Plan for soil success

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On a typical arable farm, as our benchmarking has pointed out, farming isn’t always profitable before the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) payments,” said Simon Brock, farm manager at Swanton Morley Farms and host of the AHDB Dereham Monitor Farm.

“With Brexit around the corner, the profitability and sustainability of British farming is at a huge cross-roads and we need to address it.”

The answer, according to Simon Brock and the AHDB Monitor Farm group is to be strategic about everything on the farm.

“The meetings this year have made me question what I do in more detail. I know we should run the farm in a more business-like way and look at where we want the business to go.”

In particular, soil health strategies are top of Simon’s list.

“The strong message to come out of our discussions on soil health was that we absolutely must plan our cultivation and rotation to reduce damage to the soil and its biology. I know we need to maintain or increase organic matter too, by applying organic manures and reducing cultivations.”

Simon farms on difficult sandy clay soils: they tend to get very wet and sticky on the surface, making cultivations at times quite tricky – especially as he moves to later drilling for black-grass control.

He is now investigating the best soil strategy for his farm, based on his soil type and rotations. For Simon, that means trying out different cover crops in front of sugar beet and in a field which has been under zero till for six years.

Teresa Meadows, AHDB Knowledge Exchange Manager, said: “The topic of soil health was the most popular with those attending Monitor Farm meetings last winter. Following the passion and enthusiasm by two of the speakers, Clive Bailye from TWB Farms and Matthew Shepherd from Natural England, many farmers left with a renewed desire to increase their soil focus.”

The final word from Simon is that the Monitor Farm meetings this season have highlighted the importance of having a strategic plan for the business, including a business risk assessment.

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