#121 May-Aug 2022 Vol 31-1

#121 May-Aug 2022 Vol 31-1
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#120 Feb - May 2022 Vol 30-4

#120 Feb - May 2022 Vol 30-4
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#119 Nov-Feb 2022 Vol 30-3

#119 Nov-Feb 2022 Vol 30-3
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Before I start building or adapting a machine, I turn to Practical Farm Ideas. I don't know how many times I have flicked though my copies!

Robin Benbow, Welshpool

If you'd like your comments featured here, please contact us

Soil and Cover Cropping International

This section is independent of advertisers and sponsors, written and published to the same ethical standards as the magazine itself. It benefits all with an interest in the soil. The goal is to provide  information that's understandable and which goes far wider than choosing equipment. Read about cost cutting cover crops seed mixtures and selection.

Experiences of zero-till farmers: how they get on direct drilling arable crops into grassland as well as stubble; how they grow successful cover crops; how they have adapted and made no-till machines, including drills, adding liquid fertiliser kit, changing coulters etc.

The section helps farmers get zero-till right from the beginning, to help them avoid disappointment. As a popular farming journalist Mike Donovan presents a compelling session on soil that's non-technical. Book from here

Practical Farm Ideas - the only farming magazine with 'Soil' in the title.

Damaged soil with no organic matter   healthy soil with earth worm   Home made plant population calculator   Over-worked soil which needs improvement   No-till winter wheat trial comparison

"The magazine that's really worth reading," says Clive Bailye, Soil Farmer of the Year 2016

UK Soil Farmer of the Year is organised by Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit (FCCT) and Innovation for Agriculture (IfA).

This section reports directly from farmers who are reducing and eliminating tillage and growing cover crops to create tilth and plant nutrients naturally. Most farmers we visit are conventional but some organic. They include grassland farmers as well as arable. The section includes work and experience from overseas. The results are greater soil fertility, reduced inputs, increased yields.

Soil condition is a problem that's been creeping up on us

The problem:

1. Farmers' knowledge is sketchy. How does soil work? Soil classification is better understood than soil biology. There's a heavy dependence on soil analysis which shows deficiencies in P and K, S and maybe some trace elements.

2. Farm practices are damaging soils. Heavy machinery. Working in wet conditions.

3. Lack of organic matter. Lack of crop diversity. Decline of mixed farming, less farm yard manure (fym) available.

4. Fertiliser and chemicals reduce soil biological action 

Some answers

A. Improve understanding from basic principles. The contribution of worms, microbes, fungi and bacteria

B. Change to fewer cultivations, lighter machinery, more timely working, improving soils through use of cover crops

C. Adding organic material (carbon) with cover crops, manures, bio-waste, mulching

D. Reduce preventative chemical use - 'just in case' applications. Use foliar feeding. Soil friendly phosphate slug control instead of metaldehyde 

Soils to aim for

Biologically active with worms, invertibrates, fungi and other microscopic organisms. Soils that smell sweet, that hold moisture. These soils will get damaged by machinery and compaction.

Farmers like tractors, and in general, the bigger the better. Much the same applies to other machinery. Big machines need to be mounted on big tractors.

The majority of British farmers stick to traditional cultivation methods, either with a plough or min-till cultivator. Events such as Cereals focus on improved versions of the same, and farmers are still enthused by large machinery and precision technology.

Yet it's soil which grows the crop. For most farmers, soil  is as exciting a topic as the safety talk on their holiday flight.

Zero-tilled soil, hihj organic content
The problem is that we don't actually know too much about soils. We think we know what is necessary, like getting fields tested and rectifying  deficiencies with the fertiliser or lime spreader. And those who are more enthusiastic use field mapping and variable rate spreading - said to be the cutting edge of soil technology.

Yet it is far from the case. The future is in working with biology.

Good management will create this...

Cover crops improve soil fertility

...even if the soil condition is as poor as this:

Reliance on chemicals degrades farm soils

Soil such as pictured above is widespread. Its condition has been created by regular ploughing and heavy cultivation together with an increasing reliance on fertiliser to provide nutrients to the crop. The soil is dried to get a tilth, which conventional farmers see necessary for seeds to germinate.  Zero-till farmers have proved that more is less when improving soil conditions. 

Problems develop over time

Conventional seedbeds can have poor drainage

The soils drain less well, as there's less space between the particles; fewer cracks and fissures created by worms and other creatures; fewer deep roots which not only create drainage channels but also bring up nutrients from the sub-soil. Heavy machinery including ploughs, tractors and cultivators, harvesters, and tractors + trailers damage the structure of both grassland and arable through compaction.

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Congratulations to Clive Bailye

Clive Bailye, an arable farmer from Staffordshire has won the UK Soil Farmer of the Year, organised by Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit (FCCT) and Innovation for Agriculture (IfA).
The inaugural competition aimed to find farmers and growers who were engaged with, and passionate about managing their soils in a way which supported productive agriculture, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and built soil organic matter and carbon.

Clive was first featured in Practical Farm Ideas Autumn 2013 and in other following issues, and we hope to continue featuring his farming!

Clive shows the progress of his cover crops on Oct 11, 2013

His zero-till trial of seven different machines in a 50 ac field as described in 23-1

Clive's new John Deere 750A seriously modified for increased performance and reliability

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The purpose of cover crops

Cover crops look like a field of weeds

Cover crops can often look messy, like the picture above. Most farmers and bus passengers see a field of weeds. Few farmers will find this field interesting. They are conditioned to admire ploughed furrows or an even weed-free seedbed. The biology going on in the above field is complex and valuable, with the cover crop diversity building soil fertility, stopping erosion, reducing need for chemicals. 

Farmers looking at cover crops before sugar beet

Cover crop open day - covers before sugar beet in Norfolk

Winter wheat goes in after grass seed harvested with a stripper header

Winter wheat goes in after grass seed harvested with a stripper header

The farm had heavy rain three days after drilling. This field was drilled after conventional min-till and there was major run-off

The farm had heavy rain three days after drilling. This field was drilled after conventional min-till and there was major run-off

Cross-Slot drilled directly into subble, crossing the slope

...while next door, where the Cross-Slot drilled directly into subble, crossing the slope, eveything stayed intact. The cover cropping helped.


Novel machinery that helps soils

this compost turner made in California turns the waste from a winery into useful fertiliser that holds moisture. He made it with a heavy back axle from a truck that turns tines that flip up the material. Simple design that has potential for other composts



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A new method of seed selection

In Vol 27-4 we feature a talk given by farmer Simon Cowell in which he explains how his passion for experimentation, together with his knowledge of agronomy, has led to an interesting method of seed selection. It is based on the premise that seed mixes are more resistant to disease and damage; that over time varieties will cross fertilise and the best of these will begin to dominate the sucessive crops; that home saved seed will in time mutate to suit the conditions of the farm. The ten year trial has produced some interesting results, as this article shows.

"I like Practical Farm Ideas because no other farming publication covers the topic of No-till in as much depth."

Donald Macaulay, Colchester, Essex

is a magazine section within each issue

CONTENTS LIST - latest issue is at the top


Vol 28  issue 2 Aug - Nov 2019

* Soil event Groundswell 2019 review gets a festival spirit. Making changes to your farming
* walk and talk with No-till farmer Richard Bradley and his views on... the merits of a conventional plough (as opposed to reversible)... No-Till potatoes... the benefits of a Paraplow to break compaction
* the tyre test. Michelin compaes their Xeobib range with a standard competitor for soil damage
biological plant feeds
Bokashi makes compost which is fermented without oxygen instead of turning and aerating. Claims of far less nutrient loss.


Vol 28  issue 1  May - Aug 2019

* soil evangelist Ray Archuleter's Nobel presentation in 2018 titled "Healing the Land - One Heart, One Mind at a Time". How the soil message needs to be delivered. The Soil Health Academy. Biomimicry. Ingrained attitudes of farmers and others.
* grassland farmer moves away from Nitrogen.
* circular plant population calculator is more accurate than a square.
* 'Dirt to Soil' by Gabe Brown is a  masterpiece covereing many aspects of soil management


Vol 27 issue 4  Feb - May 2019

* The QLF (Quality Liquid Feed) conference at Overbury Farms with Jake Freestone, Joe Williams and Simon Cowell
* drawbacks of conventional soil testing
* mycorrhizal fungi “can increase plant access to soil volume by 10,000%
* CrossSlot drill handles stone-laden land
* wheat variety trials and the performance of the Cowell combination
* Retro-fit direct drill coulters convert Horsch, Simba and Seedhawk

Vol 27 issue 3  Nov 18 - Feb 2019

* Companion cropping. This 3 page major feature shadows Andrew Howard's Nuffiled Farming report and links it with findings from other farmers who have gained expertise.
*  20 combinations of companion planting tips from horticulturilists
* Ray Archuleta at the 54th Nobel Conference Living Soil a Universe Underfoot

Vol 27 issue 2  Aug - Nov 2018

* Earthworms - the farmer's friend. Dr Jackie Stroud identifies the three main tyres of earthworm - epigeic;  endogeic;  anecic and
* explains their contribution to soil fertility.
* Decomposition; stimulation of bacteria and fungi.
* Earthworm reproduction

* Soil compaction - What to think before going into the field. David Purdey explains the practical steps that tractor drivers and operators can take to control soil damage through tyres.
* Ballasting the tractor.
* The damage caused by excess front weight
* Front axle: ear axle ratios
* Soil damage and tracked machines
* Practical Tyre knowledge

Vol 27 issue 1  May - Aug 2018

    •    Blackgrass control system based on research and world-wide experience  29
    •    Ben Taylor-Davies develops control rotation  29
    •    Biological weed control with ACK55 bacteria  30
    •    Chemical labelling in Australia makes sense  31
    •    Soil triangle, the BEN rotation  32
    •    Belgian No-Till gets joined up approach with Regenacterre  33
    •    Steve Groff, Cover Crop expert, explains soil pit findings  33
    •    Spra-Coupe has cut chemical use by 50% sprays 45 ha/hr  35

Vol 26 issue 4  Feb-May 2018
*  Raising soil fertility on an organic grassland farm  
*  No-till slug problem in the hands of the beetles
*  Soil Farmer of the Year 2017 title shared by
   1.  Richard Suddes, Co Durham
   2.  Tim Parton, West Midlands
   3.  Richard Boldan, Yorkshire
*  Miscanthus revives land that was ‘bottoming out’
*   A Guide to 22 different Soil Improving Plants including:   Clovers,  Trefoils,  Fodder / tillage radish
*   Fitting soil improving plants with your Basic Payment regulations


Vol 26 issue 3  Autumn 2017

* Post Oil Seed Rape cover crop success - details and methods
* Vaderstad Bio-Drill on Carrier gives accurate seeding of successful cover crop 
* Drilling into heavy standing covers with 750A
* University of Nebraska evaluates FYM and finds much to like
* Soil conditions will deteriorate if glyphosate goes
* Glyphosate lobbying badly handled by chem cos and farmers
* Flaky science gets approval


Vol 26 issue 2  Summer 2017

Groundswell 2017 
The most comprehensive event report published with a packed 7 pages of editorial.
* Soil chemistry; soluble and insoluble nutrients - Joel Williams
* Soil is a global concern - Amir Kassam  (Reading)
* The agronomist’s perspective - Mike Harrington  (Oxfordshire)
* What cover crops for blackgrass?
* The management of grassland - Christine Jones  (USA)
* The link between food and farming - Graeme Sait (Australia) 
* In the Field at Groundswell
* Direct drill demos - Deere, Horsch, Sky, Sly, Cross-Slot, Dale, Weaving, Simtech
* Front mounted cover crop terminators - Rodale crimper and Guttler


Vol 26 issue 1  Spring 2017

*  Young contractors wanted a direct drill to reseed grassland but the cost was prohibitive. So they made their own. Their direct drill gets an 80%  germination rate as opposed to around 30% for conventional overseeding.

*  All spare parts direct drill. With soil varying from sand to clay on 500 acres, cultivation machinery was never right. So six years ago they moved to no-till using a drill made in the workshop from a collection of spare parts.

*  Six seasons of zero-till underlines how the system can work in the medium term with increased prospects for the future. The zero-till system builds fertility while chemical farming needs increasing quantities of inputs.

Vol 25 issue 4  Winter 2016/17

*  Farm made 6m Inter-row cover crop seeder design details; benefits of seeding into growing maize crop; benefits over broadcasting; under-sowing service centred at Prestigne, Powys

*  Cover crops and club root in following oil seed rape

*   Establishing wild flower field margins - weed control; seed rates and mixtures; initial management

*   "50 years No-Till and still going good" says Kentucky farmer John Young

*   Post-harvest pics from Clive Bailye's farm

Vol 25 issue 3  Autumn 2016

*  Soil knowledge - Oxford Clay. Zoning and classification. Soil sampling with Adrian Hares from Intelligent Precision Farming

*  Advice and top tips from Gabe Brown of N Dakota with 20 years experience. Need for a soil strategy. Selecting cover crops. Conversion from conventional

*   The Allan Savory message. A philosophy as well as a farming system. 

*   All-arable organic farmer moves to zero-till on tenanted farm. Cover crop termination in organic system

Vol 25 issue 2  Summer 2016

*  Groundswell Event provides good seed drill comparison from soil disturbance and power requirement for Cross Slot, Weaving GD, McConnel, Claydon, Sump, Ryetec, Simtech Aitkinson, Mzuri, Dale, John Deere. 

*  Tony Reynolds launches CA-UK Association

*   Farm Walk with Soil farmer of the Year Clive Bailye. Peola companion crop; Lime, N and insecticides; rotations; sheep; linseed, wheat and beans

Vol 25 issue 1  Spring 2016

*  Five years into no-till and John and Paul Cherry are reaping the benefits of looking after the soil on their 800ha Hertfordshire farm

*  They are big enthusiasts of grass as a break crop and so what was all arable now has 200ha of grass, a suckler herd and sheep on tack. Herbal leys play a major role for soil and stock

*   They use a 6m Deere 750A drill with a few tweaks

*   Have moved from liquid back to granular fertiliser

*   The 130 sucklers are fed forage only and wintered in outdoor corral.

*   Also:  first year of soil conservation on Kent farm, and what he could have learned from the articles we have published in the Soil+ section of PFI.

Read these details

buy this issue


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Vol 24 issue 4  Winter 2016

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*  Start with simple low cost seed mixes with cover crops for initial success says advisor Steve Townsend in a 4 pg report

*  The benefits of drilling cover crops as soon as possible after combining in terms of bio-mass

*  cover crop strategy for years 1 to 3 and 3 to 6, building crop diversity

*  the pros and cons of grazing cover crops

*  Worcestershire Wildlife Trust organic farm terminates cover crops by discing. A 4 pg report on the soil management techniques of Caroline Corsie, farm manager.

*  providing habitat for natural pollinators such as wild bees and other insects

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Vol 24 issue 3  Autumn 2015

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*  Conservation guru Tony Reynolds shows results for 11 years of zero-till

*  Integrating poultry with zero-till adds low-cost fertility

*  Weaving GD drill works well on these soils and is "major advance"

*  world map of conservation agriculture

*  overseeding cover crops into standing wheat with Kuhn spinner 

*  seed and fertiliser rates used when converting from conventional to zero-till - for light / med / heavy land for years 1 to 6 of conversion

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Vol 24 issue 2  Summer 2015

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*  Manager Stuart Cath wins EU Land and Soil Management Award 2015 for West Woodhay estate which he converted to zero-till in 2009

*  Zero-till in wet West Wales has been working well on 350 ac over ten years.

*  3m box John Deere 750 direct drill is oldest 750 in country

*  changing long term grass leys to arable using zero-till methods avoids land being classified as permanent grass

*  tackling sterile brome in zero-till

*  spring beans follow barley over-wintered with a cover crop of osr which allowed charlock control

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Vol 24 issue 1 May - August 2015  - spring 2015 the current issue

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*  Nick August does Zero-till and controlled traffic on Cotswold brash 

*  34% of US tillage now no-till

*  George Hosier is moving to zero-till

*  Cross-slot drill performs well in first season

*  Looking at rotations

*  University of California mega-study into no-till has defects

buy this issue

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Vol 23 issue 4 Feb - May 2015 -  winter 2014-15
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Soil workshop with Dr Bruce Ball at the Oxford REAL Farming Conference 26
Sward lifter warning
Visual evaluation of soil - something everyone can do
Getting wiser and smarter at zero-till 27
Essex clay calls for low ground pressure
Uses three different drills on 400ac crops
No tramlines, as they create more problems
Controling blackgrass and the spray programme
Sentry Farming experiments with Cover Crops 31
Covers in front of sugar beet
Seeds from DSV and Agrovista
Chesapeake Bay benefits from Cover Crops
Zinc - an essential micro-nutrient
Decomposing residue in Nebraska
The value of clover in NZ - Doug Edmeades
Home made Cross-Slot drill

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Vol 23 issue 3  Nov 2014 - Feb 2015 -  autumn 2014
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Thinking soils with Simon Chiles  16
Twelve years of no-till in heavy clay  16
Direct drilling into grass and grass cover crops uses prilled lime 17
Starting on no-till - advice and ideas 17
Building the tilth biologically with worms and bacteria  18
Simon Chiles's machinery shed  19
Two years of no-till with Tim May of Kingsclere  20
Holistic farm management provides flexibility 20
Electric fence gate is always on 21
Using 'natural regeneration 21
Grass, sheep and cattle with no-till and cover crops improve worn out soil 21
Mob grazing encourages soil regeneration 22
Using lorries for grain cart - no trailers 22
Out-wintering cuts expense, requires management  23
Tractor rear tyre water trough with steel base  24
Sowing winter wheat for a winter bite  24
No-till acres in the USA now account for 35% of total  25
National ignorance of soil management  25
Lupins benefit light, sandy, acid soil  26

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Vol 23 issue 2  Aug - Nov 2014 -  summer 2014
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USA seed business provides planting guidance 19
Cover crops are useful before sugar beet and potatoes 20
Kings cover crop expert Paul Brown has advice 20
Cereals 2014 Soil health conference 21
Cover crop - 1st year experience from Hants farmer 22
Aitchinson Sim-Tech drill performs well in zero-till 22
Sucklers on mob grazing system mesh with arable 23
Nuffield scholar David Walston studies soil improvement 24

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Vol 23 issue 1 May - Aug 2014   - spring 2014

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*  Cover Crop spring review - return to Lichfield with zero-tiller Clive Bailye who has made important modifications to his new 6m John Deere 750A
*   Direct drills go head-to-head in a field trial of seven models organised by Clive Bailye on his land

*   Cover seeds - black oats are not used as cover crops due to being allopathic
*   Crop agronomy advice

*   Needham no-till equipment from the USA

*   Soil education gets big in the USA

*    Soil poster pfd available

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Vol 22 issue 4  Feb - May 2014  winter 2013-14

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No-Till John Deere 750A has liquid fertiliser 22
John Deere 750A drill greasing maintenance 22
Cover crops get lightly grazed by sheep 24
No-Till and no P or K applied from bag in 7 years 25

Science into Practice

Soil: What it is and How it Works 26
Reading a Soil Test  28

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Vol 22 issue 3 Nov 2013 - Feb 2014 - autumn 2013

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* Farm Walk on 3,000 acres farmed Zero-Till with Cover Crops
Fendt 724 with Michelin Xeobib 710/60R42 has low soil impact 43
Re-boring worn coulter mounting holes on Deere 750A drill 44
Cover Cropping cuts diesel from 20 to 3 litres/ha for crop establishment 44
Using volunteers as cover crops 45
Drilling into high trash green crops with Deere 750A 46
Slug pelleting with two 12m satellite units on spray bar of Bateman 46
Using worms as subsoilers 46
The short and long term benefits of cover cropping 48

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Vol 22 issue 2 Aug - Nov 2013

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*  "Made it Myself" Compost turner based on heavy truck back axle is near daily use on Californian farm and vineyard

*  How to build your own Crimper Roller for terminating Cover Crops - from Rodale Institute - plans and dimensions.

*  Five enterprise mixed farm in Herefordshire maintains soil quality

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There's little doubt soil condition has a significant effect on yield

The global problems of food production are regularly voiced in the media, and one issue is that yields "have plateaued". 

Here are four remedies, listed in the popular order of preference:

  1. A breakthrough in seed technology - GM or otherwise
  2. Smarter fertilisers and agrochemicals
  3. Better cultivation techniques such as controlled traffic on all farmland
  4. Improving soil condition and fertility by a change in farming technique

Information, education, dissemination

Soil+Cover Cropping International is
"fast becoming a nice little no till/soil management magazine in its own right - thanks@farmideas for putting it together."says The Farming Forum (SilliamWhale).The magazine aims to build on this enthusiasm. Independent of advertising, it is able to publish facts without consideration of commercial consequences. 
Trials such as Direct drills go head-to-head fed trial of seven models  (Vol 23 issue 1 May - Aug 2014  buy this issue) makes fascinating reading in a trial conducted under really scientific conditions. 
Through talks, workshops and other events Mike Donovan of  Practical Farm Ideas provides genuine inforation to farmers, farm supply companies from machinery to chemicals and fertilisers. 


Mike Donovan
editor, Practical Farm Ideas
11 St Mary's St, Whitland, Carmarthenshire, SA34 0PY  T: 01994 240978
28 Brampton St, Ross on Wye, Herefordshire HR9 7EQ   T: 01989 218268

T:  01994 240978          M: 07778 877514
www.farmideas.co.uk     editor@farmideas.co.uk   Twitter: @farmideas    

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