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Project Lamport update 4 - Plot updates

Project Lamport, now in its seventh year, is embracing digital for 2020. The team, including Head of Soils, Chris Martin; Farming Systems Research & Development Advisor, Niall Atkinson; Director of Wright Resolutions Ltd, Phillip Wright; and Independent (PhD) Researcher, David Purdy, will be sharing regular updates from the site in Northamptonshire.

For our fourth blog update, the team revisits Project Lamport for an update on the various plots and to share some of their key learnings.

Head of Research and Development, Craig Morgan

“Ultimately, we want to successfully grow a spring crop here at Project Lamport whilst fostering soil health. During the seven years we’ve been doing this, on average we’ve achieved 7-7.5t/ha. This has ranged from 8.5t/ha in the better crops, down to 6.5t/ha.

We began Lamport on a quest to reduce blackgrass and we achieved this from the moment we implemented cover crops. We’ve come down from 2000 heads/m2 to 3-4 heads/m2 because our systems are so effective, as demonstrated here.

For system 3, we established an autumn cover crop using a combi drill followed by a direct drilled spring wheat. Although the subsequent crop has established well, it hasn’t offered much in terms of soil health.”

Director of Wright Resolutions Ltd, Phillip Wright

“The soil sample for system 3 shows a tight top layer, which is often indicative of a power harrowing action. The structure has been stirred and destabilised, then the deluge of rain last year has washed the high silt content of the clay soil together, causing a slumping effect.

We have some roots at depth, but not many and most are in the surface layer. It’s an effort to break the sample apart and we have a consolidated profile with not much pore space or root pathways.”

Farming Systems Research & Development Advisor, Niall Atkinson

“In contrast, system 4 is a cover crop established using a direct drill to avoid soil damage. We have learnt our lesson that a combi drill just doesn’t offer much towards soil health.

So we ask the important question - ‘How do we establish a cover crop without soil damage?’ Part of the answer is when direct drilling, residue management of the previous crop needs to be tip top.

Here, we straw raked before going over with a Weaving GD to direct drill. The results are reasonable cover crop establishment, low levels of blackgrass and much improved soil health.

System 7, which is spring wheat following a traditional over-wintered fallow, demonstrates the value of the cover crop. We have greater counts of blackgrass which will have only increased by July.

By carefully selecting species depending on the scenario, you can achieve so many benefits from cover crops. We learnt earlier in the year that by using black oats, water infiltration is improved and standing water reduced. This is because of the fantastic root structure that that particular species offers.

And selecting different species of cover crops can also enhance your rotation, introducing crops such as phacelia, linseed and vetches. So although you are regularly growing spring cereals, it’s the cover crops that are providing the diversity.”

Philip Wright

“Because system 7 had quite an aggressive cultivation in autumn and no cover crop, it’s a good example to share as we are almost back to square one from a soil health perspective. With no root activity, it shows the synergistic effect of roots and metal. We can cultivate, but we need the roots to create the actual structure.

This sample has low porosity and is very hard to break apart and we have blackgrass starting to creep back in.”