Saturday, December 16, 2017

Remove soil compaction to boost spring grass growth

October 4, 2017 by  
Filed under Livestock

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Grassland farmers are being advised to act now to remove soil compaction – and gain in the spring from an earlier turnout and increased grass production.

“The deeper soil compaction caused by heavy machinery can reduce grass DM yields by up to 25%, advises agronomist Ian Robertson of Sustainable Soil Management. “This problem requires subsoiling or sward-lifting to restore soil structure.”

Autumn is  the ideal time to sward-lift ground. This produces a shatter which in turn creates fissures through the soil profile, allowing the movement of air and water. It also enables a more efficient use  of nutrients.

“While soil temperatures are above 10°C, this stimulates microbial activity, which fixes nitrogen and mobilises phosphate. These are key for plant growth, and this extra nutrient supply encourages the growth of new roots into the gaps created by the shatter.”

Winter rain can then flush iron particles in the soil profile away from plant roots. Iron is an antagonist which locks up phosphate and manganese, and ultimately can reduce levels of these key nutrients in grass and forage, impacting on animal performance.

“Removing compaction in advance of the winter will also prevent waterlogging and the consequent plant root death, says Mr Robertson. “In the spring, fields will dry out and warm up sooner.”

Even so, it is important not to leave lifting too late. “There’s no point aerating soil if it’s not warm enough for the plant to be actively growing. Also, don’t sward-lift if the ground is wet and elastic, as then it just absorbs the energy, and smears. The profile needs to be dry enough to shatter.

“Sward-lifting can be done in the spring but only if ground conditions are right. But plants may already have been lost over the winter from standing water, and the opportunity for an earlier turnout has been missed.”

There is also less time for the fissures created by the subsoiling to stabilise before the arrival of livestock or silaging machinery, says Mr Robertson.

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