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Farming General

Active participation of farmers has connected research with farming practice to improve soil health and management, as part of the PROSOIL project delivered by the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) in Aberystwyth.

With tailored soil management being recognised as key to successful farming, this was a valuable study funded over five years by the Rural Development Plan for Wales 2007–2013, which is supported by the Welsh Government and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development. Across Wales nine livestock farmers were selected as commercial development farms (CDF) to monitor a chosen management practice ranging from soil aeration to the use of a multi species ley.

The CDF themselves selected a management method of their choice which included:

  • spiked soil aeration at Penygelli in Gwynedd
  • slurry by trailing shoe at Cappele in Conwy
  • diverse sward of mixed forages at Bryn Gido in Ceredigion
  • digestate at Bank Farm in Powys
  • aerated versus non aerated slurry at Parc Cynog
  • subsoiling at Bryngwyn, both in Carmarthenshire.

Counting earthworms, a good indicator of soil health, was undertaken by the farmers and an increase in numbers was one benefit seen from using white clover in swards both on the CDF and on research plots at IBERS. Five regional development groups of interested farmers have met on farms over the last year to share their soil management experiences and to learn more about the PROSOIL research.

Totalling and identifying earthworms was just one of the activities that captured the imagination of the CDF. On the PROSOIL project farms there was a tendency for earthworm numbers to fall in July, reflecting the parallel rise in soil temperatures combined with lower soil moisture. Most species of earthworms are happy in damp soil at around 7 degrees celsius. On the IBERS science plots earth worm numbers were significantly higher in soils sown with white clover compared with ryegrass.

Earthworms are soil engineers, they loosen and mix the soil, create vertical and horizontal burrows which improve drainage and increase air space between soil aggregates. They also break down and recycle organic matter, move nutrients to the surface and make them more available for plants to use as well as playing a vital role forming new soil. The value of soil formation on the PROSOIL CDF was calculated at £10.30 per hectare per year on the farm with the most earthworms.

Detailed information on the methods managed by each farm are featured in case studies in the PROSOIL project booklet, which is available in hard copy and on a USB stick via the Prosoil Project website (external link).