HUTCHINSON FieldWise(October2019) - Page 1

Roots not steel hold the
key to better soils
Success with cover crops or direct drilling strategies hinges
on having a complete understanding of the soil characteristics
and agronomic requirements of individual fields.
That was one clear message
from the Hutchinsons cover crop
demonstration day at Waddingworth
in Lincolnshire on 5 September.
Alongside working demonstrations of
10 drills from leading manufacturers,
visitors learned how cover crops
can be integrated into a long-term
soil health plan.
“Just buying a new drill or sowing
the latest cover crop mix isn’t the
answer to improving soil health. It
starts with using a spade to dig holes
to see what’s happening beneath the
surface,” agronomist Alice Cannon said.
“Any drill will only perform well when
put into a situation that allows it to
do so. That requires knowing your
soil, understanding how it behaves
and rectifying any major issues first.
“Cover crops can do much for soil
health, but they have to be tailored
to the situation. Their root power
also declines after 3-4 inches, so if
there is deep compaction you need
to address this separately.”
Hutchinsons Technical Manager
Dick Neale urged caution when
examining soils in early autumn, as
dry land could be mistaken for being
compacted, when hardness was
actually due to lack of moisture.
“Read all the signs to
understand why a soil
is like it is.”
Root growth provided a useful indicator
of compacted layers, but worm activity,
water infiltration, friability and the
general texture and “feel” of soil were
also important, he said.
Detailed analysis of soil characteristics
using the new TerraMap high
definition mapping service provided
an ideal accompaniment to field
sampling, Miss Cannon said.
“TerraMap provides the detail and
science behind what the spade shows
you, so the two become a double act.”
Sampling over 800 points per hectare,
the gamma ray sensor can measure
and map 13 common nutrient
Agronomist Alice Cannon organised
the Waddingworth demonstration
properties, soil texture and other
variables such as organic matter, plant
available water and cation exchange
capacity. Readings are unaffected by
moisture or ground cover.
“You can use this information to help
determine the best cover crop species
and how it should be established,”
Miss Cannon said.
Managing soil moisture was a big
factor in cover crop choice, especially
on heavy land ahead of spring drilling.
“Think of cover crops as a pump,
drawing water out of the soil,”
Miss Cannon said. “Good rooting also
opens up the structure, improves
water infiltration, adds organic
matter and aids crop growth.”


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