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May 2020 Update from Leitfie

An Update from Leitfie

29th May 2020

At Leitfie Farms, Ben continues to trial crop mixtures and experiment with inputs. His ultimate aim is to increase soil biodiversity, reduce inputs and create a truly sustainable farming system. Below are a few observations from May 2020.  olunteer beans beginning to die back after being sprayed off in the winter wheat crop

Winter wheat after beans 

Ben seeded winter what following winter beans in the Autumn of 2019. He decided to allow the volunteer beans to continue to grow, believing that this would provide additional soil benefits to his new crop of wheat. Although there are only a few sporadic beans throughout the wheat crop, Ben thinks that increasing the diversity will increase the resilience in his system alongside fixing a small amount of nitrogen helping him to reduce his fertiliser. Having left the beans to grow for over 6 months, Ben terminated this companion crop in the middle of May to prevent them developing seed again.

 

Winter beans at Leitfie. Some areas of the field are a little thin resulting in shorter plants which aren’t competing for light

Beans a little thin 

Ben has also been experimenting with seed rates for his winter beans. He thought that the seed rate he used in 2018/19 has too high, so when he seeded his winter beans in 2019, he reduced the seed rate to 150kg/ha and only used alternative spouts on his drill. However, due to the extremely wet autumn and winter at Leitfie emergence has been lower in some parts of the field. Lower seed rates can reduce competition in beans, making the crop shorter and therefore the plants have more energy to set pods and produce seeds. Ben was constricted by his drill as 150kg/ha was as high as he could go while only using wide row spacing. Although some areas at the top of his bean field are thin, lower parts in the field the crop looks much thicker. Ben says, “I think the optimal seed rate is around 200kg/ha for winter beans”. Ben applied a trace element mix to his beans near the end of May as some plants were starting to show sulphur deficiency.  

Spring oats in a more difficult field at Leitie

 

Spring oats looking fantastic

In a tricky field at the top of Leitfie Farms Ben has a fantastic crop of oats which he is very please with. Ben said, “this field hasn’t been looking good for a couple of years, but the oats look really good this year”. At the start of the Soil Regenerative Agriculture program, this field was extensively tested, the VESS scores at that time averaged 1.67, a good score indicating the soil has high porosity and there are roots through the soil. Just over a year later the soil was still very friable and despite the dry spring there was still moisture under the soil surface.  

Spring crop fungicide trial  

After observing that disease is only entering Bens crops in areas which Ben knows are already stressed, Ben is questioning if broad acre applications are really necessary. This year Ben has left a total of 10ha of spring crop, split between two fields without any fungicide treatments. He has also observed that the disease incidence is higher in his spring barley after spring barely, highlighting the need for longer and more diverse rotations. As the season progresses the treated and untreated areas will be monitored for disease. However, due to the dry weather disease is generally low in this area.  

 

Wildlife everywhere ne of many Lapwing at Leitfie Farms

The increase in wildlife, although not formally documented, at Leitfie is truly amazing. Deer, hares and numerous birds are present on the farm and Ben believes that this is a result of a healthier soil.  

 

Ben has many trials on his farm and although is it a significant job to manage all of these changing parts, the extra experimentation will hopefully lead to Ben producing a refined system which is sustainable and resilient to anything the environment can throw his way.