“The torrential rain that’s fallen across the north of England is likely to have serious effects on soil nutrients,” warns independent grassland consultant, Dr George Fisher.
Working with CF Fertilisers UK Ltd, he urges farmers to look at soils carefully over the next few months, being ready to adapt or change plans, topping up with extra fertiliser, if necessary, next spring.
“The sheer weight of water that’s hit the soil after the storms, particularly on fields in Cumbria, Lancashire and south west Scotland, will have some major effects,” he says.
“With 12ins falling in a single day, this equates to a third of a tonne per metre² of water landing on the soil – that’s a heavy weight which is bound to disrupt the soil structure and nutrient flows,” says Dr Fisher.
“We need to be aware of the likely effect on compaction, and on how this unexpected downfall will impact on the soil, disturbing its nutrient content,” he says.
“Also, if waterlogging persists in a field, there’s every chance that some of the productive species will be affected like perennial ryegrass and white clover, and this again will need rectifying early in the spring. Affected swards will be in need of rejuvenation with direct drilling, or even re-seeding, and there may be a need in extreme cases for the addition of some gypsum to help the absorption of nutrients by the plant’s roots.”
He says it’ll be important to inspect the affected fields closely early in February to look out for any changes that the water could have made.
“The main objective will be assessing and taking action in good time, so the potential of the grass over its key growing period isn’t jeopardized,” he says. “Of course, if we get some hard frosts before spring that will help to restructure capped soils. But, if soils are still capped, you may consider running a spike aerator over the affected ground when conditions allow, to help to allow water to drain away and get air into soils.”
Dr Fisher also suggests that as Sulphur is very mobile, and leaches through the soil profile, it would be sensible for farmers to consider using CF’s SingleTop® granular compound (27N 12SO3) or CropMaster® Sulphur (27.4.4+7SO3) products in the spring for grazed swards, depending on soil fertility and manure applications – recommending split applications to meet requirements. A product like MultiCut® Sulphur (23.4.13+7SO3) can be used for silage situations. Visit our fertiliser sector tool to source the most suitable product to use.
“I would urge all farmers who have seen these high levels of rainfall to watch their soils very carefully,” he says. “With milk and meat prices under pressure, it’s important producers can get as much energy from their own crops as possible. Unless grass is looked after in the early spring, yields and energy value could be seriously affected, so we need to get out with a spade in early spring to assess soil condition and sward composition and take actions to put things right for the 2016 season.”