August 2020 Updates from Moss-side of Esslie

Incremental improvements are the name of the game at Moss-side of Esslie. Small but significant steps towards regenerative agriculture have been made by Douglas who is trying cover crops for the first time in many years. Below are some observations and plans for the future from 14th August 2020.

Cover Crop Establishment

After seeing the success in 2019 from the early establishment of cover crops at Castleton, Douglas and other Regen Ag group members are keen to try the establishment of cover crops into standing crops on their own farms. Douglas’ current system is based on 21m tram lines, and as such is not compatible with machinery developed by other group members. Nevertheless, this has not put Douglas off giving this method of establishment a go, and he has spread a four-way species mix using his own fertiliser spinner. The mix contains mustard (20%), fodder radish (20%), vetch (58%) and phacelia (2%) and has been broadcast at 15kg/ha. Douglas has tried to keep the cost of his cover crop as low as possible and this mix has cost him £2.25/kg, or £33.75/ha. He has opted to sow this crop into his spring barley and wheat crops to provide a living root through the winter for soil biology to feed from.

Spreading seeds with a fertiliser spinner provides a few challenges. Firstly, the spread height of Douglas spinner needs to be 800mm above the crop to provide an accurate distribution, however, Douglas’ tractor is not high enough to gain such a Douglas is looking through a dense thatch of organic matter which has been built up in his soils following the last few years of regenerative farming practices.height over the top of his crops. Additionally, the seed is mixed, and each species is a different size, meaning that the settings for the fertiliser spinner do not match each seed type. Douglas has compensated for this by selecting the average setting. Nevertheless, the distance a fertiliser spinner can throw small seeds is unknown and might result in patchy cover crops, but without giving it a go Douglas will never know.

Fortunately, the conditions at the base of Douglas’ crops are perfect for seedling growth, with ample moisture and heat to get the cover crops off to a great start. Douglas has been strip-tilling for over 8 years now, and his soil has built up a fine humus layer on the surface which will help the 4-way mix to grow (photo right).

Claydon Drill Modifications and new implements

Alongside the cover crops, Douglas has also purchased an addition to his Claydon drill. Douglas usually sows his cereals with a 7-inch spoon on his Claydon drill but decided to purchase the 3-inch spoon set so that he can establish rape and beans. Although Douglas doesn’t plan to grow these crops it means that he can do some contracting for Ross at Castleton, a great example of collaboration within the Soil Regen Ag farmers.

Douglas has also bought a second hand 3m Weaving Low Disturbance Topsoiler to compliment his strip till system. The Topsoiler is capable of working at a depth of nine inches to aerate the root zone and remove any compaction. Although Douglas is not intending to work at that depth, he hopes that after investigating if his soil is compact with a spade, he can remediate it if necessary. Following harvest of 2019, Douglas noticed that the combine wheeling’s were visible in his soils and a gentle lift at a depth of 4 or 5 inches would have removed this compaction. Douglas hopes that using this machine only when soil compaction is present will help him to improve his soil structure where it is needed.A New Holland tractor and Amazone fertliser sower driving through a ripening standing crop spreading the cover crop seed mixture.

Can the fertiliser bill be reduced?

Looking forward, Douglas is considering trying to reduce his fertiliser use, particularly the phosphate (P) and potassium (K). Reducing fertiliser has the potential to reduce a farms carbon footprint if the current output is maintained, as well as making a significant financial saving. However, care must be taken not to erode the soil nutrient status by removing more P and K than what is being applied.

Find out more about what the other Soil Regenerative Agriculture Farmers are up to.

Find out more about what the other Soil Regenerative Agriculture Farmers are up to.

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