Every year that I have been farming I have always ploughed all the land that was going to have a spring crop on but these last two years we have not ploughed some of it, writes Nicholas Watts.
By continually cultivating the soil we are degrading it and now we have weeds such as blackgrass that we are unable to control. The best soil on my farm is under the hedgerows or other pieces of land that never get ploughed and of course those places have no blackgrass either. Ploughing and cultivating has gradually killed all the soil invertebrates so the question is, can we farm without ploughing and cultivating? Last autumn 120 acres on my farm were direct drilled, straight after the wheat was harvested, with a plant called oil radish, a plant that does much the same job as worms do. In the spring these fields will be sprayed with Roundup and again direct drilled with a spring crop. The oil radish dies down, preventing weeds from germinating, but as the soil has not been disturbed very few want to anyway and I expect I will have a blackgrass-free crop. Last spring those fields that were sown with oil radish the previous autumn had a lot more birds on them than the surrounding fields; that means there was more food on those fields. Birds are declining because they are running out of food at certain times of the year so if I can provide more food for them at a time of the year when food is generally in short supply that must be a good thing. I will be monitoring the oil radish and surrounding fields with interest this spring to see if they are loaded with wildlife again.