No till and amendments for soil health

This field lab is investigating in-field variation and assessing the effects on soil health of gypsum and other substrates.

Field Lab Timeline

    8/6/2017 11:00:00 PM
  • Initial interest

    Initial interest
  • 8/13/2017 11:00:00 PM
  • Group creation

    Group creation
  • 9/3/2017 11:00:00 PM
  • Researcher involvement

    Researcher involvement
  • 1/15/2018 12:00:00 AM
  • Methods finalised

    Methods finalised
  • 3/5/2018 12:00:00 AM
  • Trials start

    Trials start
  • 3/20/2018 12:00:00 AM
  • Pre-application data collection

    Pre-application data collection
  • 4/1/2018 11:00:00 PM
  • Farm management observations

    Farm management observations
  • 4/3/2018 11:00:00 PM
  • Trial progress

    Trial progress
  • 4/30/2018 11:00:00 PM
  • Funding proposal finalised

    Funding proposal finalised
  • 5/7/2018 11:00:00 PM
  • Data collection

    Data collection
  • 5/28/2018 11:00:00 PM
  • Gypsum applications

    Gypsum applications
  • 7/8/2018 11:00:00 PM
  • Progress review

    Progress review
  • 9/2/2018 11:00:00 PM
  • Results analysis

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

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

  • Achievements

    August 2018

    Initial results

    At the group's recent meeting, some emerging results were discussed as below.

    Farmer A:

    Lower bulk density and aggregation were found in the areas of poorer soil in the field compared to those that are known to be healthier and give better yields.

    The aggregate stability in this field was also significantly better than before the application of gypsum, followed by farm yard manure. Both treatments were spread equally over the field after the Spring wheat had been drilled.

    The researcher observed that the gypsum did not sit on top of the soil in Farmer A's trial fields, and was assumed to be incorporated by the soil biology and earthworms, in comparison to on the trial plots at Nafferton Research Farm. This may have been due to better soil health.

    More results on plant-available nutrients are being analysed to look for differences between lower and higher quality field areas in each farm. Please log in for free and see the results document in the 'Field Lab Documents' section for the results described above.

    Milestone: Results analysis

    June 2018

    Soil health sampling

    Soil health sampling has recently been carried out by the researchers who noted that few adult earthworms were present. Leatherjackets were also present however they had not appeared to have significantly affected the crop at this stage.

    Keep an eye out for the full results which will be available in late summer / early autumn!

    Milestone: Data collection

    May 2018

    Sampling and gypsum applications

    The researchers have sampled for bulk density and used a penetrometer to check compaction and the load bearing strength of the soil on the trial farms. This soil data is now being analysed and will be available in August.

    One farmer has also now ben able to apply gypsum, although the conditions have been dry.

    Milestone: Gypsum applications

    May 2018

    Innovative Farmers Network Day 2018

    Some of the triallists spoke about their experiences on the programme and their trials during the Innovative Farmers Network Day 2018.

    Milestone: Progress review

    April 2018

    Further trial ideas

    One triallist is interested in paper-crumbles (waste) and has been applying this to his fields over recent years because of its availability as a waste resource. He has seen improvements to the soil from its use and wants to test this more scientifically.

    The group is considering how this may develop into a trial with the aid of researchers. This would likely start in autumn when the triallist usually applies the paper waste.

    The same triallist is also interested in seeing the effects on soil biology and crop health of molasses applied to his fields, which he has not yet undertaken. Check back for more information soon!

    Milestone: Trial progress

    April 2018

    Triallist updates

    Triallists are currently waiting for soil and weather conditions to get dry enough to be able to start applying gypsum.

    In a recent group meeting, discussion also surrounded the potential to look at in-field variation via drone observations. The group will be looking into the possibility of this with an acquaintance who regularly uses drones to assess farm management techniques.

    Milestone: Trial progress

    April 2018

    Triallist observations

    One triallist has noted that when using gypsum the soil turns from a sticky substance to much more structured aggregates.

    On all 4 trial farms for this field lab, earthworms have an important presence, with some finding up to 10 per spadeful. Previous soil tests have shown good soil chemical properties (plant available), however this has not necessarily been reflected in crop yield or health, and therefore the group thinks this may be a soil physical problem. This could potentially be from poor structure and wet weather.

    Where areas of one triallist's fields have poor soil quality, and used to be power-harrowed up to 10 years ago, he has observed that his use of minimum-till and gypsum applications are diminishing these areas. He hopes that with continued application these areas will be improved to a higher soil quality. The field lab will aim to add evidence to these observations and look at differences between poor and high quality soil areas.

    Where there are poor areas and crops don't establish, this triallist also sows with, for example, sunflower "to get roots in the ground and something growing". Outside of the trial areas, he has also decided to put poor quality areas covering 30 acres into a wild bird seed mix as part of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, planting this continuously over 5 years.

    Another triallist has very sandy soils which seem to be progressively depleting in health. This triallist's ultimate goal is to see if both min-till and gypsum applications can help to start bringing this poor soil back to good health. He has a mixed farm with both sheep and crops including potatoes. For this crop, he has noticed that as he needs to break the no till cycle, it takes 3-4 years to get the soil back to good health again.

    Milestone: Farm management observations

    March 2018

    Pre-application sampling

    Pre-application sampling has been undertaken across the trial sites including:

    - Pest leatherjacket counts
    - Soil biology health earthworm counts
    - Soil samples for chemical and physical analysis

    Milestone: Pre-application data collection

    February 2018

    Methods cont.


    Farm E

    Nafferton Farm (Newcastle University), will also be used for the trial. Different gyspum application rates will also be assessed here, including:

    - 1 t/ha
    - 2 t/ha
    - 3 t/ha
    - Control (no application)

    These will be applied across 16 10x10 m plots in a randomised block design. Each of the 16 plots will be sampled in 4 locations within it and combined into one sample per plot to cover the variation in each.

    The gypsum will be applied to bare ground and then incorporated with a disk. A crop of Spring Wheat will then be planted.

    Milestone: Methods finalised

    February 2018

    Methods confirmed

    Minimum till will be implemented across all triallists fields.

    Farmer A Trial 1:

    As is standard practice for this triallist, he will apply gypsum to all of his fields at 3 t/ha with a crop to follow (crop type TBC, likely winter linseed).

    Each field will be split into 4 zones: 2 high quality soil and 2 poorer quality soil. 2 samples will be taken randomly from each of the 4 zones before and after applications (16 samples in total).

    Farmer A (Trial 2) B, C and D:

    These triallists will apply gypsum via strips across 2 of their fields, giving 6 fields in total. The strips will be the same width as their respective tractors, and the full length of the fields.

    The following application rates will be applied, to assess the effect of different application rates:

    - Recommended rate: 1 t/ha
    - Control (no gypsum)

    Milestone: Methods finalised

    February 2018

    Measurements confirmed

    The triallists have been applying minimum-till methods and gypsum applications for a number of years, and have observed improvements to their soil health, including structure and biology. One triallist has observed that with the above two methods, the areas of poorer soil health in his fields have been diminishing.

    The triallists would like to get more scientific evidence of these improvements on their fields. The group is also interested in their in-field variation (poor vs good soil health areas), and the trial also aims to assess the impact of minimum-till and gypsum on this variation. Can poorer soil areas be brought up to a good standard of soil health that is seen across other areas of the fields?

    The trials will therefore look at the effects of soil health on both minimum-till and gypsum applications across 4 farms in C. Durham.

    The following soil health indicators are to be measured:

    - Soil physical properties: bulk density, soil aggregation and infiltration rate
    - Soil chemical properties: P, K, pH
    - Soil biology: earthworm counts
    - Soil pests: leatherjacket counts

    4 samples will be taken from each field in late Spring after the crop has had time to establish.

    Milestone: Methods finalised

    September 2017

    Researcher involvement

    The group teamed up with Newcastle University researchers to help map out trial methodologies. Meetings are now underway to solidify these and get a funding proposal submitted.

    Milestone: Researcher involvement

    August 2017

    Initial group formation and ideas discussion

    The coordinator of the group Paul met with several farmers based in the North East to explain how Innovative Farmers works and what they are interested in trialling on their farms.

    The farmers are part of BASE UK. One farmer had been looking for a research opportunity for his farm and BASE, for which Innovative Farmers provided a good solution. Other interested farmers in the area have also joined to form this group, and it is open to others who would like to trial min / no-till systems and soil amendments - please contact us to get involved.

    Milestone: Group creation

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