No-till to improve soil structure in Sutton St Edmunds

Tony Gent.
Tony Gent.
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It is noticeable that we are seeing more puddles and ponding on fields this year although autumn and winter rainfall has not been exceptionally high.

The pressure of blackgrass has brought about later autumn sowing and the requirement for finer and firmer seed beds. With later autumn sowing blackgrass pressure is much less, but drilling is often in wetter soil conditions. Is this putting too much pressure on deteriorating soil structure which has been happening over the years since the fields were ploughed from grass for arable crops? Tractor power and speed has increased and much more intensive cultivation is often taking place. This destroys organic matter in the soil and then it becomes weak in structure and washes together causing the surface to seal off very easily.

With our No-till the surface becomes stronger and it develops natural holes from worms and old root fibres. Although this does ideally depend on having crops or cover crops in place for most of the time which in practice is sometimes difficult.

For the most part we have found drainage improves with No-till but in some of the heavy lower areas it is difficult to break the circle of ponding and get consistent growth to allow the soil to recover. In some of these areas we have found it necessary to put in a strategically placed drain with gravel backfill. Although this is a very cost effective way to solve the problem compared to deeper cultivation, we do tend to give problem areas a few years to sort themselves naturally if possible.