'Build better soils to help with SFI funding'


31 March 2023
Funding and crop growth rely on a good understanding, says expert.

GROWERS will need to gain a better understanding of their soils to meet the new Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) ‘arable soils’ standard. 

Timac Agro Technical Manager, David Newton, says this knowledge will be key to accessing future funding, but also for supporting future crop growth.

“The SFI funding aims to encourage activities which improve soil health, but it can be hard to know where to even begin,” he said. “Under the current guidelines, farmers and growers can receive £22/ha at an introductory level, or £40/ha at an intermediate level for the ‘arable and horticultural soils’ standard, so it’s well worth investing in your soil health.”

David said as well as testing for soil pH and macronutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium), checks should b made on trace elements ans soil structure assessed at the same time, since the scheme requires a test for organic matter levels. 

It's also important to understand your soil type, he stressed.

“Understanding your soil type means understanding it’s advantages and challenges, how best to work with it and improve its health and biology,” he said.

Soil type influences structure and its consequent ability to retain nutrients and water, as well as its workability. Lighter, sandier soils can be more acidic and prone to leaching owing to their porous nature. They can also have lower organic matter levels, which consequently affects soil biology, David said. 

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“On the other hand, heavier clay soils are more prone to compaction and poorer water drainage owing to smaller particle sizes and are heavier to work. However, often they are more fertile and retain organic matter more efficiently,” he said.

David says crops require a host of essential nutrients for growth and requesting a more detailed soil analysis for nutrients, such as sulphur, calcium, manganese, copper, iron and boron, can help you predict any deficiencies and limitations to plant growth in the future. 

Encouraging soil biology to thrive is paramount to soil processes, such as the mineralisation of organic matter to provide nutrient availability for plants, he added. 

“Using a soil conditioner, such as Humistart+, can help provide a better environment for fungi and bacteria to thrive, in turn encouraging rapid break down of organic matter and the release of nutrients,” David said. 

Taking steps to better understand your soils and carrying out practices which enhance soil biology and fertility will lead to maximised nutrient use efficiency, he advised. 

“Under the current circumstances where the cost of fertiliser is still high, improving your nutrient use efficiency is paramount, as well as reducing risks such as soil run-off and leaching – an ultimate goal the SFI standards are wishing to achieve."

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