Zone tillage for lower inputs and healthy soil

This Riverford sponsored field lab is looking into how using zone tillage in a range of fields and with various horticultural crops can improve soils and cut inputs for cost effectiveness. The Organic Research Centre's Dominic Amos is helping farmers to develop methods.

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Field Lab Timeline

    9/12/2017 11:00:00 PM
  • Idea formation

    Idea formation
  • 11/24/2017 12:00:00 AM
  • Initial meeting

    Initial meeting
  • 1/31/2018 12:00:00 AM
  • Methods planning

    Methods planning
  • 3/5/2018 12:00:00 AM
  • Trial starts

    Trial starts
  • 3/9/2018 12:00:00 AM
  • Zone tillage

    Zone tillage
  • 4/8/2018 11:00:00 PM
  • Weeding

    Weeding
  • 5/6/2018 11:00:00 PM
  • Progress review

    Progress review
  • 7/22/2018 11:00:00 PM
  • Cost analysis

    Cost analysis
  • 9/2/2018 11:00:00 PM
  • Yield analysis

    Yield analysis
  • 10/14/2018 11:00:00 PM
  • Results discussion

    Results discussion
For further information hover over the above milestone marks
  • Discussion

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  • Achievements

    July 2018

    Independent trial progress

    In an independent trial on the Riverford farm, squash is being tested with a range of tilling treatments. Despite this year's lack of water over summer the squash has established well and the triallist is hoping for an average of at least 2 squashes per plant at harvest. The treatments include:

    - Ploughing a broad section with a rotovator
    - Using a bed former in strips
    - Shallow tilling in strips

    The bed former has created narrower strips than the strip till or rotovator. The areas in which the bed former has been used appear to have smaller sized squash (by observation) compared to the other two treatments. The triallist thinks that this may be due to greater grass / weed competition due to both closer proximity to the squash and the pressure on water availability and lack of rain.

    The squash still have a couple of months to grow and the observations at this point will be recorded. If relevant for the farmers wanting to undertake an Innovative Farmers trial at Riverford next year, this information will be discussed during the winter meeting.

    Milestone: Progress review

    June 2018

    Field lab on pause

    Due to initial difficulties in sourcing appropriate equipment to undertake zone tillage, this field lab has been paused until next year. Further discussions on what the best approach is will be continued in December.


    In the meantime, one of the growers is using some Riverford-owned equipment in an independent trial to till very select strips of a field in order to minimise tilling damage. He is planting various varieties of squash and pumpkins, the yields of which will be assessed in late summer and autumn.

    Milestone: Progress review

    January 2018

    Methods clarification

    The group met with researcher Dominic Amos to clarify questions on the methods and discuss the trial layout. There were some concerns about tilling on a steep slope, but balancing that with the need to use the field for vegetable growth and improve the soils. There were also discussions on how to best balance the needs of the farmers with the need to get a scientifically robust trial design to cover as much field variability as possible. One farmer decided to trial french beans, another squash and pumpkin and another curly kale. A fourth farmer will be contacted to decided on his crop.

    Milestone: Methods planning

    November 2017

    Field lab planning

    The group of growers interested in trialling zone tillage met again to discuss how to progress with the trial. Initial method ideas were laid out for the following spring, with discussion around what crops would be best to trial with and the machinery needed. A range of crops was suggested, including squash / pumpkins, sweetcorn, courgette and kale or calabrese) and various options for a green manure/cover crop.

    A specialist piece of machinery is going to be developed by the engineer at SDOP, likely by adapting existing equipment to keep it cost effective.

    Parameters to be measured include operational inputs including fuel use, comparisons of yield against the standard growing method for the crop, impacts on harvest rates.

    Milestone: Initial meeting

    September 2017

    Initial ideas meeting

    This meeting was for growers from Riverford and South Devon Organic Producers. Around 8 ideas for field labs were discussed and then narrowed down to 5 strong contenders. The coordinator helped to narrow down the ideas, one being the use of zone tillage to improve soil health (including microbiology and structure) as well as crop quality.

    The group are interested in assessing not only the soil health improvements, but also the cost benefits of using a reduced tillage method, for example that saved in fuel, other inputs and potentially labour.

    The next step will be looking at the potential methods for these topics.

    Milestone: Idea formation

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