How to improve soil quality in farming?

How to improve soil quality in farming?

We’ve harped on about the importance of soil in farming for years but the Agriculture Bill introduced last year confirmed just how critical it is. But what can you do to improve your soil?

What is the Agriculture Bill?

The UK’s new Agriculture Bill has been called “one of the most significant pieces of legislation for farmers in England for over 70 years”. Leaving the EU meant the UK had to also leave the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which it had been a part of since 1973. The Agriculture Bill was created to be a direct replacement.  

In contrast to CAP, which rewards farmers based upon the amount of agricultural land they manage, the Agriculture Bill will be based upon “public goods” produced. These are things that can benefit everyone but bring no financial reward to those who produce them such as clean air, clean and plentiful water, flood protection and thriving wildlife.

How will the bill impact soil quality?

Soil protection is at the heart of the bill. Erosion rates from ploughed fields are between ten and 100 times greater than rates of soil formation. As much as 3m tonnes of topsoil are lost in the UK each year, while restoring lost soils can take centuries.

According to Duncan Cameron, Professor of Plant and Soil Biology at the University of Sheffield:Soil is lost rapidly but replaced over millennia and this represents one of the greatest global threats for agriculture. It takes about 500 years to form 2.5 cm of topsoil under normal agricultural conditions.” 

So far, 30% of the world’s croplands have become unproductive, with the area of soil degradation in the last 40 years amounting to an area larger than the United States and Mexico combined. Soils are at risk from erosion by wind and water, which is made worse by the loss of natural features such as hedgerows and trees; from heavy agricultural machinery; from over-grazing, climate change and intensive agriculture.

Intensive agriculture is no longer considered sustainable – current crop yields are maintained through the heavy use of fertilisers, which are damaging to our environment. Instead a sustainable model for intensive agriculture according to Cameron would need to “combine the lessons of history with the benefits of modern biotechnology.”

Rather than rewarding farmers for cultivating land, whether it is productive or not and regardless of intensive farming initiatives used, the new bill aims to reward farmers who instead protect and improve soil quality. It will also give ministers powers to regulate fertiliser use and organic farming. 

How can you protect your soil?

There are a number of things you could be doing to improve the quality of your soil. These include:

  • Crop rotation – Widen crop rotations and integrate crops that contribute to the soil biomass 
  • Cover cropping – Introduce temporary crop to preserve nutrients and protect soils at key times in the farming calendar
  • Land drainage – Install land drainage solutions to reduce nutrient runoff and make land more usable
  • Rotational sub-soiling – Rotate sub-soiling to break up any plough pans or deeper compaction to allow for better soil drainage
  • Organic fertiliser – Move away from pesticides and instead use organic fertilisation (green manure and organic fertiliser)
  • Conservation/minimum tillage or direct drilling Allow soils to remain undisturbed by leaving crop residues on the surface from harvest until sowing
  • Soil compaction – Reduce machinery passes and use GPS tracking so that we run on 5% of soil rather than the average 85% each year
  • Flooding solutionParticipate in initiatives to put in place interventions to ‘slow the flow’ of water in the landscape by using unproductive land

How can we help?

Our background is in farming so we understand your needs – our MD’s family have been farming for generations. We are also specialists in land drainage and supply a wide range of products at cost competitive prices, including land drainage coil, twinwall pipe and large diameter structured pipe

Our team of specialists can provide you with expert advice. Call us today on 0121 351 3230.

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