NIAB compares innovative strategy to traditional treatments in farm trial.
An innovative phosphate management strategy has been introduced to a 120-year-old experiment in Suffolk, led by NIAB. The experiment will compare its benefits to traditional farmyard manure and mineral fertiliser applications. Satellite imagery and soil scanning have also been introduced to help understand the impacts of the different soil treatments.
NIAB takes a leading role in a number of long-term experiments, including the New Farming Systems programme based in Norfolk on a sandy loam soil, and the Saxmundham Experimental Site in Suffolk which is on a clay loam. NIAB will be discussing the findings of these in the Virtual Innovation Hub.
The Saxmundham experiment has been running for 120 years with the aim of unpicking how soil and fertiliser management interacts to drive crop yields, and it has been comparing the effects of phosphorus and potassium fertilisers to the regular use of farmyard manure.
David Clarke, Soils and Farming Systems Technician at NIAB, comments: “Phosphate (P) is essential to plant function but there are increasing environmental concerns from high soil P levels and limited availability of mined rock phosphate. This year the trials are being supplemented by new treatments to test an innovative new approach to P management strategies.”
The results from the trial last year were interesting, says David: “Historically soil P availability has been the main driver of yield, however this did not appear to be the case in 2019, when the yield of winter wheat was good (over 10 t/ha) across the Saxmundham site.
“Even higher yields were achieved in the treatment with regular applications of farmyard manure (12.6 t/ha), potentially as a result of the crop being able to better utilise the nitrogen fertiliser applied, and/or to benefit from nitrogen released through mineralisation as a result of the higher levels of soil organic matter.
“Over the next five years these treatments hope to provide some answers to how best manage plant phosphate demands.”
The New Farming Systems programme for combinable crops in Norfolk is examining three interrelated themes: fertility building and cover crops, approaches to tillage, and the use of soil amendments.
David continues: “There is no simple solution but these experiments are helping farmers understand the impact of management decisions for the whole crop rotation and therefore select the best combination of approaches for their farm.
“Much more work will be needed before we can reliably give advice to farmers on biological interventions that give consistent short-term outcomes.
“At the rotational scale, we know that the key principles for improved soil biological health are: increasing organic matter inputs, reducing tillage intensity, and increasing diversity (whether in the rotation or the farm landscape). Working this out in practice will need long-term studies and on-farm monitoring to understand the impact of management decisions for the whole crop rotation, and therefore give farmers the advice they need to select the best combination of approaches for their farm.”
For over 10 years, NIAB has been working with the Morley Agricultural Foundation and the JC Mann Trust on the New Farming Systems experiment for combinable crops.
The Saxmundham Experimental site was started in 1899 and has been managed by various organisations. The site is currently supported through the Morley Agricultural Foundation Long-term Trials (Morley-LoTS) programme.