Saturday, 4 June 2011

"The Nation That Destroys It's Soils Destroys Itself" Roosevelt 1937

2.2 Million Tonnes of top soil are lost each year from UK agricultural soils.PASTURE FARMING HAS THE ANSWER. President Roosevelt 1937 made his statement about soils after the 1930s & the Mid West Dust Bowl, but have we learnt the lesson....Topsoil loss is a serious issue in the UK TODAY.
The Governments response (now archived by Defra) was a Soil Strategy Plan
The key issues identified in the degradation of UK soils are topsoil loss, compaction & the loss of Soil Organic Matter. Under good dairy pastures & sound grazing management is usually a healthy soil environment. Permanent pastures encourage build ups of Soil Organic Matter & healthy soil life. However all that happens on UK low input dairy farms does not favour a healthy soil. E.g. excessive use of Nitrogen, poor drainage, poor use of manures or cultivation/ploughing.
In this new carbon environment we need to change our ways.” We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein. During & post WW2, Winston Churchill ordered as much of the UK that could be ploughed should be so that arable crops could be grown to feed the nation. The response & the efforts of farmers fed the nation, the right call at the time. Ploughing & cultivation however increases the potential loss of topsoil & destroys the soil structure & certainly speeds up the loss of soil organic matter. These are serious issues to be addressed by the arable industries but pasture farmers need to take heed too.
One aspect of soil management the pasture based dairy farmers can modify is cultivation & ploughing. With increasingly intensive farming there has been a tendency for topsoil structure to weaken as organic matter is used up and not returned to the soil. Weakly aggregated soils disintegrate under the influence of heavy rainfall and soil particles become mobilised. In recent years cultivation has been extended more and more to sloping fields. The combination of weakly structured soils and sloping fields provide ideal conditions for soil runoff.
The loss of precious Soil Organic Matter is likely to be more serious. When soils are cultivated they are exposed to the air & the oxidization of SOM increases. The dry soil surface & lack of plant cover makes this worse. We have to find ways of direct drilling pastures & winter crops so we can leave the soil intact. In Australia some innovators have developed the concept of “Pasture Cropping” for wheat. Have a look at these YouTube videos
How can we in the UK adapt to ideas of young Darren Doherty out in Victoria, Australia?
We need to STOP PLOUGHING MR CHURCHILL. We have direct drilling technology (not new) & we can subsoil to deal effectively with compaction.
Properties of healthy soils
We need to see ourselves as CARBON FARMERS everything we do should consider the impact on carbon. Soil health is a relatively new concept because we have tended to do soil tests only to measure the available minerals for plant nutrition. We still have a situation in the UK where few “Standard Pasture” soil tests include Soil Organic Matter %. Why?
Soil characteristics that contribute to a healthy soil include
• protected soil surface and low erosion rates
• high soil organic matter
• high biological activity and biological diversity
• high available moisture storage capacity
• favourable soil pH
• deep root zone
• balanced stores of available nutrients
• resilient and stable soil structure
• adequate internal drainage
• favourable soil strength and aeration
• favourable soil temperature
• low levels of soil born pathogens
• low levels of toxic substances.
Direct drilling of winter crops does work we need to work on the technologies & timings to be successful. See the winter crop below that was successfully direct drilled (actually into very dry soils). Why is SOIL ORGANIC MATTER % tests NOT part of the standard soil test in the UK?
A very good question WHY NOT? If you are getting a pasture soil test done PLEASE INSIST that the Soil Organic Matter % is included…..Start monitoring SOM%
Current UK Pasture Measurements

A mixed bag this week as some areas have responded to recent rain while others have not. Growth in Scotland looks very good as does North Wales & Lincolnshire but southern areas struggling. Several indications of pasture quality slipping with the onset of ryegrass heading. Several NZ varieties of ryegrass which are classified as late heading in NZ become mid range heading in UK.
The weekly task of texting me the current pasture information has brought out the comedians....thanks guys for your weekly help. Please text me your humour & your pasture data.
TheAverage Pasture Cover (kgsDM/ha) & Pasture Growth (kgsDM/ha/day)

South Ayrshire, AFC 2524, Growth 93 soil temp 15degrees C
Dumfries, 2105, Gr 63, Demand 49, rain on & off, wet knees when measuring pasture (only kidding!)
Nth Wales, 2076, gr66 still dry despite rain OAD doing very well
Shropshire organic, 1892, gr 19, no rain, too hard to dig spear thistles
Shropshire, 2000, gr 8
East Staffordshire, 1900, gr 37
Lincolnshire, growth up to 96kgs compared to 40 last week, good rain & warmth.
Herefordshire org, 2263, gr44, demand 48, pastures heading
Gloucestershire, 2115, gr 47, difficult to text as mid rain dance!
Somerset org, 1850, gr 27, de 36, rain needed
Pembrokeshire, 2108, gr59, premowing silage ground
Pembrokeshire, 1932, gr 50 just cut silage
Devon, 2250, gr 45, grazing silage & feeding silage
Cornwall, 2030, gr 43 feeding 5kgsdm silage, rain please
South Kilkenny, Ireland, 1981, gr50, demand 46
Winton, South Island NZ, AFC 1900, growth 20kgs, outwintering on foddercrops


  1. Every farm has the potential to be a carbon farm....interesting article that fits in exactly with what you are saying here in the UK

  2. Indeed, pasture has been shown to be a better carbon sink than native woodland. Grass based animal production creates topsoil - thus long-term as well as short-term profit!

    Thanks for including Grass based Health in your Favourite Blog List!


    Pete B