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Celebrating World Soil Day: Building a more resilient soil in the Fens

Here we take a closer look at Worth Farms- the farm’s soil history, historical farming practices and how they are continuously improving soil health and fertility.

About the farm

Worth Farms have been a LEAF Demon­stra­tion Farm since 1997 and con­tin­ue to dri­ve for­ward more sus­tain­able farm­ing prac­tices through Inte­grat­ed Farm Man­age­ment (IFM).

Based on Hol­beach marsh in South Lin­colnshire, Worth Farms is approx­i­mate­ly 3000 ha and is sit­u­at­ed on Grade 1 allu­vial silt, so the land is extreme­ly pro­duc­tive. Pro­duce is grown with­in an eight-year rota­tion includ­ing wheat as a major break crop, pota­toes, sug­ar beet, vin­ing peas, maize and to enhance the rota­tion; sal­ads and oth­er veg­eta­bles are grown on land rent­ed out to spe­cial­ist producers. 

His­tor­i­cal soil man­age­ment practices

Reflect­ing on the farm’s his­to­ry, one-third of the farm was sown with win­ter crops, with the oth­er two-thirds spring crops. Plough­ing was very much the tra­di­tion­al cul­ti­va­tion method used and worked effec­tive­ly for pota­to production.

Around ten years ago, man­age­ment deci­sions were made to review the cur­rent cul­ti­va­tion prac­tices and to iden­ti­fy any areas for improve­ment. Reflect­ing on this, the farm invest­ed in a Sumo trio cul­ti­va­tor which meant that two oper­a­tions could be done in one pass; sub­soil­ing, disc­ing and lev­el­ling fol­lowed by the plough. 

Today, through con­tin­u­ous improve­ment and adapt­ing to new prac­tices, the farm only ploughs around 150ha which has result­ed in sig­nif­i­cant cost sav­ings on work­ing hours, machin­ery, fuel and soil dis­tur­bance. Fur­ther­more, this change of prac­tice has helped to keep soil organ­ic mat­ter in the sur­face, reduc­ing the like­li­hood of capping.

The chal­lenges

How­ev­er, farm­ing on allu­vial based soils also comes with its chal­lenges. Despite being high­ly pro­duc­tive soils, the land is par­tic­u­lar­ly renowned for hav­ing rel­a­tive­ly low soil organ­ic mat­ter lev­els (around 2.5 – 3%). Worth Farms try to increase this lev­el wher­ev­er pos­si­ble, by apply­ing home-pro­duced diges­tate in both liq­uid and cake form and grow­ing a large hec­tarage of cov­er crops to sup­port soil struc­ture through­out the winter.

Mak­ing these changes, in con­junc­tion with reduced soil dis­tur­bance has high­light­ed sub­stan­tial earth­worm num­bers and nutri­ents in the soil. Thus, mak­ing the soils more work­able and resilient for the future.

Soil health improve­ments for the future

Through con­tin­u­ous improve­ment and embrac­ing changes in Inte­grat­ed Farm Man­age­ment over the years, the farm now has a bet­ter under­stand­ing of how to build a more resilient soil for future food production.

It is our mis­sion to pro­vide every crop with the best pos­si­ble field con­di­tions to opti­mise yield and qual­i­ty poten­tial.” Simon Day, Farm Man­ag­er, Worth Farms.


The full arti­cle is avail­able in our Inte­grat­ed Farm Man­age­ment Quar­ter­ly mag­a­zine, exclu­sive to LEAF mem­bers. Click here to find out more.