Tag Archives: Soil management

The biggest soil management challenges this year

This week we will be launching the first issue of our new service, LEAF’s Integrated Farm Management Bulletin. If you’re a LEAF member you will be getting this next week – keep your eyes on your inbox! The first issue is all about sustainable soil management, so we’re asking what you think will be the biggest challenge to your soil over the coming year. Please answer the poll below, we will be following this up in a future post.

SONY DSC Soil management is something of a hot topic for us at the moment, in our last blog post Alice Midmer, LEAF’s Projects Coordinator, wrote about our new sustainable soil management case studies, containing practical information on soil management practices and lots of soil data. You can download six sample case studies on our website here. A further 17 will be coming soon to LEAF members. For more details on LEAF membership click here.

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New perspectives on sustainable soil management

Alice Midmer, LEAF

Alice Midmer, LEAF

Alice Midmer joined the LEAF team last year to produce some practical on farm background to the Simply Sustainable Soils booklet. In this post, Alice tells us about her experience visiting some of our members’ farms across the UK.

Fresh from two terms of an Environmental Bioscience Masters at Warwick University, I went straight in to a more practical experience of environmental matters and food production, with a three month placement at LEAF. My task: To produce some practical on farm background to the Simply Sustainable Soils booklet.

The first task was to assemble a list of ‘Reference Farms’ from which to take detailed soil data and site-specific soil management information. The project was run in partnership with Asda and the reference farms consisted of both LEAF Demonstration Farmers, LEAF members and Asda farms. Next a (lengthy) questionnaire was produced to ensure sufficient data collection. With that, the only thing left to do was get out there!

The fields at JB Shropshire, one of the six preview case studies available to download

The fields at JB Shropshire, one of the six preview case studies available to download

New to agriculture, armed with my Mini and some reassuring words from the LEAF team, I was off.  During July, I was lucky enough to visit 23 farms during what turned out to be the hottest, sunniest, loveliest month in years – what a joy (and contrast to the current weather)! The farms were located in a total of sixteen counties but the many Mini miles on the motorway were made worthwhile by the beautiful parts of the country I was able to visit and the fascinating and knowledgeable farmers I had the pleasure to meet (and no, none of them paid me to say that).

In addition to collecting valuable and vast amounts of data, these visits also provided me with a fantastic insight into soil management and Integrated Farm Management. After just a couple of visits, the complexities, compromises and trade-offs farmers face on a daily basis became apparent. Through seeing first hand some of the sustainable soil management techniques deployed by many farmers, I started to understand the real meaning of IFM and what this means to farmers across the board. This further understanding has made me incredibly keen to contribute all I can to the industry in terms of a fresh perspective, analytical experience and communicating farmers’ messages to the wider public.

Lower HighfieldThe opportunity to visit over fifteen LEAF Demonstration Farms, working effectively and producing a more sustainable food source economically, was an incredibly good introduction to agriculture. In addition, LEAF Demonstration Farms encourage technical visits from a wide range of farmer groups and so if seeing different aspects of Integrated Farm Management in practice sounds like something that might benefit your business find your nearest LEAF Demonstration Farm here. Alternatively, I compiled a case study for each of the farms I visited. To get a sneak peek into the Integrated Farm Management ethos of some of the farms I visited and see how sustainable soil management works in different scenarios take a look here.


soilsThe case studies consist of a number of different soil, farm and enterprise types and six are available to download from the LEAF website here, a full set of 23 will be available to LEAF members soon.

Bringing it all together

Last week, LEAF’s Chairman, Stephen Fell, joined our Technical Day in Yorkshire. Here’s what he had to say.


Stephen Fell, LEAF Chairman, with James Hinchcliffe, Top House Farm, and Lynda Deeks, Cranfield University

On Tuesday of last week I headed off to our local LEAF Technical Field Day hosted by the Hinchcliffe family at Rawcliffe Bridge near Goole, Yorkshire. BASF have been carrying out field trials there for 16 years and for the last 10 have supported biodiversity practice to show how good commercial farming can be totally compatible with good environmental management.
I was greeted with a chorus of skylark song – so on cue that momentarily one suspected an amplified recording!

The interesting thing is that the skylarks nest in the cover crops but feed on insects in the wheat. The Hinchcliffes haven’t used insecticides in their crops for many years and are now appreciating the multiple benefits of that policy.

This day brought together experts in soil structure, water quality management, active biodiversity management, new chemistry and communicating with the public. Quite a range you might think, but all areas which LEAF brings together so well in the wheel of Integrated Farm Management.

I found the new chemistry fascinating – increasing the kilograms of wheat produced per kilogram of nitrogen used, reducing the tonnes of water used per tonne of wheat produced by 30%, and most interesting of all, ways of increasing root biomass by up to 45%. I firmly believe that learning how to grow roots is at the heart of our next leap in yield – and this encompasses soil structure, and a much greater understanding of soil microbial activity and nutrient availability.

Soil erosion was something I always thought happened in areas of arable cultivation on steep land in the high rainfall areas of the country. I was knocked back to learn that the Elvington treatment works in the Vale of York removes 10,000 tonnes of topsoil from water every year. We certainly still have a lot to learn about managing soil runoff. We all think we know about soil compaction, but how often do we actually take out the spade and dig the hole? The good operators do.

In charting the astonishing increase in bird species and numbers as well as pollinators, over the years, Graham Hartwell, BASF’s Stewardship Manager, had an important message – “the simple things make a difference”. The areas of cover crop and bird seed mixtures don’t need to be huge (2% of the farm in this case) but go for a continuity of food supply by planting something in the autumn and the spring, using mixtures that are proven, and feed birds extra over winter if necessary.

Tamara Hall, a successful Yorkshire pioneer in Open Schools Days in the run up to Open Farm Sunday, again gave simple messages about communicating with the public. The rewards to both giver and recipient were plain to see.

What a good day it was, with all attendees going away with plenty to think about. I would encourage any of you to go along to one of these LEAF events – they are so much more than just a farm walk.