Concerns over soil degradation have increased interest in no-till cultivation, which, by eliminating ploughing, minimises soil disturbance. Although widely used in the US, concerns over black grass management have restricted its adoption in the UK.
To overcome the challenges Plater Bio provides a number of natural products to support no-till and is conducting a trial to see if liquid gypsum could be used as part of an IPM programme to overcome the problem of pernicious weeds. Plater Bio’s founder and Technical Director Russell Sharp will be at REAP to discuss this with farmers.
Challenges with no-till
No-till cultivation involves preventing or minimising soil disturbance by drilling seeds directly into the seed bed left by the previous crop. This less intense cultivation translates into lower operational costs and long-term improvements to soil structure with associated environmental benefits.
However, there are three key challenges that prevent many farmers adopting no-till.
- Dealing with the crop residue (stubble) left over from the previous crop
- Ensuring adequate aeration and drainage without the need for ploughing
- Control of weeds, in particular black grass (Alopecurus myosuroides), barren brome (Bromus sterilis), and couch grass.
To address these challenges Plater Bio has developed some innovative products
Stubble digester – Residual stubble has been found to delay germination, to be a food for slugs and a source of fungal toxins. It also interferes with the seed drill. Plater Bio’s stubble digester uses carboxylic acid to stimulate the native saprotrophic fungi already in the soil speeding up the breakdown of stubble.
The company has already seen great results from the technology in horticultural settings, and has expanded these trials to no-till arable fields. Russell will be available to discuss these trials.
Phosphorous Liberator – phosphorous is essential to plant growth but it is usually a lack of availability rather than a shortage that is the problem. Plater Bio has developed a phosphorus liberator that helps to dissolve phosphorous locked up in the soil as calcium phosphate to make it available to plants, and also to feed saprotrophic fungi which degrades organic matter in the soil.
Liquid Gypsum – Plater Bio has been running a series of percolation tests to determine the effectiveness of Liquid Gypsum in increasing and improving the drainage of waterlogged arable fields.
Granular gypsum is worked into the top soil during ploughing and helps to create a crumb structure that improves drainage and aeration. However, this is not possible with no-till cultivation so Plater Bio has developed a Liquid Gypsum. This solution is able to penetrate the entire top soil and flocculate the soil particles at depths where the crop’s roots will be most active. Liquid Gypsum is also 2,000 times more effective than granular gypsum, meaning flocculation will occur at the time of application.
Gypsum is also a good source of calcium and sulphur, which is now deficient in many soils with the reduction of air pollution. Sulphur is particularly important for oil seed rape, as the glucosinolates they produce to resist pests and diseases are sulphur-containing. Calcium is also a key macronutrient that is known to affect crop resilience due to its importance in maintaining healthy cell walls and membranes. Without adequate calcium plants will be more susceptible to environmental stress and attack by pests and disease.
Fungal chitosan – this organic product can be used as a foliar spray or seed coating to control bacterial and fungal diseases and is a powerful flocculant. While popular in Southern Europe, farmers in Britain have yet to adopt the technology. Trials are underway to assess its efficacy on a range of pests and diseases on cereals and rape crops in the UK.
Improving soil condition to manage black grass – black grass is known to thrive in wet and waterlogged soils, and Plater Bio are hoping to assess the long-term impact of liquid gypsum as part of an IPM programme to control this pernicious weed.
Other useful products for no-till include treatments that will stimulate the beneficial soil microbial community (microbiome). This includes seaweed extracts, humates, sugars and amino acids.
Humates are not a panacea and claims that humate products will improve soil drainage or chelate micronutrients have little scientific basis. Instead it should be viewed as a substitute for insufficient soluble humus in the soil, for example in sandy soils early into a conversion program.
The major characteristic of a no-till soil is an abundance of organic matter.
Plater Bio (www.platergroup.co.uk) will be exhibiting at the REAP conference on Wednesday 7th November.
Soil improvement is also the subject of several events being held in Agri-Tech Week.
Additionally, if you are interested in alternative approaches to traditional agrichemicals there is a Pollinator event on this subject on 15th January 2019.