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It can take 500 years to replace 25 mm (1 inch) of topsoil, yet in the UK it is estimated that 2.9 million tonnes of soil are eroded each year, and soil quality is diminished by poor practices.  The "Valuing Your Soils", booklet and supporting information has been produced to help Scottish farmers, crofters, and land managers protect and improve their most valuable resources.

The brochure, funded by CREW and produced by SRUC in partnership with stakeholders, includes useful information about Scotland's agricultural soils and practical advice outlining the upfront financial savings and business benefits of better soil management and the efficient use of resources. Action and problem-specific 'field-sheets' are designed for busy farmers with limited time for reading. The appendix contains more detailed technical information and research case studies highlighting evidence from current investigations of Scottish farm soils.

New information to support the Valuing your Soils brochure includes:The front cover of the CREW produced 'Soil erosion and diffuse pollution mitigation' document.

Improving soil management with reduced inversion farming at Preston Hall Farm

  • Experience over the years has shown that avoiding working wet soils and avoiding conventional ploughing helps to reduce the risk of compaction, particularly on the farm’s heavier, less well drained soils.
  • Successful alleviation of soil compaction (e.g., using subsoilers) can be challenging, so avoiding compaction in the first place is important.
  • Establishing cover crops on the farm can be challenging due to the short window in autumn but when established well, the fibrous rooting from the black oats and the phacelia’s long tap roots improves soil structure.
  • A green manure, following overwinter stubbles, comprised of crimson and Egyptian clover, vetch and phacelia produced tremendous results. After removing the thick biomass cover (e.g., through rolling), good soil structure and organic matter content aided direct drilling.
  • Over the last 20 years, the farm has minimised conventional ploughing, used cover crops and incorporated more straw back into the soils. These practices improve soil structure and reduce the risks of diffuse pollution.

Improving Soils and Preventing Runoff and Erosion Through Tramline Management

  • Wheelings and tramlines can progressively become compacted and this damage increases runoff and erosion, particularly for fields with steep slopes. Tramlines are a major diffuse pollution pathway.
  • Controlled traffic farming (CTF) systems reduce soil damage, can increase yield and save fuel and time.
  • Timing and limiting machinery operations to when soils are drier and structurally stronger is an easy low cost tramline management option.
  • Increasing the distance between tramlines or choosing spring cropping instead of winter cropping are effective tramline management options and future soil and business benefits will outweigh the costs of implementation.
  • Very flexible low pressure tyres can be used to reduce compaction, increase tyre life and fuel efficiency.
  • Tramline disruption can easily be done as part of another operation(e.g. the last autumn spraying operations).
  • Different tramline disrupters are being designed and tested to reduce runoff and erosion.

Listen to steps taken by Balcaskie Estate Manager Sam Parsons and how he has introduced mob grazing to the benefit of both livestock production and soil management.

Key messages

  • Intensive arable/vegetable production increases the risk of soils becoming depleted in organic matter. Soils on this farm had been depleted in organic matter and suffered from poor water infiltration which restricted the number of grazing days. Increased soil organic matter reduces the susceptibility of soils to compaction, erosion and poor water infiltration but it takes time to replenish organic matter levels.
  • Experience from this farm has shown that switching from a conventional arable to organic livestock system, and using regenerative agricultural practices such as mob grazing can help increase soil health and the number of grazing days.
  • Experience from this farm has shown that using diverse herbal leys and increasing the rest period (30 days to 90 days depending on conditions) maximises grass height and rooting depth, improving soil structure and water infiltration.
  • Less intensive sward management and using grass/clover swards to replace chemical fertiliser with biologically fixed nitrogen has been beneficial to the farm business.
  • Permanent features such as livestock feeders and water troughs are hotspots for soil erosion and nutrient losses to water courses through runoff or drainage.  This can be avoided through sowing damaged soil surfaces with grass seed and using mob grazing practices with moveable troughs, such as those used on this farm.
  • Experiences on this farm have shown that mob grazing practices can provide benefits to livestock health as well as soil health. Once the infrastructure (e.g. electric fencing and water supply) is in place for splitting fields and moving livestock, mob grazing is straightforward.

Protecting Soils using Controlled Traffic Systems with Robert Ramsay at West Mains of Kinblethmont

Chisel Ploughing to Open Dairy Farm Soil Structure with Hugh McClymont at Crichton Royal Farm