Improving soil health across a shared rotation

The field lab aims to improve soil health and organic matter in a shared rotation of an arable/horticulture system, assessing effects of cover crops on cash crop yield and quality.

Show More

Field Lab Timeline

    8/8/2016 11:00:00 PM
  • Initial discussion meeting

    Initial discussion meeting
  • 8/24/2016 11:00:00 PM
  • Meeting with researcher to define field lab

    Meeting with researcher to define field lab
  • 9/29/2016 11:00:00 PM
  • Planting of agreed green manures and cover crops

    Planting of agreed green manures and cover crops
  • 9/29/2016 11:00:00 PM
  • Take first First NRM soil analysis

    Take first First NRM soil analysis
  • 11/30/2016 12:00:00 AM
  • Incoporate mustards into soil /soil analysis

    Incoporate mustards into soil /soil analysis
  • 3/17/2017 12:00:00 AM
  • Incorporate oats cover crop / soil analysis

    Incorporate oats cover crop / soil analysis
  • 3/30/2017 11:00:00 PM
  • Meeting to review soil analyses and see growing cover crop

    Meeting to review soil analyses and see growing cover crop
  • 4/29/2017 11:00:00 PM
  • Take second NRM soil analysis

    Take second NRM soil analysis
  • 5/30/2017 11:00:00 PM
  • Incorporate IRG and vetch cover crop / soil analysis

    Incorporate IRG and vetch cover crop / soil analysis
  • 7/16/2017 11:00:00 PM
  • Field day for interested growers and farmers

    Field day for interested growers and farmers
  • 1/19/2018 12:00:00 AM
  • Meeting to analyse crop records and gather result data.

    Meeting to analyse crop records and gather result data.
For further information hover over the above milestone marks
  • Discussion

    To see the latest activity please log-in (group members only).

  • Achievements

    February 2018

    Further trial results

    (...)
    Lettuce trial at Jepco

    The trial showed a 7.9% increase in lettuce head weights, made up of both bigger heads & improved integrity of leaf structure. The result was a positive increase in gross margin per ha. Cover crop cost was £240 per hectare in the trial area. This included all additional cultivations in establishing and incorporating the cover crop.

    It was noted that improved leaf structure would potentially give a longer shelf life and there was a more consistent crop which meant harvesting was easier to arrange. This would likely further reduce costs. The consequence of increased yields is that there would be a further reduction in crop production area to deliver same volume of sales. Artificial nitrogen use on the lettuce has been further reduced by 10Kg/ha.

    The Farmers may continue with the trial, with following crop yields on trial plots being analysed to see if there is any long-term increase in yields and soil health.

    Please log in for free to download the attached results report under the 'Field Lab Documents' section.

    Milestone: Meeting to analyse crop records and gather result data.

    February 2018

    Trial results

    A results meeting was held at Jepco to discuss trial results and discuss next steps.

    Sugar beet trial at Lovenden Farm

    The trial plots were plot tested in November using standard British sugar techniques, sampling 12 roots, to assess sugar levels. Although not yet statistically analysed Cover Crop and compost samples showed higher Sugar % levels and chicken litter trial showed lower sugar %. The higher Nitrogen application trial demonstrated lower sugar % levels as would be expected.

    Field harvesting was undertaken in January with plots harvested mechanically, and trailer yields taken from a 200 m x 2.7 m plot. These again have not yet been analysed properly yet but show a 0.5 t/ha increase in Beet yield for all treatments. Sugar yield analysis is being undertaken to assess sugar yield per plot. Financial analysis shows that the cover-crop treatment showed a Gross Margin improvement of about £200 per hectare over all costs, Chicken litter by about £100 and compost was cost neutral. As a result, it would appear that a fodder radish/mustard cover crop is at least a break even economic option before sugar beet.

    The plots have been drilled to Winter wheat, and during ploughing it was noted that the compost had not totally broken down and could lead to longer term crop benefits. The plots will be reanalysed through the NRM soil samples, and wheat yield by combine yield assessment at harvest.

    Potato trial at Worth Farms

    Crop was harvested in September 2017 and boxes from sampled area were compared with boxes from trial area. There was no noticeable difference in tuber yield, damage, size or skin finish between the two areas. There was no PCN damage on either samples. PCN cyst numbers will be assessed in the spring and a further soil analysis carried out.
    (...)

    Milestone: Meeting to review soil analyses and see growing cover crop

    August 2017

    Field lab article published in the Vegetable Farmer

    Great article on the field lab and open day published in the Vegetable Farmer.
    See more here: Shared-Rotation-Article-from-VEGETABLE-FARMER-SEPTEMBER-2017.pdf (free login required)

    Milestone: Field day for interested growers and farmers

    August 2017

    Farmers working together for soil health blog posted

    Read Jerry's blog from the field day: https://www.soilassociation.org/blogs/2017/august/farmers-working-together-for-soil-health/

    Milestone: Field day for interested growers and farmers

    July 2017

    Public meeting held 17th July 2017

    27 people attended a public meeting which included an overview of the findings so far, talks from each of the participating businesses, and a farm tour. Quotes from the day:

    Nick Sheppard, Jepco: "We have found an increase of almost 8% in lettuce yield after overwintering cover crops, compared to bare soils; as well as a perceived reduction in fuel use in soil cultivations, and better water infiltration after heavy rain falls in the lettuce fields which have had an overwintered cover crop, compared to fields which were ploughed or left as an over winter stubble."

    Anthony Campling, Loveden Estates: "It's good to work with neighbours. It's days like this where we all get together that the best ideas come out. We all have ideas, but it's about sharing those ideas."

    Simon Day, Worth Farms: "GREATsoils is a good forum for getting people together to talk about how we can improve our most important asset, the soil."

    See more here: Shared-Rotation-Field-Lab-Update-17-07-17.pdf (free login required)/

    Milestone: Field day for interested growers and farmers

    March 2017

    Oats green manure samples measured

    Fresh and dry matter samples of oats green manure were taken by ORC in two fields at Jepco.

    Milestone: Incorporate oats cover crop / soil analysis

    March 2017

    Field lab status meeting

    The group met to discuss the monitoring of the trial and the first results of the soil analysis with the NRM Soil Health Test. We also looked at the first data collection on growing costs of cover crops.

    As the lab had changed their analysis method over the winter months, particularly the scale of respiration rate measurement, it was decided that it is necessary to work with actual numbers of CO2 burst instead of the index that they offer.

    Milestone: Meeting to review soil analyses and see growing cover crop

    March 2017

    Oats incorporated to plant early lettuce

    Jepco incorporated overwintering oats cover crop in one field for early lettuce planting.

    Milestone: Incorporate oats cover crop / soil analysis

    November 2016

    Mustard green manure samples taken

    Fresh and dry matter samples of mustard green manure is taken by ORC. Mustard green manure is incorporated at Worth Farms, the soil is left bare over winter until potatoes are planted in early April.

    Milestone: Incoporate mustards into soil /soil analysis

    October 2016

    NRM tests taken

    First NRM soil health tests taken in September, October and November 2016

    Milestone: Take first First NRM soil analysis

    September 2016

    Green manures and cover crops planted

    Trialist 1 will sow two cover crops as part of the trial on 6 separate fields – 200 acres of oats; and a mix of Italian rye grass (IRG) and vetch on another 70 hectares. These will be topped off over winter to prevent crop maturing as a more mature straw type material takes more N for incorporation out of the soil reserves. Oats will be incorporated before early spring planting of salad leaves in March, whereas IRG and vetch will be incorporated ahead of later plantings in May. The cover crops are sown in August – September 2016. Control strips will be part of same field left unsown from cover crops.

    Trialist 2 – A 21 hectare field will be used for the trial; it is split into 3 equal parts of 7 hectares and a control area of 1 hectare. Three treatments used: 1. Chicken litter, 2. Compost and 3. A sown mix of mustard green manure designed to aid control of potato cyst nematode (PCN). The remaining area of the field, which is slightly less than I hectare, will be an untreated area to act as a control. These are all to be followed by a sugar beet crop. Mustard is autumn sown and compost and chicken litter to be applied at a similar time.

    Trialist 3 – The trial field will be sown with a PCN mustard mix and the control will be a central strip down the length of the field with no mustard. The field just came out of vining peas and will go into potatoes in spring 2017. PCN mustard sown in August and incorporated into the soil in November for best effect on PCN numbers.

    Milestone: Planting of agreed green manures and cover crops

    August 2016

    Methods and Expected Outcomes agreed

    METHODS
    The effects of the introduction of different cover crops at various stages in the rotation will be assessed on a four of different levels:
    1. soil health and organic matter
    2. soil ‘workability’
    3. cash crop health and quality
    4. economic parameters

    EXPECTED OUTCOMES
    This project will initially run for one year only (summer 2016 – summer 2017) but at this site it is in itself a relatively new approach to soil management. All three farmers have so far followed their individual and independent strategies for soil management, and this project allows a new approach of jointly working on the improvement of soil fertility and health. As the farmers work with the same fields at different stages of the rotation, they will all benefit of a joint soil improvement strategy in the long run (particularly as some crucial soil health parameters, such as soil organic matter, can only be improved through long-term changes in soil management).

    One outcome of the project will be a first impression of ‘what it means’ to introduce more and different cover crops into the rotation, the overall cost-benefit analysis could deliver valuable results for decision making in this particular group.

    However, taking into account that such approaches cannot be conclusively evaluated in one growing season alone (variation e.g. from particularly wet or dry years etc.); another outcome of the project may be the initiation of a closer collaboration among the growers and farmers, and especially the development of a joint, long-term strategy to improve soil health and fertility, increasing production efficiency in general.

    Direct project results will be:
    - Soil health records
    - Growing costs of green manures and cover crops
    - Cash crop yield and quality data
    - Green manure yield data
    - As well as feedback from the involved growers about this new approach of joint soil health management

    Milestone: Meeting with researcher to define field lab

    August 2016

    Defined project with researcher

    Defined which green manures and cover crops will be grown over 2016/17, how much and how to quantify possible benefits, what to measure and what data to collect, who does the sampling.

    Milestone: Meeting with researcher to define field lab

    August 2016

    Agreed project outline

    Agreed when and how green manures and cover crops could be used in a complex growing rotation, to improve soil health, and to discuss how much members of group can commit to the project (in time and resources).

    Milestone: Initial discussion meeting

go to top

© Soil Association 2020. Charity registered in England and Wales no 206862, in Scotland no SC039168. Terms