Farms with heavy clay soils will have found managing ground over the last few months particularly challenging, with many areas going from being flooded and waterlogged, to now rock-hard.
This has been the case for the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Allerton Project farm at Loddington in Leicestershire, where it has gone from sludge to bone-dry, farm manager Phil Jarvis told an Agricology web-meeting.
Giving a run-through of how the farm was addressing a more resilient farming approach to both drought and flooding, Mr Jarvis said the key first step was to tackle drainage, after he repaired around 16 drains on the farm this winter.
“If you do not get your drainage right, any of these systems that rely on regenerative agriculture and less cultivation is going to end up with problems.
“Repairing drains on heavy soils is really paramount before you even start - you have to get that water away.”
Herbal leys, keeping soil covered with stubble and chopped straw, and planting cover crops has also become a crucial part of their resilient soils strategy, he added.
“Drilling time [for cover crops] is really crucial. If you are drilling in the middle of August compared to the end of August, that is two weeks of solar energy, light and heat - it makes a massive difference.
"If farmers are putting things in at the end of August or middle of September, the amount of cover you have got is going to be reduced and we have found that a struggle. If you do not keep a cover on it can dry out.”
This year, the whole farm has been spring cropped which was a real challenge for the heavy soils at Loddington, said Mr Jarvis.
“We have also realised that some of our compacted headlands are never going to really yield a lot. So, most 10 metres around every field is either going to have a summer pollinator mix or a soil structure mix.
"We do not want to spend a lot on inputs, but we think we can help the soil and provide something for pollinators around the field which really means that we are going to get a better margin from those headlands rather than losing money. There may be scope in the future to put these in to agri-environment schemes.”
Technology is also playing a part, with GPS reducing compaction and making fuel-use more efficient, while the addition of a drone allows inputs to be manipulated in real-time, rather than waiting for a yield map at the end of the season, said Mr Jarvis.