Dick Neale, technical manager at agronomy group Hutchinsons, urged attendees at the Tillage and Soils event – hosted recently in the UK – to dig deep and examine field soil profiles before assessing what actions may be needed to progress a move to reduced/no-till crop establishment.
“Inspect soils between October and March, when proper assessment of moisture can be made. After that, they won’t change greatly until harvest. If you’re currently deep-tilling, restructuring soils will take time, with results usually visible after three years. What you should achieve by gradually reducing movement depth is relatively dry soil that resists compaction and can carry machine weight without leaving significant wheelings,” Neale said.
“Addressing issues often isn’t about spending more money, but about using existing investment more wisely, and improvement measures can often be cheap to achieve.”
Acknowledging that many of those who have tried cover crops have had widely differing experiences, Mr Neale nevertheless suggested there is proven value in having growing roots in soil for as much of the year as possible.
Mr Neale also underlined the importance of correct pH, and its influence over almost every other aspect of soil health.
“It impacts biology, structure and nutrient flow. A lab test is only an indicator. Ensure that, if you’re getting pH 6-6.5 lab results, they are checked with a field test, as contamination by a tiny amount of chalk in a sample can neutralise acidity. Placing fertiliser – especially phosphate – can help here.”