September 2014: Don’t neglect your soil management this autumn

While the past month has been largely one of good weather, interspersed with short intense rain storms, these lagoon-filling showers have been a nightmare for outdoor sites – and a worry for someone who decided the house needs a new roof! Last week we were out filming for the next additions to the Practical Pig App on some arable land in Suffolk, and I’m happy to report the weather was perfect for the purpose.

A short, sharp, 20mm shower soaked straight into the very loose soil where root crops had just been harvested leaving no trace a few hours later. In contrast, we also got footage showing just how quickly a compacted wheeling in the planted sugar beet field became a torrent, picking up sediment along the way. Further to this, we found compaction in cereal and sugar beet fields, both beneath tramlines and in the crop.

The new app videos will complement our latest publication Good Soil Management Practice – A Guide For Outdoor Pig Keeping. Copies of this are available to download from the BPEX website, or free copies can be ordered by emailing kt@bpex.ahdb.org.uk or calling Clancy on 02476 478792.

Within this new publication, we revisit the topic of soil loosening and sub-soiling. The digging of soil pits shows pig sites with compaction at more than one depth, indicating a problem inherited from previous users of the land, although traffic of feeders and loaders also adds to this.

I feel that sometimes this has been made worse, or even caused, by poorly executed attempts to loosen the soil. For this reason, sub-soiling practice is covered within both the guide and the app.

The new publications also highlight the relatively new, additional complexity of Groundwater Protection Zones. These usually incorporate three zones surrounding a water source, such as drinking water supply.

Water companies are starting to pick up on agricultural activities taking place within the inner zones, where water travels very quickly to the abstraction point – often within 50 days. We’ve already seen examples of both outdoor production units and new indoor production units that have had to change plans after discovering that their prime site lies within a protection zone.

Thankfully, the Environment Agency has a very easy to use site where you can find out more about water protection measures where you farm, and this can be used as part of your unit’s planning. It’s called What’s in your backyard or WIYBY for farmers.

The website also shows which areas are considered to be contributing to high levels of sediment or phosphorous in rivers. I think it’s really worth a look as it might just save producers a lot of trouble later on, but I do fear that it may also open a can of worms.

> Nigel Penlington joined BPEX in 2004 and is the organisation’s environment programme manager. He specialises in environmental issues affecting the UK pig industry and production technology

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