Making the most of Muck and Mud for Profit – Report from demo farm open event in Devon

Making the most of Muck and Mud for Profit – Report from demo farm open event in Devon

Thursday, September 25, 2014

On Wednesday 24th September nearly 60 participants joined BGS and DairyCo at Home Farm, Newton St Cyres, near Exeter for the first of our demonstration events kindly hosted by Quickes Traditional.

Adam Reeves, Farm Manager at Quickes Traditional, kicked off by explaining why he got involved with the Demo Farm initiative in the first place. “Two key aspects for us are how we manage our slurry and waste water and how we maintain soil structure to maximise grass productivity and quality. We use a slurry separator, so are very interested in finding out about the fertiliser value of our separated liquid fraction. In the past we have identified soil compaction in grazing paddocks through digging soil pits, meaning that we want to investigate the best course of action for remediation and the improvements we can expect through adopting different strategies.”

Soil Compaction

Speaking on this theme which cuts across our demo farms initiative, BGS’s Charlotte Evans explained that numerous reports now suggest that as much as 70% of our grasslands are suffering some degree of compaction. Going to talk about exactly why this is an issue of concern for farmers and environmental managers alike; “We know that a compacted soil has less infiltration and increased water-logging and run-off, we know that soil nutrients are less available in compacted soils and that applied N is therefore wasted or has an increased risk of being lost via run-off. What has been less clear so far is the effect of compaction on yield, through DairyCo funded research and demo farms we are beginning to see evidence both from university and farm settings that loosening compacted grassland soils can increase grass productivity by around 20%.”

Dr George Fisher then led the group in a practical demonstration of in-field soil structural assessment, the key massages being the cost effectiveness of digging assessment pits to understand what you are dealing with before investing in remediation.

“Surface compaction, down to about 8-10cm, can be tackled with a surface aerator; anything deeper would indicate a sward-lifter being the machine for the job.”

Another vital aspect is timing, the soil needing to be neither too wet nor too dry. A take-home technique could be the soil squeeze test, whereby squeezing a clod of soil in your hand gives you a rough indication of working conditions: If it leaves your hand wet, it’s too wet, whilst if you can throw it to the ground and it breaks apart then it’s too dry.

Slurry Separation and Utilisation

A major part of the demonstration at home farm is assessing the efficiency of slurry separation and the effectiveness of the resulting liquid fraction as a fertiliser on grassland. “There is currently very little research data on the topic of separated slurry” said DairyCo R&D Manager, Debbie Mc Connell as she explained that the data coming from Home Farm is adding significantly to our ability to work out how to manage and utilise separated slurry to maximise profitability – “We are looking at slurry separation from too cost-benefit perspectives i) how much does it reduce slurry by volume and is this worth it in terms of managing storage issues and ii) the nutrient status of the separated fractions and their value as a fertiliser on grassland." She demonstrated that above all the results being obtained are underlining the importance of getting slurry analysed, not least because its nutrient status can vary widely from the published book figures but also because proper nutrient planning, accounting for nutrients from slurries, can shave £100’s from the annual fertiliser bill.

Another element of the demo farm is looking into slurry application technique as at home farm they surface aerate with a knife style slitter at the same time as spreading the liquid fraction with an umbilical and splash-plate. We have established test paddocks to track and compare yield under this treatment, slurry only and no slurry or slitting.

Existing research shows increased DM yield using shallow injectors and trailing shoes compared to surface applied, hence the interest into whether slitting can increase infiltration rates therefore promoting an increased Nitrogen efficiency and quicker return time in the grazing rotation.

Presenting the Farm Crap App, a tool to help farmers manage slurry and manure, we were also delighted to hear from Becky Wilson from Duchy College Rural Business School. Attendees were able to try out the app on tablets available at the event and participated in a challenge to guess the rate of application from in-field photographs. Becky summarised by saying “knowing how much you are spreading is a vital skill as we are faced with increasing fertiliser costs, meaning that manures themselves are more valuable, and in light of NVZ regulations stating a maximum application of 50 m3 per hectare at any one time."



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