Rocks we make in our soil – field sessions on soil care and reducing costs

Last week LandWISE completed a national round of field discussions in conjunction with HortNZ and FAR. The round started at Lawson’s Organic Farms in Hastings and finished at Peter and Emma McCracken’s farm at Rangiora where they grow onions, cauliflower, pumpkins, lucerne and maize.

Discussions were focused on soil care and cost reductions with reference to managing traffic and cultivation options. Over 100 farmers participated in the sessions from Pukekohe to Canterbury and looking at systems ranging from potatoes and onions, to maize, market gardens, and arable crops.

Visual Soil Assessment was used to observe cropped soils and then to compare them with uncultivated soil from under the nearest fenceline. It is always sobering to see the effects of cropping, particularly when it is continuous. Farmers were able to see the difference between dusty, compacted, platy or grey cropped soils vs the same soil type in its darker, porous, nutty, native state from nearby.

In some instances compaction from traffic and cultivation pans is creating virtual ‘rocks’ in the soil, these are so dense they don’t allow for storage of water or exploration by roots. In each case, after looking at soils, discussions turned to managing traffic and reducing powered tillage and how changes in practises are improving soil condition and farm profitability around the world.

The visits were supplemented with the expertise of a Nuffield scholar, James Peck from PX Farms in Cambridgeshire, and Dr Bruce Ball, a visiting soil scientist from Scotland. Bruce has practised and encouraged reduced cultivation and better traffic management since the 1980s, because it is a solution to many of today’s cropping challenges. As he concludes his Nuffield tour, James commented that he is seeing improved management of traffic create dramatic soil improvements and cost savings at all scales, in Europe and Australasia.

It has been said that farmers make their money with the top 6 inches…. of their head. It is interesting that many innovative farmers reflect on changes they have made and note that many perceived barriers turned out to be imaginary – rocks in their heads….

As new technology offers the chance to take better care of soil, it’s a good time to check for ‘rocks’ in our soil, and in our heads…, and then to explore new and proven options for better care of cropping soils.

Talk to LandWISE if you would like to discuss your options or have us help you meet a farmer who has overcome similar challenges to yours.  Someone surely has.

Contact James for more information on 06 6504531 – 0272 757757 –

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