Abandoning the Plough for Soil Health - Adrian Abbitt - Tillage

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Adrian and son Charles farm 972 hectares at and around Grange Farm near Sawtry, Cambridgeshire. He grows winter wheat, oilseed rape and spring barley.

He has abandoned the plough in favour of shallow tillage which is having significant benefits for blackgrass control and soil health on their heavy Hanslope series clay soil.

"We have been on shallow tillage for 5 to 6 years and refine and tweak what we do. We had a serious blackgrass problem so I had to do something. That was the driver but it's not only that for us it's the system we use, its quicker, cheaper and cost effective so to me it makes sense.

"Soil is a lot firmer, without being compacted, so tractors aren't sinking in to the depth of the plough as before. We get a better tilth, can drill around a month later than we used to in the autumn for black-grass control and can travel on land earlier in the spring,' says Adrian.

Mr Abbitt now uses a 4m Cousins Surface Pro cultivator, which is the main tool ahead of all crops and has so far performed excellently.

"It moves soil consistently to a 50mm depth, won't ride up over the ground and the packer-roller reconsolidates soil well. This all helps stimulate black-grass germination ahead of drilling and keep weed and volunteer seeds, moisture and organic matter in the top layer."

The good tilth and "table top-level" soil has knock-on benefits for crop establishment, slug control and improving the accuracy of subsequent fertiliser and spray applications.

Yields are benefitting too, with the rolling average wheat yield increasing slightly to 9.5t/ha and spring barley capable of 9-10t/ha.

Soils are more resilient, but Mr Abbitt says it is still important to protect structure and improve drainage wherever possible.