Soil health to be the key focus of 2017 ‘Cereals’ event

Last year’s UK-based ‘Cereals’ event, for tillage farmers, featured an 8m long x 1.5m deep soil pit, demonstrating the impact of different crops on soil structure.

It attracted so much interest that this year’s pit will more than double in size – to 20m long – with the addition of a new compacted area, to illustrate the impact of poor soil structure on rooting ability.

“Soil health is a really hot topic right now; there is a lively debate on how best to manage soil structure both with machinery and through crop choice,” said Ron Stobart, Head of Farming Systems Research at the UK’s National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB).

By drilling different crops with a variety of sowing dates and digging the soil pit just before the event, we can show farmers what’s really going on beneath the surface.

He added, “With plenty of expert advice on hand, this will enable them to make more informed decisions about their own soil management at home.”

This year’s crops will include winter and spring beans, wheat and oats, as well as cover crops like vetch, radish and a radish/oat mix.

“Cover crops are an increasingly popular option to improve soil condition and reduce erosion,” explained Mr Stobart. “Last year, visitors were surprised at how deep roots can go – up to 1.5m in our chalky soils – but different cover crops have very distinct rooting habits, so farmers should choose appropriate species to tackle specific needs in their soils.”

Stobart confirmed that the soil pit will also have experts on site to discuss varying cultivation and tillage options.

“Visitors will be able to see the results of these different techniques used to alleviate compaction in the soil pit,” he added.

Steve McGrath, Head of Sustainable Soil and Grassland Systems at Rothamsted Research, will be turning theory into practice, demonstrating how soil physics, worms and microbiology interact with the plants.

“We do a lot of research into soil,” he said, “so this is an ideal opportunity to show farmers what’s going on, with a living backdrop.”

This year’s ‘Cereals’ event takes place on Wednesday, June 14 and Thursday, June 15. The location is Boothby Graffoe, Lincolnshire.

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