Crop establishment was a new topic in the seminar streams at this year’s CropTec and, with interest growing in soil husbandry and health and their role in improving the resilience of crops, speakers inevitably posed almost as many questions as they provided answers.
Kicking off the session, which was supported by Horsch, was Kevin Ashford of Sustainable Soil Management, who in a wide-ranging presentation highlighted a number of potential areas for development. Acknowledging most growers were familiar with mapping, he posed the question: “How many layers of information do we need to get the basic information we need to make a difference?’
And while maps might be produced for soil nitrogen or pH, were they also being generated for micronutrients such as calcium, sodium or boron? These each had important roles in plant nutrition, often interrelating with major nutrients, but were seldom mapped, he said.
Some important factors, such as soil structure, could not be mapped, he added. He also highlighted the effect differences in soil bulk density could have on nutrient availability and what these might mean in terms of impact on fertiliser requirement and costs.
The session’s second speaker, farm consultant Niall Atkinson, also posed a question to CropTec visitors: “Why cultivate?” Observation of various establishment techniques for oilseed rape, for example, over many years had shown there was very little difference between them in terms of yield but massive differences in costs and time taken to establish a crop, he said.
There was a need for a change in mindset when it came to cultivations but where lower cost approaches were being adopted it was likely help in the form of techniques such as companion planting would be needed on more challenging soils.
He urged growers to ask themselves a series of questions: “Are you happy with soil structure, soil biology, soil organic matter, grass-weed control, establishment costs? If you can answer ‘yes’ to most of these I would suggest you are on the right track and say ‘carry on as usual’. If you answer ‘no’ to any of these points, I think you need to be considering changes to your cultivations and be considering the use of cover crops.”
ADAS drainage engineer Kirk Hill provided some practical advice on monitoring and managing soil water.
“The vast majority of drainage systems fail because outfalls are not kept clear,” he said.
* Source - ADAS