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Focusing on farm soils

From broadcast application of cover crops pre harvest, to assessing soil biological activity, five farmers in the North East of Scotland have been working together to explore soil regenerative techniques, and how focusing on farm soils can become part of their routine business practice.

Hands holding a spit of soil dug from within a crop field. The soil shows good root growth and is not compacted but showing a nice crumbly texture.

Investigating you soils using a spade is a crucial management practice, pictured is a healthy soils with a friable texture from one of the farms participating in the Soil Regenerative Agriculture Group.

Managing compaction can be a large issue on arable farms.  One of the ways that soil structure can be protected is by using flexion tyres.  The carcase of these tyres flex, causing the machinery to have a larger contact area with the soil, reducing ground pressure.  Very High Flexion tyres or VF tyres, can reduce ground pressure by up to 40%, meaning that a larger weight can be carried or that a lower ground pressure can be achieved compared to standard tyres.

As a rule of thumb, a high weight with a low pressure creates a small problem deep down, whereas a low weight with a high pressure creates a large problem near the surface.  A target ground pressure of less than 10 psi should be aimed for, to ensure minimal crop loss.  This is due to the fact that many roots can survive when exposed to a pressure between 7 and 9 psi.

James Hopkinson at Cloud Farming has been using VF tyres for a number of years and says:

"Using flexible tyres allows us to look after our soils, we have found that alongside our reduced tillage regime, these tyres have improved water and root movement within the soil and the pore space is much better within the soil profile".

This problem is put into perspective when the area of field driven on for the production of one crop is calculated.  For example, sowing a field can cause up to 85%  of the field to be driven on depending on implement width and tyre size.  When you consider the whole crop production cycle, from primary cultivation to harvest many parts of the field can be driven on several times.

By Zach Reilly, Consultant, SAC Consulting

This article from Farming for a Better Climate was funded by the Scottish Government as part of Scotland’s Farm Advisory Service and first published in the Farming Scotland Magazine in January 2021.

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