Category Archives: Farm incomes

The Soil N Store

S Michael Gove’s staff look at the environment v. Farming, they might do woerse than to read this series of posts on N fertilisers.

When ammonium nitrate hits the soil moisture, it forms two “ions”.  The ammonium carries a positive charge and is an “anion”.  The nitrate carries a negative charge and is a “cation”. Sands have a very low ability to hold onto nutrients whether they be anions or cations..  Clays have some useful colloidal capacity which has some ability to hold onto anions (so it will hold some ammonium ion) but not much ability to hold cations (so it will hold very little nitrate).

“Humus” is a very complex and variable black tarry material made up of large, Carbon-based chain molecules (so in chemists’ language they are “organic Carbon” molecules) forming hydrocarbons, carbohydrates and proteins.  The proteins carry one or more Nitrogen molecules. These molecules are insoluble in water.  So this humus-N will not leach out in rain or irrigation. More than that, humus is very colloidal, so it will hold both ammonium and nitrate ions and reduce the leaching of synthetic N.

So, pushing up the organic matter in soils is a real economic and environmental plus.

See the next post on this blog for how organic N storage work sand promotes crop growth.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd,   May 2018


Synthetic N Fertiliser

In the UK , around 80 % of the cultivation energy we use is to undo previous traffic compaction and around 50 % of the energy we use to manufacture and spread fertiliser goes into the groundwater. This is neither profitable in the short run nor sustainable in the long.

The nature of the Nitrogen molecule carrier/store dramatically affects not only N fertiliser losses to groundwater, but how it gets into the plant and promotes growth.

Nitrogen fertiliser can be applied in two forms; as soluble in water (such as ammonium nitrate) and as organically bound N (as part of long, Carbon-chain molecules).If the molecule is relatively small and in-organic (mot part of a Carbon chain molecule), then it can be absorbed across the root-hair wall and progressively built up by the plant metabolism into amino acids and plant proteins. This route has served us well and saved countless billions from starving and postponed their death.

There is a problem.  While “artificial” or “synthetic” fertiliser N certainly has its place, the energy cost of manufacture and the losses to groundwater are unsustainable. The alternative will be discussed in the next post on this blog.

Also see “Reversing global Warming for Profit” by Bill Butterworth published on Amazon.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd,   20 May 2018


Nitrogen in the next 10 years

Whether government and do-good “environmental” lobbyists agree or like it, or not, in a western economy, cash is the driver

I have come across several cases recently of the Environment Agency refusing to allow Deployments to spread processed wastes because there was “too much nitrogen” present.  The Nitrogen would, in composts and organic wastes, be present substantially, if not completely, as organically bound N.  In a grassland or direct-drilled arable soil, that might release as little as 1 or 2 % of the total Nitrogen in that soil, to ground water per annum.  (That might be just enough to keep the weed in a trout steam growing at a natural rate.)  At the other extreme, in a much-cultivated clay soil, the release of N might reach 10%, and in a much cultivated sandy soil, maybe 15 % per annum.  Now, to be economic, if the farm did then not have composts made from “wastes”, and used ammonium nitrate, then the percentage of N lost to groundwater would be between 30 and 60 or even a bit higher (85%) on an irrigated sandy soil.

The point is this. Read the research. Recycled wastes spread as well made compost are generally safe to add to farm land at any N content, without limit on quantity added.  Don’t believe the research?  Try common sense; when Vermuyden drained the Fens some 300 years ago, it was, and remains, possible to grow a crop (probably the best crop in the UK) every year, without ever adding any N fertiliser in any year for 300 years.  By the way, some of these Fen soils were 10 or 12 m deep when first drained (the N reserves were enormous) and the dykes and Norfolk Broads were not full of green slime and dead fish.

If the human race is to survive, we have to recycle wastes to land.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd   18th May 2018

“From our Own Resources”

We are loosing land, thousands of acres every year. We produce the safest arable products in the world.

We are losing dairy herds at a dramatic rate and importing milk. Less safe milk!

I hear the talk about “environment” and “countryside” on one side, on the other I hear talk of “productivity”.  Farming remains Britain’s biggest industry and farm production remains a fundamental component of the national economy.  If, for the sake of political correctness, the Environment Secretary ignores, or otherwise takes the emphasis off farm production, he does so at the peril of the national economy.  Where is common sense?  Where is the national vision?  Some will remember a White Paper from Peter Walker, Minister of Agriculture; “From our Own Resources”. What on earth has gone wrong with this nation?  Where is the vision of production and growth? Where is the statesman who can drive production up so that we can afford the NHS?  Without productivity, we are nothing.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd,  April 18

Land values- farming-Brexit


The Environment Secretary has repeatedly signally lately that support for farming will progressively shift from production support to environmental protection.  As we already import more than half of what we eat, that presumably means that the post-Brexit trade deals we hear so much of lately will sacrifice UK agricultural production to imports, in exchange for exports of cars, armaments, fashion, university places and computer programming.  That, in turn, implies a change in land values as production will be less economic and cash for the environment will be squeezed in favour of university tuition fees (or whatever is PC at the time). That implied fall in land values will then allow the builders to buy up land and build houses. Obviously an environmental improvement which will allow otters, beavers and bitterns to occupy urban gardens.

I remain unconvinced that government is thinking anything through.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd,  1st April 18

In a divorce, true friends stand out from acquaintances

Under threat from Russia, the EU shows support in a way the USA does not. that does not bode well for Brexit.

Like any divorce, Brexit is a time for finding out who your real friends are. Try clicking on the link below.

The Liberal Democrats in the UK are pushing for a referendum when we know the final version of the Brexit deal. As we have pretensions to be a democracy, that sounds a good idea.  By the way, EU support for farming and home production is worth consideration, too.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd 25 March 18

Bad government

“The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed, lest
Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to work instead of living on public assistance.” – Cicero, 55 BC

So, evidently, we’ve learned nothing in the past 2,070 years.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd, 24 March 18