Heavy land combinable crops farming is going through a very painful period at present, writes Tony Gent.
Deterioration of soil structure, grass weed problems and economics are causing many to reconsider their rotation and the system they use. It is essential that as a result of this pain these problems are addressed appropriately.
The main cause of soil structure problems is loss of organic matter. This is mainly caused by over cultivation which allows the soil to dry out and oxides away the organic matter and kills worms and microbes in the soil.
The main grass weed problem we have is black grass which has become very resistant to control by selective herbicide, therefore any seeds returned to the soil will produce plants that are now impossible to kill. If those seeds are cultivated into the soil, then the problem will resurface for many years to come every time the soil is moved by cultivation.
One aspect of the economic problem is low world commodity price, which we can do nothing about, but we can do something about cost.
So we have a soil structure problem that’s caused by moving soil around too much, an ongoing grass weed problem that will not go away if we keep bringing viable seeds to the surface and an economic problem that’s made much worse by enormous cultivation costs.
No-till is not an instant magic fix; on heavy poorly structured soil it will take time, but worms and microbes soon recover and soil structure quickly improves. Grass weed seeds are left on the surface where they are much easier to deal with, either by natural deterioration or geminating before subsequent crop is sown and then killed off by broad spectrum herbicide.
The adoption of no-till will therefore improve soil structure, help control grass weeds, relieve economic pressure and turn the pain into a positive.