Baselining – The start of the Strategic Farm East

Baselining to assess current performance is an important part of any initiative. The ability to measure where you stand at any particular moment of time and then use the record to compare changes, improvements or progress, provides very valid and useful information. At the Strategic Farm East, we have used this same principle to establish a farm baseline for E.J. Barker & Sons at the start of the 6 year project.

The baselining at Lodge Farm has been on a number of different levels, looking both on-farm and at the farm business as a whole:

Soil Baselining

The baselining of the soil at Lodge Farm has taken in a number of factors, to include the chemical, biological and physical structure of the soil.

Standard soil analysis has been completed for P, K, Mg and pH (GPS mapped) on a 1 sample per 3 hectares across the whole farm and more in-depth across the 9 fields being used for the soil rotations trial.

In-depth soil analysis has also been completed on each field across the farm, to include: Copper, Boron, Iron, Zinc, Organic Matter, Sodium, Calcium, Molybdenum and estimated Cation Exchange Capacity, Bulk Density (disturbed soil), Chloride (water soluble), Available Cobalt, Organic Carbon (by DUMAS method), Soil Buffer pH and Total P, K, Mg and Calcium, Total Sodium, Total Sulphur, Textural classification of soil and CO2 burst for bacterial activity.

Biological activity has been monitored across 9 fields used for the rotations trial to include total bacteria, total fungi, active bacteria, active fungi, hyphal diameter and rations, protozoa (flagellates, amoebae, and ciliates).

Electrical conductivity (EC) scanning of the farm has also been completed to a depth of 40cm and 120cm, with maps available.

Earthworm Activity

Earthworm assessments have taken place across the 9 fields being used as part of the rotations trial.  The OPAL methodology (pits and mustard extractions) has been used to assess the worms, using a W sampling methodology of 20 pits across the field. Worms were then collected and analysed to determine the species and their wet weights.

Soil pit sampling

Soil pit sampling

Worm hotspot where straw buried

Worm hotspot where straw buried

Following a recently completed AHDB funded research project (Improvement of soil structure and crop yield by adding organic matter to soil, Project Report No. 576), which stated that the activity is more likely to be more important than the biomass. Therefore, we have also measured the deep burrowing earthworm activity via midden counting (1m2, 20 per field adjacent to the pits) and deploying two infrared cameras overnight on two fields at a time to record any above-ground anecic earthworm activity.

Rusbhbottom worms: Strategic Farm East

Deep-burrowing earthworm feeding at night at Lodge Farm, Strategic Farm East. https://cereals.ahdb.org.uk/strategicfarms

Posted by AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds on Monday, 18 December 2017

 

Soil Physical Structure

Soil physical structure assessments have taken place across the 9 rotations fields to assess current soil physical structure. The Visual Soil Assessment (VSA) and Visual Evaluation of Soil Structure (VESS) techniques have been used.  Baseline assessments will include 20 penetrometer measurements, three VSA assessments and three VESS assessments in each zone, identified from the EC maps.

Visual Soil Assessment Test

Visual Soil Assessment Test

Brian Barker is carrying out a Sustainability Review of the farm business through LEAF to establish a farm baseline. The LEAF Sustainability Review covers a review of the nine areas of Integrated Farm Management, including:

  • Organisation and planning.
  • Soil management & fertility.
  • Crop health & protection.
  • Pollution control and by-product management.
  • Animal husbandry.
  • Energy efficiency.
  • Water management.
  • Landscape and nature conservation.
  • Community engagement.

Farm Business

Brian Barker will be using AHDB’s Farmbench tool to include costings analysis of the trials, demonstrations and cropping at the Strategic Farm East. This will mean that a cost-benefit analysis can be provided for the treatments used and comparisons can be made on cost of production, both in-season and between years.

Water sampling

We are pleased that Essex & Suffolk Water will be working with us to carry out analysis of rain water and land drainage water to establish a baseline and there are options to expand this into a project as part of the Strategic Farm.

Teresa Meadows

Teresa Meadows

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