Sunday, 6 April 2014

No-till Farming

No-till farming: attended a seminar (IIED, London) and went for a farm walk (Thurlby Grange Farm, Lincs., UK - Tony Reynolds) 28-29 March with Bill ("No-till Bill") Crabtree ( ). The IDEA is to plant seed of annual crops (wheat, maize, oilseed rape etc) direct into the stubble/residue of previous crop without any tillage or burning at all and depend entirely on herbicide for weed control. Huge economy in diesel and tractor use, but requires a very special planter/drill - expensive. Also benefits from use of a combine with a stripper head rather then the usual reel and cutter bar which takes the straw as well. Am nervous about long-term effects of such steady herbicide applications, but am deeply impressed by resulting increase in soil organic matter up from 2% to 3% in SW Australian semi-arid and from 2.1% in 2003 to 6.2% in 2013 on Thurlby Grange. The heavy soil "feels" much better, many earthworms, moist soil doesn't stick to boots (!), infiltration so good that there was no evidence of there having been standing water on the wheat and rape during the recent wet winter (450 mm rain in 3 months approx). There are big economies in fertilizer application as a result as well. We Microfarmers could think of not digging our plots any more, just spreading organic material (mulch, compost, manure) on the surface and planting through it and being extra careful to do our weeding.

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