Managing fertility - report 1

28 March 2013

The day started, after short introductions from our hosts Nacton Farm and partner organisations (LEAF and the Soil Association), with a detailed presentation by David Stanley on how farming fits into the climate change puzzle and what some of the practical solutions might be. The challenge for the group of arable and larger scale vegetable producers present was how to incorporate these ideas (many of which included livestock) into systems that mostly did not include animals.

Issues facing the group

Following this scene setting and some subsequent discussion we moved on to what some of the major issues facing the group and how an on farm trial might help. The following were identified as the main issues.

  • Late season N deficiency - and how to provide an organic 'top up'
  • Fertigation - how to apply micro-nutrients and compost tea to field crops, and an analysis of the cost benefit
  • Quantifying the benefit of adding compost and/or FYM
  • Weed control, in particular creeping thistle, couch grass and fat hen
  • Potential for worm cast products as fertiliser
  • Measuring nutritional content of plants as a way of assessing pest and disease resistance
  • Assessing performance and timing of different cover crops in field scale situations
  • Growing organic onions - in particular pre-harvest

What to trial as part of the field lab

From these topics two were identified as priorities - namely Weed Control and Top Dressing for later fertility. Two farms were keen to trial these techniques with a potential third hoping to join them.

Weed Control - because of the specialist equipment needed it was agreed that Nacton would do some comparative trials with a range of weeding equipment (potentially Foam Weeding, Electrical, Garfield interrow weeder and Combweed) and to hold a further event at their farm later in the season.

Top Dressing - the farms involved will be talking more to iron out the detail of the trial but the suggestion was to trial a range of fertilisers suitable for organic systems on 25m runs with a control where nothing was added (this could potentially be the rest of the farm if nothing else different was going on there). They would probably need to be put on by hand in the trial though some thought will also need to be given to how this is then applied to larger areas of crop.

The fertilisers suggested were:

  • Mushroom compost
  • Muck - this would need to be analysed to be able to make an informed assessment of the trial
  • High N organic product (e.g. Laws)

We would hope to measure the following from the trial:

  • Yield
  • Leaf sample
  • Shelf life of vegetables
  • BRIX index - though some discussion as to how useful this might actually be


Field lab - Soil analysis – its use and interpretation
16 March

Tolhurst Organic Partnership C.I.C., West Lodge, Hardwick, Whitchurch on Thames, Pangbourne RG8 7RA

Field Lab: Cultural methods to control black grass
24 March

Shimpling Park Farm, Shimpling, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, IP29 4HY

Supported by...

Duchy logo

Prince of Wales's Charitable Foundation

Organic Research Centre