Category Archives: farming

JCB 520 Loadall

This machine changed farm handling forever.

I came across this beauty a few days ago at the premises of Windsmere Stone & Granite Ltd on the Melksham Road out of Devizes.  (These lovely and knowledgeable people have a really good selection of granite and marble worktops.)  It was bought back in the late 1970’s and is now worth twice what they paid for it.  It has lifted granite slabs daily for 40 years.   Telescopic loaders changed materials handling, globally, for ever, and saved many a man’s back as well as speeded up so much in farming, construction and manufacturing. I met Jim Harrison, the first MD of JCB Handling Ltd back before this machine was born, at the initial launch,  Well done Jim and JCB.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd, 19 August @18


AD Insanity


Putting “waste” into an AD plant to make “renewable ” energy can make sense, despite the energy cost of the plant. However, growing crops to feed the plant is both insane and immoral.

The energy cost of the steel, plastics used in the construction of an AD plant, plus the energy involved in construction, can sometime make environmental sense and make a small contribution to energy security, However, it is as well to remember that 1 tonne of Nitrogen fertiliser nutrient, made in a modern and efficient USA fertiliser factory, according to UN-sponsored research, typically takes 21,000 (yes, twenty one thousand!) kWh to produce and deliver.  N fertiliser produced in eastern block countries may use as much as 20 tomes more power. So, using fertilisers, to grow crops, to harvest using diesel to cut and transport to an AD plant, to digest to produce methane, to burn in an engine to drive a generator to produce even less electricity is insanity based on ignorance. What is more, that land could be used to produce food and we need food security and so do 100,000,000 people in central Africa which the UN reports are on the edge of starvation death.  That is immorality on a global scale sanctioned by ignorant government. in Brussels and Whitehall.

(There is a chapter on renewables in general and AD in particular in “Survival”.)

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd, 31 July 18



Moisture in our soils

Can we organic matter to make top soil reservoirs for next year?

At this time of introduction of a hosepipe ban in the NW of England, maybe a moment (if we get a wet day during harvest) to think about not running short of water in our soils next year. So, a check list for before serous rain starts.

  1. Know where water is coming from. Of course, it is the rain. Is it? Is wat3r coming from other land onto yours?  Can it be diverted or managed better? What about ground water.
  2. What route does the water take off your land? Do you want it to leave?
  3. Is lack of maintenance of ditches and drainage a significant issue?
  4. What speed is the water when it leaves your land? Will it case flooding lower down?
  5. Can you harvest the water?
  6. Does water leaving your land carry nutrients at a loss?
  7. What is the organic matter level in each of your fields? Will that level help manage water at the right time for cultivations, crop growth and harvest?
  8. How can you change the organic matter of your soils?

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd 17 July 18


The next pandemic and when it will happen

Foot and Mouth Disease of cattle, new global diseases of bees; these are pandemics.  Pandemics in the global human population are part of our history and future;

Date                 Place                       Pandemic Pathogen                             Deaths

BC430                   Athens             Typhus or Smallpox?                          75,000 to 100,000


541 to 542 Europe & Asia             Bubonic Plague                                  25 to 50 million

1347 to 1351 Europe/Asia/Africa  Black Death Bubonic Plague          75 to 200 million

1545 to 1576         Mexico            Smallpox                                               17 million

1665 to 1656         Europe             Bubonic Plague of London               100,000

1817 to 1824         Asia Europe    Cholera                                                100,000

1918 to 1920         World              Spanish flu                                          20 to 50 million

1980 to date          World              HIV                                                     35 million

2013 to 2016         West Africa     Ebola                                                   11,000 plus

Diseases like Ebola are truly awful but are transmitted in body fluids, touch of bodies or contaminated materials.  So, with very careful, detailed isolation these diseases are comparatively easy to contain.  Airborne disease, such as flu viruses, can be transmitted very quickly in high population densities where transfer to others, and mutation to more, or less, virulent strains are more likely to occur.  Cross infection is easier too, particularly in public transport places such as busses and underground railways.  Avian and swine flus, fortunately for us, mutated the right way and became less fatal.  Mutation to be more fatal will, sooner or later, happen. It is difficult to be precise about when the next one will occur but any time now would not be misleading. This year: possible.  Within 5 years; very likely

How to prepare to combat the next pandemic, see the next blog in this series.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd   5th July 18


Cultivation destroys organic Nitrogen

“Recreational tillage” soothes the soul but it really does dramatically increase organic mater oxidation and loss. Forcing a tilth with a power harrow is the worst offender.

The problem with forcing a tilth with power harrows, or any other cultivation tools, is that organic matter is oxidised at a rate corresponding to power input. This was first shown by Sarah Wright working at the famous USDA research centre at Beltsville in the USA. It was reinforced by research I did for ICI Plant Protection back in the 70’s and early 80’s; then, a fair guide in most soils was that conventional, high-power-input cultivations would oxidise and lose around 35 % of the humus per annum but direct drilling would limit the losses to around 10%.

There are two results of this loss which are, amongst others, worthy of note in this context.  Firstly, the more organic matter is lost, the greater the cultivation power needed next time around, leading to a declining soil structure, demanding progressively more power in a downward spiral.  Secondly, N losses progressively rise in parallel.  Further, as organic matter level falls, so does water-retaining capability.  This, in turn, allows more soluble N to be leached out.

What Michal Gove needs to do it look at the energy we could save by recycling more to land, using science-based process to encourage it, rather than allowing regulation to progressively restrict it.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd.,12  June 2018

Recycle N to land – safely

There is one fundamental rule in nature: Given enough dilution, given enough time, Nature will handle anything. The trick is to know how much dilution and how much time.  To some extent, the two factors are interchangeable.  Fortunately, humus (that complex mixture of hydrocarbons, carbo-hydrates and proteins with significant colloidal capacity) is a very effective chemical “buffer” which will smooth out release of toxins and nutrients.  There is also a biological buffer in that the mycorrhizae can be selective and take what they need (and no more) from an otherwise too high a concentration of a toxin or nutrient in a feedstock (such as compost).  These mechanisms add enormously to the safety of recycling to land.

Having said that, like all living mechanisms, don’t push it too far, knowing how far depends on reading the research, using common sense and not rushing the fence – build up slowly and learn to manage the stress in the system.

Also see “How to make on-farm composting work”, by Bill Butterworth, MX Publishing, London 1998,

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd,  6 June 2018

Organic N and crop growth

As the previous post here showed, Organic N, then, is different.  It just sits there in the store, alive with micro-organisms and giving some (but very low losses) to the soil atmosphere and groundwater.  However, it is different in a staggeringly complex and important way.  When conditions favour both plant and fungi, the mycorrhizae feed at one end of their hyphae on the organic matter and the other end of each hypha either crosses the root hair wall into the plant body, or wraps round the root hair (much like the placenta of a mammal).  This is a closed conduit! Not only is this why natural ecosystems do not leak nutrients and pollute the ground water, they also feed the plant with complex molecules, already some way down the route for forming cellulose and amino acids – so accelerating growth. Even more staggering, these mycorrhizae can suck nutrients out of some plants (weeds?) and transfer then to others (crops?).

There is enough urban waste in the world to supply enough nutrients to feed the world – without manufacturing fertilisers. (But we do actually need both.)

See the next blog in this series for more on profitable, eco-mimic fertiliser mechanisms and also “Survival” by bill Butterworth, published on Amazon.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd,   29 May 2018