Organic matter could make all the difference in Norfolk

Farm manager Adrian Whitehead is focusing on adding organic matter to fragile soils across five farm businesses.

Adrian manages 2,500ha around Kings Lynn, growing cereals, oil seed rape (OSR), beans, sugar beet, potatoes, vining peas and onions. His soils are variant silts, which are light-to-heavy in clay content.

What are the challenges with your soils?

They’re quite fragile and have relatively high magnesium indices in places, so they are not that workable and don’t weather as well where the clay content is lower.

Organic matter is an issue and my aim is to build organic matter up to make the soils more workable and productive. We are producing 10t/ha of wheat and 4t/ha of OSR, but I think we can do even better.

The cold, wet spring made our soils dry on top and wet underneath. We had to get on the land because we are over 50% spring cropped, so this impacted soil structure.

The hot, dry summer made our soils hard. We continued with our standard cultivation practices but applied one more pass of the press to create cereal seedbeds.

How do you deal with these challenges?

I’m applying as much organic matter as possible. We have onions and vining peas on some rotations, so we’re limited there with what we can use, but we’re adding turkey manure in front of sugar beet and I’m exploring using compost.

For cereals, we’re using Nutri-bio after OSR and turkey manure in front of sugar beet.

We practice non-inversion where we can, working the soil down to two inches and using Tilso legs to structure the soil profile. This helps deal with blackgrass, as it prevents seeds being brought up from depth.

Where we do plough, we do it very early and use a progressive subsoiler such as a modified Keeble. We use a DD press ring for the last pass to increase surface area to allow more weathering.

We’re investigating our impact on earth worm populations and organic matter levels with AHDB

It’s too early to see what the effects of the extra organic matter, but our non-inversion practice has reduced our diesel use by 10-15% because it moves less soil.

Got a question for Adrian?

Find out more about Adrian’s approaches in the Crop Establishment seminar where he will be taking part in a panel discussion on improving soils. The panel will be taking questions from the audience before the event, so submit your question here.

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