Tag Archives: food production

Zero till – less cost, more yield

Zero till with a Moore Unidrill; note the independent discs and seed coulters (right) and press wheels on the rear (left) giving even depth of placement and good seed-soil contact. (Photo courtesy Agri-Linc.)

Direct drilling comes in two guises; drilling after a little cultivation (“min till” really), and what in the USA would be called “zero till”.  Each has its own consequence in terms of weed control. Maybe I learned, years ago, most from a farms manager called Richard Noyce, he always had clean bottoms to his crops simply because, after harvest, he cultivated the surface several times to get weeds seeds to germinate, before putting the next crop in. The alternative of one pass to put the crop in does imply more work to do with selective herbicide – but that is probably going to happen anyway, so it is not an extra cost. Generally, in the hands of a sensitive husbandry man, zero till costs less and gives higher yields.

Good husbandry and using the right machinery is aiming at even depth of placement, good seed-soil contact, giving even emergence.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd, 20 August ‘18

3D’s- Direct drilling and drought

In direst drilling, getting even depth of placement and good seed-soil contact is important.


Some will be old enough to remember the Bettinson 3D drill.  Direct drilling went out of fashion in the early 1990’s but it is back and what a year in 2018 to start direct drilling! Drought is a killer in the seedbed and cultivations drive off water. So, this year will take a bit of managing and some luck, too. Harrow to get the weed seeds to chit.  Shower of rain, please. Green up. Spay off with glyphosate. Direct drill. Showers of rain please.  Roll if useful. Would that it were as easy as that.  However, it is still much easier than trying to get a wider range of conventional cultivations through. Direct drilling is lower cost, faster and therefore there is a timeliness gain, conserves soil moisture, over-all does give a little better yields, certainly at lower cost.

Bill Butterworth, Land Research Ltd, August 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


Brexit sadness

I have to admit that while my original objections (corruption at the centre and the weight of prescriptive regulations) were valid and still stand, my hope was that everyone would get pulled up to think about it and find another solution.  There was then, and is so now, as far as I can see, a choice between two options.  Firstly, Brexit.  Everyone here is ashamed of the UK government’s shambolic infighting. Similarly at fault is the centre of the EU itself.  This idea of “make it difficult for the UK because we don’t want anyone else to leave” seriously implies that Brussels realises that there is something wrong and instead of getting everyone (ALL EU Members) round a table and see if  a better way forward can be found, they sit and complain that it is all the UK’s fault.As far as I can see, there is little hope of Brussels exercising some common sense, taking the initiative and inviting the UK to discuss with all the Members how we can all produce a better EU framework. If we, all the EU, do not do that, the entire world order will be different with a less safe global environment and weakened western-economies.  this is a really sad situation.

Bill Butteworth, Land Research, 13 July 18



I share your sadness.

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

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