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Postgraduate student looks at the science of soil management

Posted 19 December 2013

Postgraduate researcher, Emily Smith

Postgraduate researcher, Emily Smith

A postgraduate researcher at Harper Adams University has set up a long-term trial to investigate the effect of farm traffic and tillage on crop yields, soil structure and energy requirements of agricultural production systems.

Emily Smith, who is currently in the final year of her PhD ‘Investigating the interaction of traffic and tillage on soil, crop and energy parameters’, has been working within a team of researchers at the university near Newport, Shropshire, over the past two years to establish plot trials and gather data.

Agricultural machinery currently causes a lot of damage to soil, and this impacts on a farmer’s ability to produce crops.

The use of appropriate systems, both traffic and tillage, to reduce soil degradation and increase efficiency is essential in terms of future sustainability.

The trial set up by Emily is looking at three traffic systems – random traffic farming, low ground pressure and controlled traffic farming - and three tillage systems – deep tillage, shallow tillage and zero tillage.

Funded by the Douglas Bomford Trust and the university, the research is being supported by links with several industrial contacts including Michelin, AGCO Challenger and Vaderstad.

Since the start of the work Harper Adams has welcomed team members from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Turkey, Brazil and Greece.

25-year-old Emily, from near Pershore, Worcestershire, said: “In February 2013 several members of the Harper Adams team travelled to Australia to attend the first International Controlled Traffic Farming Conference in Queensland.

“This gave me the opportunity to present the work being done at Harper Adams on the international stage and create links with researchers and farmers around the world.

“The trip to Australia provided an opportunity not only to attend the conference but also to travel around several farms to see how they produce their crops, the machinery they use, the problems they encounter and solutions that they have come up with.

“It was a fantastic opportunity to experience farming in very different conditions to those that we experience here in the UK.”

Back at Harper Adams, the second year of the trial has just begun following a challenging 2011/2012 season due to the weather.

“We were in the same situation as the majority of UK farmers last year, the heavy rainfall made it extremely difficult to get the crop into the ground,” added Emily, who has a BSc (Hons) Geography and Environmental Management degree from the University of Exeter.

“A year on it was a lot easier. We had a very good harvest this year compared to last year and the next crop is in and growing well already.

“The aim of this work is to find the most suitable traffic and tillage system to improve agricultural production systems.

“At the moment we need funding to continue the trial as we want it to run for 10 years to further understand the difference in the tillage systems.

“If we get funding for a postdoctoral I will continue to be involved in the trial and will hopefully see it through to the end.

“The trial will enable us to gather data to back up educating farmers into how they can better manage their soils. With changing demands farmers need to rethink how they do this.”

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