AHDB’S New Soil Management Guide Now In Print.

18 months ago, it came to our attention that a new revised soil management and cultivation guide was needed for the UK. The last comprehensive guide on soil structure was produced in 2001 by National Soil Resources Institute.

The remit was challenging.

• It had to work for all farmer and land managers, engaged in farming or not. 

• It would independently cover all forms of soil management without bias towards one practice or another. 

• It would include combinable and potato crop establishment 

• It would feature a decision tree to highlight gaps in a management plan 

• Would feature the best information available and be as up to date as possible  

No mean feat. And in true AHDB style it could not favour any one approach and is designed to inform and enable the reader to make their own decisions; in short, we are not your mother! However, the guide does follow the theme of cost control, compaction avoidance and being open minded which inevitably lead towards more monitoring, reducing soil movement and a more systems-based approach. But also highlights the draw backs and potential pitfalls of your current system or the one you are thinking of moving towards. The decision guide rightly asks of your management capacity to change; if your family and/or staff are not behind you, buying a new drill isn’t going to help. And while we are taking drills, we have seen a new drill turn up that is so expensive that costs have not come down and yields have not gone up.

In the past the AHDB and HGCA have relied on agricultural science to produce Knowledge Exchange. The reason for this was that is was completely backed up by independent research and raw data was available for everyone to see. It countered any argument before it began. But this guide needed to be practical, readily digestible and based on farm scale experience. So, Philip Wright stepped up, along with Andy Newbold, Bill Basford and with Mark Stalham of NIAB-CUF casting his expert eye over the potatoes section. With these names in the bag it was a case of drawing the many information streams into one document of just 36 pages. Again, quite a challenge. But Philip set to work right away and soon and a working copy in circulation.

First things first, assess what you have, then what you can control. Unless you move you are stuck with your soil type, topography and rainfall, these three aspects will set the course. From there onwards is down to you. Your willingness to impose change on yourself, family and staff is an important next step. Change is interesting, exciting and necessary and the more open minded you can be the better.

Drainage systems in the UK are getting old, and maintenance often poor: a review of what’s needed is a good idea. The wet winter means it will be summer before work can begin, but autumn cover crops will provide a useful opportunity to repair or replace field drains. Search AHDB Drainage Guide to get more information.

The guide deals with crop residues and sets out the benefits of straw removal such as ease of entry for the next crop and generating some useful cash flow but also points out the risks of compaction caused by removal and in a catchy season the risk of late removal. If chopping, then attentions must turn to the combines capacity to spread residue to the full width of the cutter bar. Straw raking might be necessary, and the guide has some insights. Search AHDB Straw value for more information. Cover crops are in there. A short but honest assessment of what cover crops can do for you. Search AHDB Cover Crops for in-depth information.

In terms of your prime mover, notes include tyre or track choice, ballasting the tractor to pull an implement not pick it up, so consider trailed equipment over mounted. Taking advantage of modern tyre technology will pay dividends in improved fuel use and work rates while lowering soil pressure and could controlled traffic farming be incorporated? Combine/sprayer widths of 6/18, 8/24, 9/36 or 12/36 meters could be a no brainer soon if combine manufactures and cope with the loading auger/header width combinations.

While I know if you are reading this magazine you are already on-board with reduced soil movement or seriously thinking about it, throughout the guide, it suggests you probably don’t need to do as much to your soil as you are. In short, not as deep, not as intensive are paths to more costs saved and a reduction in horsepower requirements, weight and costs to the business. Is yield king? It does help, but not at any cost and from our understanding of benchmarking, there is a 20% chance of a profit from doing the same thing year in year out and relying on a good yield, or an 80% chance of a profit of being realistic about yield and managing costs effectively.

Back to the guide and one of the pages that took the most thought is the Establishment Approach assessment tool and I suggest giving it a try. The idea is you consider each of the 10 assessments with potential for 10 marks each and give yourselves marks out of 100. The top two you have little control over, but the rest are well within your control. The results should highlight where your strengths already lay and any gaps in your thinking. The follow on being to refer to the corresponding page number and review your options.

Of course, there is a section on direct drilling and no till drilling, and we have gone to pains to describe both so there’s less confusion out there. If you are mindful of moving towards reduced on no-till cultivation, then this guide is the first step. Not buying or being sold a new drill. We discuss all the benefits and pit falls of adopting no till, not to put you off but to get you through that period in 2 -3 years in when the excitement has gone, and the management is needed at this time more than ever. I’m also aware that those reading this magazine may perhaps consider this cultivations guide to be already out of date. But remember, the vast majority of UK farmers are using techniques found in all the pages within. What the future holds will remain to be seen.

To download a copy go to ahdb. org.uk/greatsoils or Google AHDB C u l t i v a t i o n s Guide or to receive a hard copy posted to you, either phone our publications line on; 0247 799 0069 or email; publications@ ahdb.org.uk