Blog •  02/02/2022

How restoring soil health has directly impacted productivity: Ben Lowe

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Since beginning the Resilient & Ready programme in 2019, a key part of our ambition was to reverse the damage done to the spoil through the loss of grass over the years. Last year, we held an event for farmers and journalists and it was wonderful to be able to show what we’ve been working on and how it has boosted our yields.

We explained that we have been resting the soil on our farm from annual cultivations by putting it to grass to produce anaerobic digestion silage and use for livestock grazing. We have spent the past few years feeding it digestate to help it regenerate. In doing so, we’ve created better root structure and soil stability to drill our cereals into.

In order to maintain the structure we’d worked so hard to create, we decided to bring in a Mzuri to direct drill wheat straight into the grass, before spraying it off in mid-October and applying the digestate from a neighbouring farm which has an anaerobic digester.

There’s a lot of biomass trying to break down at once and without the nitrogen from the digestate, it would pull nitrogen instead from the plant and effectively starve it.

We trialled the application in 2020, comparing the performance of two fields – one that was ploughed and combi-drilled and the other using the Mzuri to direct drill into the grass. The headline outcome from this trial was that the field drilled with the Mzuri yielded 0.5t/ha more, proving that preserving the soil and encouraging biodiversity at the same time doesn’t need to cost us money.

Historically, this farm was run as a dairy enterprise so the top 30cm of soil is in beautiful condition. However, when you go down to the subsoil it’s not very fertile.

Sustainable Soil Management carried out numerous soil samples which showed us we had three different depth of pH and that our investment in lime was getting bogged down with cultivations. It also showed us how fast that lime was cycling. Empowering us to make informed decisions on whether to apply digestate or farm-yard manure to the crops . All of this knowledge will only help us build stronger, more resilient soils.

Ben Lowe looking at top soil in a soil pit
Ben Lowe looking at top soil in a soil pit

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