Friday, 13 May 2016

Soil conditions & cultivations (and change) at SPot West

Getting all the demonstration plots set up on the site at Thorpe Constantine has been…ummm… a challenge. Planting (as I suspect we all know!) has been disrupted by cold, and repeatedly wet, weather, but apart from a small hand planted area, I'm glad to be able to report we are finally there. James Daw, SPot West's host farmer, has once again done a fantastic job in what has clearly been a difficult start to the season.

From my point of view though, the difficulties have rightfully reflected the real world. 
If we want demonstrations of best practice to be tested in a practical environment then these kinds of challenges are to be expected. I suppose the question then also becomes more specific.  'What does best practice (based on available evidence) look like for that particular challenge and situation?'

Field conditions at Thorpe Constantine
Mark Stalham and his team from NIAB CUF, have planned and implemented an extensive programme of work across all five fields of the site at Thorpe Constantine.

These fields, as ever, vary - some sandy silt loam over the majority of one field (Field 33), but a heavier section of sandy clay loam lower down at the base of slope. As regular followers of this blog will know, the combination of James and Mark backed by my encouragement means we don't do things by half.

...and so naturally we have opted to site the cultivation work at the heavier end of the field!

The videos below should provide an idea of the conditions in this area of the field:

You'll need to come along to one of the upcoming events scheduled at SPot West to see the how the different cultivation treatments have ultimately measured up.  We're trying out ploughing versus non-inversion tilling, and the effects of bed-tilling and de-stoning depths.

Comparing the cost of cultivations

Some food for thought yesterday as I was approached by a colleague working in AHDB's Market Intelligence team who asked if I was aware of the enormous difference in cultivation costs between the average UK and continental grower. Single pass planting operations, without any de-stoning, were the norm for growers in North West Europe that we visited on the recent AHDB study tours. I loyally spent some time justifying what we did here and why, but left with the feeling that he makes a valid observation. The conditions here are, of course, very different, but the effects on cost can't be entirely ignored.

Finding the critical depth for de-stoning!

Meanwhile...Have you checked the depth after bedforming this season? Checking your operations more precisely is part of the best-practice message we're trying to convey here at SPot.

Unless you know what you are doing... how can you make change with confidence?

Looks like about 50 cms to me (18 inches to some of you) - Optimum in 2015 was less than 40 cm.

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