October 2015: Soil compaction and drainage

As I’m sure many of you are aware, this summer has been a real mixed bag of wet and dry weather. However, while cycling recently in Galloway, I noticed that the tracks were in good condition, providing good grip and, importantly, little soil damage was being caused.

While cycling I also considered the contrast between a soft mountain bike tyre and a narrow and hard road bike tyre, likening it to what happens when we drive over fields and the impact it has on the soil.

It’s the time of year again when outdoor units are on the move and, with harvest over, land is prepared for the next crop. However, in some instances lighter soils are put under great pressure from a series of very intensive users who’re all in a rush to get their crops off – come what may.

We’ve seen cases where pig producers have entered or come off land that is showing evidence of severe soil compaction, which we understand is not always their fault. However, what’s more worrying is that I’ve seen some cases where this compaction has actually been made worse by poor cultivation practice.

I’m aware there are many ways to skin a cat, and with a wide variety of legs, tines and wings to relieve compaction; efficient machine operation requires both skill and knowledge. All of this was brought back to me recently when we filmed the next series of video clips for the AHDB Practical Pig App.

An enjoyable, but long, day was spent on the Lincolnshire Wolds filming all aspects of subsoiling practice. Philip Wright, a man with an encyclopaedic knowledge of cultivation equipment from his years at Simba, did the digging and talking.

When looking at soil drainage, it’s important to note that most outdoor fields don’t have under drains. They may, however, have ditches, and that’s why drainage is so important.

For those producers spreading manures and slurries, especially in spring, good field drainage can make the difference between the slurry leaving or staying in the yard. I fear that field drainage has been let go in recent years, although encouragingly a growing number of farmers are realising the benefits on offer and are starting to do more.

However, information on land drainage, such as handbooks, are hard to find and this means that understanding and knowledge of the topic is being lost as those with the most experience retire or toddle off.

This knowledge gap was recently brought home as we pulled together the latest AHDB publication on the subject. Download Field drainage guide – Principles, installation and maintenance at: http://cereals.ahdb.org.uk/media/725158/g68-ahdb-field-drainage-guide.pdf

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About The Author

Nigel Penlington joined AHDB Pigs in 2004 and is now the organisation’s head of research and development and knowledge exchange.