ADLib Glossary (C)

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Cultivation Methods

An overview of the advantages and disadvantages of various cultivation methods are given below:

Ploughing

Helps minimise compaction, controls blackgrass and bromes, reduces volunteer cereals. Can be expensive and time consuming, in very dry periods it can leave the seedbed cloddy and will then encourage slugs and snails if heavy rain follows. Ploughing increases drainage and so soil will not retain moisture.

Disc/Tine

This is cheaper and quicker than ploughing. It also leaves a finers and more moisture retentive seedbed. Heavy discs are required and if the weather is wet the soil may smear. Leaves residues on the soil surface. Requires consolidation.

Direct Drilling

This is cheaper and quicker than both ploughing and the use of Disc/Tine. It minimises moisture loss for the seedbed. Straw may have to be bailed which costs. Slugs may be encouraged. Soil structure must be good. If weather is wet soil may smear

No-Tillage

This is very cheap and quick. The straw mulch retains moisture. Can be very difficult to achieve and to ensure good seed contact with the soil. Slugs may be a problem.

Minimum Cultivation

Minimal cultivation can offer both financial and environmental advantages but to see both, research and practice seems to imply that its needs 4 to 5 years. the LIFE research programme has demonstrated that microbial soilmass and soil respiration are greater where non-invasive tillage and straw incorporation has been practiced. Under these conditions organic matter in the soil appear to breakdown quicker due to the large numbers of soil bugs.

Many farmers and growers are concerned about the following issues:

Gaining good seedbeds:

This is particularly a problem with sugar beet. Two year trials at British Sugar on heavy soils have shown a saving of 50 / ha in establishment costs and yields were similar to ploughed areas. Stubble left until early spring provided overwinter cover for wildlife.

Wet Autumns:

Ploughing is often used to help surface water on fields drain. Research has shown that after 4 to 5 years of minimal cultivations the soil drainage significantly improves which helps remove excess water and increases the soils natural ability to hold water. These benefits can be seen quicker if other steps are taken to improve soil structure, such as

  • using low ground pressure tyres on machinery;
  • keeping heavy trailers off cropping areas;
  • minimising traffic on wet soils;
  • keeping tramlines in the same position for every crop. eliminating the need for subsoiling.

Controlling Weeds:

The best way of dealing with this problem is to ensure a good plan is in place over the full rotation. Minimal cultivation may decrease broad-leaved weeds but grass may require special attention. Minimal cultivations may increase black-grass and brome problems. Break crops e.g. OSR will help control grass weeds and cereals will help with broad-leaved weeds such as cleavers. Rotate chemicals as well as crops.

Aesthetic issues such as trash:

This needs a culture change to come to terms with but chopped straw etc. on the soil has many benefits including a reduction in erosion risk.

Financial Implications:

Unless careful planning is carried out minimal cultivation techniques could be more expensive than just making an existing programme more efficient. Before making changes or investing consider the following:

  • could you make your existing system more efficient by, for example, moving to 24hr shift work?
  • will you actually tie up more capital by adopting minimal cultivation methods than your existing system does?
  • will you see real financial benefits on running costs. What if you need more machinery passes than you anticipate? Will this eliminate any labour and machinery savings anticipated?
  • how will the change affect your crop protection? Are there hidden costs?
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