2013-11-26   facebook twitter rss

Extent of Soil Compaction on South West Farms Reveiled

Over 60% of the farms which received a free ‘Soils, Manures & Nutrients Review’ visit by the Soils for Profit (S4P) team were found to have soil compaction present on their agricultural land, the S4P team said today.

Of the 2,443 farms which received a free visit between October 2009 and September 2013, soil compaction was found on 1,534. The results are based on an analysis of soil profiles revealed by digging a test pit in up to three different fields on each farm.

Test pit to investigate soil compaction issues on farmland

Test pit to investigate soil compaction issues on farmland

Soil compaction is an issue for farmers because, it impacts on a wide range of processes that occur in soil, leading to a reduction in yield from the affected field, increased nutrient loss and soil degradation; it reduces the ability of grass to utilise fertilizer, as the roots cannot fully exploit the soil and reach the nutrients; it reduces the uptake of artificial fertiliser - if the soil becomes waterlogged this causes the fertiliser Nitrogen to convert into gases which are lost to the air; it reduces the crop germination rates, plant seedling establishment and crop emergence.

Steve Marston, Natural England’s S4P Project Manager, said: “The evidence from the farm visits suggests that a high proportion of farms in our project area in South West England are subject to soil compaction of some kind.”

The incidence of soil compaction was spread fairly evenly across the South West Region although it was rather higher in Devon (73%) and Gloucestershire (64%) than in Wiltshire (51%) or the area which used to be known as the County of Avon (49%). The percentage of farms with soil compaction in Cornwall (60%), Somerset (59%) and Dorset (57%) was slightly less than the regional average of 63%.

Steve continued: “These results show the importance of regularly inspecting the soil profile across the farm and, where compaction is found, to rectify it in the most appropriate way. This kind of information is valuable in helping farmers to improve their soil management which in turn can help to increase their yields, productivity and profitability while also benefiting the natural environment.

“Where signs of soil compaction were identified during a S4P advisory visit, the farmer was encouraged to carry out further inspections in that field and extend it to other fields. We were also able to provide practical advice to help tackle the problem and point the farmer in the direction of other useful sources of guidance and support, including grant assistance.

Many farmers were able to investigate soil compaction elsewhere on their holding using the new skills gained from working alongside our adviser, while others employed a professional to carry out further work.”

Information about the causes and consequences of soil compaction as well as some potential solutions can be found on the SWARM Hub.

As the S4P project is coming to an end later this year, the on-farm reviews are now closed to new registrations. However, it is hoped that the project will leave a lasting legacy with regular soil inspections being recognized as a basic building block to good agronomy in helping farmers to maintain soil productivity for optimum crop and forage yields, whilst also helping to protect the environment by reducing soil erosion plus water and nutrient runoff.

Steve added: “We are delighted with the way the S4P Project has been positively received by the farming industry in the South West and that so many local farmers have profited from the advice and training that we have provided. In total, nearly 6,500 farmers have benefited directly from training and advice provided by the Soils for Profit Project and we would like to thanks everyone who has been involved in organising, delivering and supporting this successful initiative.”

Natural England

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