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Natural leys convey fertility again to gentle Cotswold soils

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Natural leys are serving to to return fertility to Toby Baxter’s gentle Cotswold limestone brashy soils, boosting his arable grain yields and permitting his livestock to thrive.

The various momentary grass combine helps him end 4,000 lambs yearly with out utilizing a single pellet of focus feed, and he can reduce nitrogen fertiliser on his succeeding arable crops.

Mixing arable and livestock collectively on his stony marginal arable land has introduced benefits to each side, and he’s now trying to end beef cattle utilizing grazed fodder beet and no compound feed.

“We’re bringing fertility again into the bottom, giving us a grassweed break and an uplift in yields on the arable facet,” he tells Farmers Weekly.

See additionally: Farm supervisor’s drought motion plan leads to 15% yield elevate

Farm details

Chittlegrove, close to Rendcomb, Gloucestershire

  • Farming 3,380ha, together with 1,380ha of arable and the remaining grassland, on a spread of soils together with Cotswold brash, silty land and clay caps
  • Arable – rising winter wheat, winter and spring barley, oilseed rape and triticale, plus catch and canopy crops, and stubble turnips
  • 4,200 ewe flock together with Romneys, Llyen and EasyCare breeds, with numbers rising to five,000 in spring 2021
  • 360-strong beef enterprise and 70 Angus sucker cows and followers, plus just lately taking up the administration of a 250-strong dairy herd

Wheat yield elevate 

Mr Baxter says that winter wheat grown after a four-year natural ley offers a 0.5t/ha yield elevate, and he can reduce his nitrogen fertiliser use by almost 1 / 4 on his 9t/ha wheat crops.

With Fundamental Cost Scheme (BPS) direct farm subsidies because of be phased out within the subsequent few years, he believes a extra combined and sustainable farming system is extra more likely to survive sooner or later.

“If you happen to take away the security internet of BPS, then there’s a want for a extra various farming enterprise,” he provides.

Underneath an environmental Countryside Stewardship scheme, his landlords obtain £309/ha for rising the natural leys – however one disadvantage is that they don’t begin to develop rapidly within the spring, as no nitrogen may be utilized, so cowl and fodder crops to feed the livestock are key.

Livestock assist financially 

After a tricky arable 12 months of a moist autumn, spring drought after which decrease yields, the livestock has helped his farm financially, whereas including fertility again to his skinny stony soils, controlling blackgrass and bettering yields.

“This 12 months, livestock carried the enterprise when arable yields have been decrease. Farming large-scale arable marginal land is unsustainable, so we’d like a extra various combined farm system with scale,” he provides.

So that’s what he’s doing, farming 3,380ha of Cotswold brash on plenty of contract farming offers with a 4,200-ewe flock, 360 fattening beef animals and a 70-strong Angus sucker herd plus followers.

Mr Baxter’s farming operation, based mostly at Chittlegrove, close to Rendcomb, six miles north of Cirencester, covers a spread of land inside a 20-mile radius, rising cereals and oilseed rape, together with catch, cowl and fodder crops.

Toby Baxter’s inventory graze forage crops on the farm © MAG/David Jones

Create variety  

The natural leys have been launched eight years in the past to feed livestock and create variety – and, without having for any nitrogen fertiliser, they have been like “feeding concentrates to lambs”.

He first began utilizing the natural leys to fatten retailer lambs in 3-Four weeks and end 2,000 every year. As sheep numbers rose, he began to introduce forage and canopy crops.

The natural leys embrace ryegrass, cocksfoot and meadow fescue, legumes comparable to purple and white clover, sainfoin, birdsfoot trefoil, plus plantain and chicory.

The latter is an particularly sturdy rooting plant and helps with compacted soils. It additionally has anthelmintic properties encouraging livestock to expel parasitic worms. As such, no cattle are wormed on the farm and there’s very low wormer use in lambs.

Return to arable

When the land is returned to arable, the natural leys are sprayed off with glyphosate after which direct drilled utilizing a 6m John Deere 750a with winter wheat or a seed crop of winter barley.

Early winter cereal drilling after grass is important because the leys suck up nitrogen because the grass breaks down. Due to this fact, the winter cereals get off to a gradual begin earlier than nitrogen is launched in Might/June the next 12 months.

His agronomist, John Vickery – who works for agronomy firm Agrii – says the natural leys give a superb entry again into cereals with grassweeds effectively beneath management.

“The massive advantage of the natural leys is that they permit us to drill early on these skinny Cotswold soils within the latter half of September with few blackgrass or brome issues,” says Mr Vickery.

A giant monetary profit is the yield elevate of 0.5t/ha on biscuit or smooth feed winter wheats, whereas trimming nitrogen fertiliser utilization.

John Vickery (left) and Toby Baxter (right)

John Vickery (left) and Toby Baxter (proper) © MAG/David Jones

Nitrogen launch

Mr Baxter factors out that when rising winter cereals after grass, the nitrogen must be utilized early within the spring earlier than the large launch in Might/June. Charges on wheat after the natural leys are reduce to 140-150kg/ha from a extra regular 180kg/ha.

“Nitrogen must be entrance loaded and be utilized earlier than large mineralisation kicks in throughout Might/June,” he provides.

The nitrogen regime is often 70kg/ha in early March, an additional 50kg/ha in late April, and the ultimate 20kg/ha on the flag-leaf stage in late Might.

The land is often within the arable rotation for 5 to 6 years, rising wheat, winter and spring barley, oilseed rape and triticale.

Nitrogen-hungry crops

The next crop after winter wheat is often a nitrogen-hungry crop comparable to oilseed rape or stubble turnips for sheep feed. Mr Baxter could be very eager to not depart any naked soils between arable crops, so catch and canopy crops are crucial.

His catch crops between two autumn-sown combinable crops include linseed, mustard, vetch and buckwheat, plus cowl crops forward of spring crops together with forage rye, mustard, linseed and vetch.

After oilseed rape, he’s fast to drill a mixture of linseed, vetch and peas into the stubble. With 50kg/ha of nitrogen added, it produces a waste-high crop by the autumn to present good grazing for 1,000 ewe lambs.

Over the previous 5 years, Mr Baxter is seeing the advantages of the natural leys – as his land is simpler to work, his drilling home windows are prolonged, and there’s much less puddling and weed stress.

With the huge vary of crops – cereals, oilseed rape, catch and canopy crops, and stubble turnips – there’s an terrible lot of drilling to do, so the farm operates the 6m 750a drill and a fair wider 15m Amazone Condor tined drill.

Beef fattening

One additional thought is to fatten dairy calves for beef utilizing fodder beet to complete them, as natural leys don’t give sufficient vitality.

He’s rising 40ha of fodder beet and 40ha of fast-growing Westerwolds ryegrass. The meat cattle are given a contemporary strip of beet each day with a contemporary strip of ryegrass to fall again on, all behind electrical fences.

After eight years of the extra combined farming strategy, the land is wanting in a lot better well being and each the arable and livestock sides have gained.

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