Soil health a key focus at Cereals 2018

Soil health is a hot topic right now, with Michael Gove’s latest announcement to incentivise no-till farming confirming just how much of a priority it is for UK agriculture.

Whether through mechanical practices or cropping choice, there are many options available for improving soil structure – and visitors to Cereals 2018 will be able to see them all in one place. “Soil is absolutely vital in arable production, so keeping it in the best possible health is the key to running a productive, profitable and viable business,” says Jon Day, event organiser. “At Cereals, we want to ensure farmers are armed with all the information they need to boost soil health and maximise profits.”

There is a lot of momentum gathering around no-till and minimum tillage systems, and there will be plenty on show at this year’s Cereals Event. One of these is the new Pro-Til Xzact precision strip till seeder from Mzuri.

The Pro-Til combines a strip till drill and precision seed drill in one, meaning that all types of arable crops can be sown in just one pass, explains Martin Lole, managing director at Mzuri. “This eliminates unnecessary passes and reduces labour and fuel requirements. Less farm traffic in turn means reduced compaction, better structured soils and a healthier root system.

“Capable of drilling straight into the previous crop residue, the drill has been proven to retain moisture, reduce soil and water erosion, preserve and improve natural soil structure and cut diesel requirement by up to 80% – without yield penalties.”

Monitoring the quality of soil can be a challenge, so Yara Analytical Services will be back at the Soil Pit with a practical demonstration of how to use field and laboratory measurements to best effect. “Managing soil quality starts by measuring each of the soil health properties,” says Caroline Hobson, business development coordinator at Yara Analytical Services. “Farmers have been visually monitoring their land for many years; spotting areas of compaction, poor drainage, erosion and poor crop growth; but we can also use laboratory analysis to measure three inter-related aspects of soil health; biological, physical and chemical.”

To further help farmers, Hutchinsons has developed a new Healthy Soils service which looks at a number of areas including cropping and cultivations, soil health and texture and infiltration. The subsequent report brings together the farmer’s historical knowledge and the agronomist’s experience to suggest modified farm practices which boost soil organic matter to allow fauna and flora to flourish, explains Andy Hoyles, Hutchinsons nutritional development manager.

“Delivering a complete service that measures and monitors soil health creates a much better understanding of soils, so that yield and overall farm profitability will benefit – for the long term.”

According to the latest research from Syngenta, increasing access to nutrients and water in the soil by improving root health is a largely untapped opportunity to boost crop potential. “Healthier roots are essential to enable crops to fully utilise what the soil has to offer,” says Mark Bullen, seed care campaign manager at Syngenta. “As well as providing a larger surface area for absorbing water and nutrients, deeper roots can aid plant vigour and drought tolerance – ultimately supporting higher outputs.”

Since last autumn, Syngenta has been collating root growth results from farms around the country, which have been using its SDHI-based fungicide treatment – Vibrance Duo. Launched in the UK from last autumn, for use on seed of winter wheat, winter triticale, winter rye and spring oats, Vibrance Duo is primarily used to control establishment diseases like seed borne fusarium, says Mr Bullen – but it has also shown clear root enhancing effects. “Latest on-farm results have been fantastic. Root mass has been increased to as much as double that seen with a standard triazole fungicide seed treatment.”

Cereals’ content partner – AHDB – is also investing in soil management research, as part of its ‘GREATsoils’ programme. This programme covers a broad range of subjects including soil sampling, texture assessment, pH, nutrient and organic matter content, drainage, cultivations and compaction, as well as effects on soil borne diseases.

“We are aiming to increase understanding of soil biology and develop a toolkit to measure and manage soil health,” says James Holmes, senior soil scientist at AHDB. “Soil physics, chemistry and biology are interlinked and all play a role in maintaining productive agricultural and horticultural systems.

“The research will tap into an already established network of farm-based initiatives, including AHDB’s monitor and strategic farms and commercial sites. This will allow farmers, growers and agronomists access to trials and provide a forum for peer-to-peer learning.”

For more information about this year’s Cereals Event visit: http://www.cerealsevent.co.uk/

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