“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
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
Britain has too much rain this spring. Nevertheless, farming may pay more for its water in future.
Facing a Global Water Crisis” in a piece written by Leah Schleifer. With credit to them, I try here to relate those lessons to British farming and maybe farming elsewhere in developed counties that do not really think water may be a significant economic problem sooner rather than later.
Reason 6. Water Is Wasted
The water in our water main grid is “potable”, i.e. drinkable. Yet half the water used in domestic households is used to flush toilets, enters the sewage system and is treated and dumped into rivers. It is true that some of that water may be extracted lower down the river and re-used, but this is an incredibly wasteful system.
The washing down of dairies and other livestock enterprises on farms is similarly wasteful.
Conservation farming action;
- Harvest water off shed roofs and concrete areas,
- Wash down sensibly, limiting use to what is necessary.
- Get everyone to remember that water is a valuable and increasingly expensive resource.
Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd., 7 April 18
On 7th, 8th and 10th December, you can download “Survival” Sustainable Energy, Wastes Shale Gas and The Land” at Amazon Kindle for free! Suggest do it to a big screen because of the diagrams.
Contour farming in the China mountains. We could use the same techniques to protect lowland areas from flash flooding.
An income-earner for upland farms could be for protecting the lowlands from flash-flooding. For flood prevention in the lowlands, an up-land flood-prevention co-op could deliver what the country needs, right now. This can be done by a reverse-franchise set up which is less restrictive than a legal co-operative.
In a reverse franchise, a limited company is set up as the franchisor and it makes the rules. Each farmer-franchisee gets one share (however big or small they are) in the franchisor and hence the name “reverse franchise”. The franchisor then forms a relationship with the Environment Agency to manage an upper catchment area including the mechanisms of (i) raising soil organic matter levels using composted urban wastes from the lowlands, (ii) planting tree belts on contours to create flow barriers, and (iii) setting up sacrifice areas to hold water under extreme conditions to allow slow release.
Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd. 12 November 2017
When Vermuyden drained the fens, it created some of the most fertile soils in the world. Some were more than 10 m deep. This cam be mimicked using composted urban wastes.
The UN has a target of raising the organic Carbon content of soils by 4 parts per thousand in order to offset atmospheric Carbon dioxide growth and global warming.
In a short report in “The Auger” (one of the journals of the British Society of Soil Science) the work of Johnson A E, et al. in The European Journal of Soil Science concluding that, using crop production with mineral fertilisers and Nitrogen from legumes, such a target probably could not be achieved.
They have much greater knowledge than I and my limited knowledge would concur with that view. However, fertilising crops based on composting urban wastes could easily achieve, and surpass that target. It has been done. See https://www.amazon.co.uk/Reversing-Global-Warming-Profit-environmentally/dp/1904312810
Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd
We have the power and the technology. Do we have the micro components?
Common sense tells us that if we use manufactured mineral fertilisers to produce food, eventually, the soil store of trace elements will decline, followed by a decline in the harvested crop, followed by a decline in the health of th4e crop, followed by a decline in the intake of trace elements by humans, followed by a decline in the health of humans.
This common sense understanding of the loss of micro-nutrients in human diets has been shown many times and, again, recently by a paper on soil Selenium decline by Steve McGrath et al and reported in the current edition of The Auger, journal of the British Society of Soil Science.
What do we do about it? See https://www.amazon.co.uk/Survival-Sustainable-Energy-Wastes-Shale/dp/1523264217 with government employing the BSSS nationally to monitor and guide on not too much and not too little.
Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd