Summer 2022 has been great for sharing knowledge and for networking. Research funded by The Morley Agricultural Foundation has been showcased across East Anglia at various agricultural events and open days. NIAB Research Trials Agronomist Grace Bale describes how each event has enabled engagement with different audiences, from specialists within the agricultural industry to the general public, including children.
A ‘hole’ lot of learning
Cereals 2022 had 17,000 visitors, hosted 320 exhibitors and had over 200 working demonstrations. A key feature this year was the return of the NIAB Soil Hole, where growers could see soil structure 1.5m below ground level. This started discussions around management strategies on farm, as the feature highlighted how soil structure can be influenced by rooting depths of different crops, the inclusion of cover crops in a rotation, the importance of earthworm channels and soil biodiversity, and the negative effect of compaction in the field.
NIAB soil specialists Elizabeth Stockdale, Nathan Morris and David Clarke brought more depth to these discussions using data from the New Farming Systems (NFS) Cultivations trial at Morley. This trial evaluates how each of four tillage approaches (plough, shallow non-inversion, deep non-inversion), and a managed regime, can each influence soil structure when consistently used over a long period of time. Each approach is replicated with the addition of a cover crop to explore the interaction between cultivation intensity and cover crop use. The data consists of penetrometer measurements and soil bulk density calculations, alongside visual assessments of soil structure, collected over the last 15 years. Discussing differences in the yields obtained each year under each condition, alongside the soil property data, can help growers make more informed soil management strategies that will take the long-term effect into account.
From the ground up
As every year since this event began, Groundswell 22 encouraged knowledge transfer around the practical application of conservation agriculture and regenerative systems. Key topics across exhibits, talks, forums, and demonstrations include no-till, cover crops and re-introducing livestock into arable rotations, with the overall aim to improve soil health.
NIAB exhibited multiple TMAF-funded projects including the New Farming Systems Rotations trial and the Sustainability Trial in Arable Rotations (STAR) project.
The NFS Rotations trial evaluates the fertility building benefits of using cover crops or legume bi-crops across three different rotational systems, based around winter cereals with differing break crop approaches. Each of the three rotational systems are combined with each of four cover crop management systems. Each combination is then placed under the three nitrogen managements: 0% of a standard dose, 50% of a standard dose, and 100% standard dose. The long-term nature of this study allows us to examine the impact of the management approaches across the rotation enabling us to provide an insight into some of the interactions between cover cropping approaches and the financial returns fully across a rotation, as often responses take multiple iterations to understand their full value.
The STAR project is a long-term rotational and cultivation trial that evaluates four tillage approaches: plough, shallow non-inversion, deep non-inversion, and a managed regime (analogous to the NFS Cultivations trial but on a heavier, clay loam soil). These cultivations are then compared to four rotations; winter cropping, spring cropping, continuous wheat and a fallow/herbal ley allowing for interactions to be examined across multiple rotations. With the recent pressures on fertiliser price and fertility management within rotations it has become very pertinent to examine alternative approaches to build soil fertility. A recent BBSRC SARIC-funded project looking at how we can integrate herbal leys into arable rotations has allowed us to examine how the herbal ley may improve the following winter wheat crop performance. With the trial recently harvested further results will be published this autumn, enabling further discussion at Groundswell 2023!
Both the 2022 Morley Innovation Day and STAR trial open day enabled growers to see these varying plots first hand, which not only makes the trial set-up easier to understand, but also can put the results into context.
Show time for innovation
At the Royal Norfolk Show this summer, NIAB’s David Clarke and I showcased two different aspects of TMAF-funded research within the Agritech-E Innovation Hub. David focussed on his PhD research using the Morley Soil and Agronomic Monitoring Study (SAMS) and long-term nutrient study at the Saxmundham Experimental Site. I used infected plants and a microscope to demonstrate the importance of fungicide use, in relation to the long-term fungicide trials in winter wheat and winter barley (Morley LoTs). The overall message across the exhibit highlighted the need for long-term monitoring as new technologies impact practices in agriculture.
On the first day of the show, the Innovation Hub was visited by local MP Jo Churchill initiating interesting conversation around the Genetic Technology Bill. The impact that precision breeding will have on the agricultural sector is a perfect example as to why long-term monitoring is so important. A key aim is to see an increase in yield over time, with less need for chemical inputs, however without baseline data we will not see this yield increase and input decline. Another aim is to increase disease resistance across crops, however with natural genetic variation we should expect to see disease threats changing over time to overcome the improved resistance. Without long-term monitoring we would not see these threats occurring in the environment.
In summary, these have been a wonderful few months for starting conversations on the agricultural research that people like me are involved in. It has been a pleasure to show and discuss so many of the TMAF-supported long term investigations and how they fit with the current pressures and challenges in farming.