nutrient for our crops, so we can in time use less natural resources in the form of fertiliser.

Cross Slot Drill Planting Wheat into Buckwheat Covercrop
One of the key aspects of making this system work is by having a planting machine (drill) that can cut through these heavy crop and cover crop residues to get he seeds into the soil with good seed placement.  The fact that we can also add starter fertiliser and any slug control products at the same time makes this a very efficient system.  Its better for the environment, better for our productivity and our profitability.  In an uncertain; post Brexit world, where farm support will be reduced, reducing costs and reliance on purchased inputs will be essential to arable farming survival but I believe we are developing a system that will enable us to achieve this.

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