Category Archives: Soils

drought and crop yields

A lot of this, this year. Yields down too. It is largely avoidable.

A sandy soil will hold about its own weight in water.  A clay 2 or 3 times. A typical natural peat around 16 times!

A compost made from urban green waste will hold up to 10 times its own weight in water, maybe only 5 times if it is made from woody cuttings in winter (and it would have less N).  However, compost made from urban green waste plus industrial wastes will (depending on the wastes used) hold 8 to 14 times its own weight in water and possibly a lot more NPK.  Although the Environment Agency will restrict quantities, the truth is that the Fens, when Vermuyden drained them some 300 years ago, were up to 40 foot deep of almost pure compost. (Organic soils do not leak excessive N.)  It is also true that high organic, well-composted soils, can halve cultivation energy inputs and reduce chemical spraying.

So, there really should be a national policy of maximizing urban waste recycling to urban farm land. Suggest get a copy of “Survival”, read it and send a copy to your MP.


Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd, 1 August 18

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


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


Fatberg at British Museum


The soil mycorrhiza are dramatically assisted by the addition of biosolids, thus reducing crop disease and crop spying.

The Guardian newspaper reported recently that the British museum is exhibiting part of a sewer-blocking fatberg that made headlines last year, weighing 130 tonnes, the equivalent of 11 double decker buses and stretching more than 250 meters, six meters longer than Tower Bridge. Said Vyki Sparkes, the curator of social and working history, “I don’t think you can get much lower than a fatberg … it reflects the dark side of ourselves”.

Fortunately, most of our sewage goes through very efficient sewage treatment works (STW’s) before the water is recycled to rivers and the sea.  The STW extracts the organic material and some of that is recycled to land to grow crops (“biosolids” are really good fertilisers which add trace elements and improve the biology and disease resistance of the soil, thus reducing crop disease). The real bogey is the solid plastic which goes to landfill. Yet again, it is hard plastic which is causing intractable environmental problems.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd, February 2018

Carbon dioxide, cars and trees

The soil is a great collector or “sink” of Carbon dioxide. Hoiw do we manage this? Could we use CL:AIRE to do it better?

According to the World Resources Institute, “Stopping deforestation, restoring forests and improving forestry practices could remove 7 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually—the same as taking 1.5 billion cars off the road.” Now, World Bank figures on global waste production show that there is somewhere about 1.5 billion tonnes pa of MSW (Municipal Solid Waste).  About half of that would be Carbon which, as Carbon dioxide, would be around 1.4 billion tonnes.  Industrial waste production globally could easily double that, probably more. If that waste was composted, instead of burned or land-filled, it would not only lock up the Carbon, it could be used to fertilise the tree and crop growth.  It would also save wasting at least 21,000 kW hours on producing every one of the 185 million tonnes (FAO figures) of Nitrogen nutrient in the fertilisers we manufacture every year. (Yes, that is 385,000,000,000 kWh – at least!)

Only farmers and foresters have the skills and scale to do these things.  Better respect and care for them.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd, 28 November 17

Healthier crops, less sprays


The wightish areas just off center, upper left are patches of mycorrhizae, just visible to the naked eye. These are the fundamental clue to soil fertility and healthy crops.


Closed Loop 6. Organic matter up, crop disease down.

Looking back at this blog entry of 31August 2016 and organic-based soils, we mentioned the closed conduit of the soil fungi, mycorrhiza, feeding at one end of their hyphae on the soil organic matter and the other end either crossing the root hair wall into the plant, or wrapping round the root hair like the placenta of a mammal.  Many of these mycorrhizae have probiotic effects, some have anti-biotic.  Some even have the ability to take nutrients out of one plant, hopefully a weed, and transport it into another, hopefully the crop.  Nearly always, increasing organic matter will reduce crop disease and expenditure on pesticides but it may take several years of higher soil organic matter for the soil biological activity to deliver that. Also see click.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd, 13 October 2016