HUTCHINSONS~FieldWise(EarlyMarch17).pdf - Page 1

Achieving a healthy and
sustainable soil structure
Healthy soils are fundamental for growing healthy crops and delegates at the recent annual
agronomist conference saw how Hutchinsons are leading the way in addressing this issue,
with the launch of the new Healthy Soils Programme. The audience heard how the use of
cover crops can play a pivotal role in improving soil structure in arable rotations.
The strategic cross-rotation
deployment of cover crops
is the most viable, long-term
solution for improving and
maintaining healthy soil structure.
A comprehensive soil health
assessment and on-going advice
on soil management strategies,
as provided by the Hutchinsons
Healthy Soils Programme, will
determine where cover crops
might benefit most.
Soil structure is used to describe
the physical arrangement of all
components that make up a
functioning soil, including mineral
particles, air, water and organic matter.
A healthy soil structure will allow
the uninhibited growth of roots and
movement of air, water and soil macro
and micro-organisms through the
profile, while also making a soil stronger
and more resistant to compaction.
Rob Simmons of the Cranfield Soil
and AgriFood Institute explained to
the conference that the traditional
focus on mechanical maintenance of a
healthy soil structure is unsustainable
and only provides a “quick fix” to
structure issues, such as compaction.
Long-term tool
Instead, he sees cover crops roots as the
best tool for restructuring soils right down
the profile, improving the following crop’s
access water and nutrients, increasing
workability and reducing off site problems
such as run-off and erosion (see table 1).
“We want to try and move away from a
degraded soil system where you have
issues of compaction and a compromised
soil water reservoir and move towards
a more sustainable system.
This can be achieved with whole
profile, cross-rotational management,
utilising cover cropping windows to
enhance soil structure,” he added.
Critical role
Hutchinson’s technical manager Dick
Neale agreed that cover crops can
play a critical role in fulfilling the UK
government’s vision that all soils will be
sustainably managed and degradation
threats tackled by 2030.
“Whilst others in the industry
may say there is insufficient
evidence to make firm decisions,
Hutchinsons believes there is
more than enough to help farmers
reap real benefits from cover
crops” - with the AHDB Research
Review No. 90 one example of a
comprehensive information resource.
“It’s giving clear statements on the
pros and cons of using cover crops,
their financial justification, species
positioning and their specific values
and options for destruction, so it is all
there,” he explained.
Fear of change
The fear of change, the cost of change
and a fear of failure are further barriers
to growers adopting soil improving
practices such as cover crops.
To help break down those barriers in a
practical and engaging way,
Hutchinsons now offer a comprehensive
soil health assessment as part of its
Healthy Soils Programme.
This combines a hands-on soil
evaluation by an agronomist and a
spade, with chemical and biological
lab analysis to identify any soil health or
nutrition issues on any particular farm.
From this assessment, advice can
then be given on a range of soil
management strategies, including any
changes to cultivation strategy and if
cover crops might be required.
Demonstration sites
This is also being complemented by
work at Hutchinsons FENCe (Farm
for the Establishment & Nutrition of
Crops) site in Norfolk and several
other practical demonstration areas
around the country, showing the
benefits of cover crops and how
they are best deployed to achieve
a successful outcome, as part of a
wider soil health strategy.
Continue overleaf >>>

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