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Why do we have to treat our soils like dirt?

Normally when starting an article there is much gnashing of teeth and wondering around the garden, or pub in my case, deciding on how to help and enlighten our industry (hopefully). But seeing as it hasn’t stopped raining since last September, on this occasion the decision is somewhat easier. My town has now been re-named Upton under Severn. On my rounds I have seen two four-wheel tractors tied together pulling a plough through the field which looked like toothpaste and all eight wheels were spinning as they pulled themselves down onto their axles: really. Funnily enough the managers of this farming area were having a heated debate at the same time on whether to use a direct or strip till drill which simply amazed me.  

We all know that if we lose Glyphosate then getting to a good position for direct drilling is going to be so much more difficult, but not impossible. What is perhaps now becoming obvious, is the effect that climate change will have on this method of growing, with longer and wetter periods, and yes, I do realise that once it stops raining it will go dry as a party in a nunnery but that still has the same effects.

On my farm walks I have seen that the relentless tapping of billions of raindrops on the soil surface has produced a 80-100mm cap that has the consistency of wet play-dough which, is either going to cap over growing crops or produce an airless situation in to which seeds will be put. Indeed, I have been watching seeds direct and strip drilled over the last 2-3 weeks (on good soils) and I have had ask the question, ‘Why’? The direct seeds are firmly encased in a solid wall of mud so as they chit, they will more than likely rot. The strip tilled seeds are more of a surprise. I tripped over this problem in the wet autumn when I was told that my bacterial application had stopped having the desired effect on clubroot in cauliflower. When I visited the problem it was plain to see that the soil wasn’t ready for this method of drilling and the drill had in effect formed shallow drains across the field therefore producing an anaerobic environment for the soil life hence allowing the harmful anaerobic pathogens to run amuck. Now if it had stayed like that I wouldn’t have been too alarmed, but since then, and especially over the last few weeks, I have noticed that the lifted rows left by the strip till are overtly wet compared with the surrounding soil regardless of how good the surrounding soil is. The phrase that we earn the right to use any specific piece of machinery is oh so right.

This is leading me to suggest we need to see that there are times when sowing isn’t going to work (difficult to say the least) and we need to stick to the rule that the soil needs what the soil needs, to get air into it…