Farmers urged to spend money to ‘save our soils’

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Farmers were yesterday urged to spend more time and money looking at their soils which have suffered from the heavy rainfall of the past two years.

Speaking at Oatridge campus, which is now part of the combined SRUC, drainage expert and senior agricultural consultant Seamus Donnelly said a great deal of productive capacity has been lost from the land.

“Save our soils” and “Scotland’s wealth is not oil, it is soil” were the catchphrases he used to concentrate the minds of the 300-plus farmers looking at how they could put life back into their land. He estimated that up to 3 per cent of the productive capacity of grassland could be currently lost through a loss of basic fertility.

One of the basic building blocks of production is land, with just the right balance between alkalinity and acidity, and this has traditionally been achieved through the application of lime.

Donnelly said that more than half of the 1,000 samples he had taken recently had been below the optimum productive level, indicating that farmers had fallen behind with this aspect of husbandry.

If their grass fields were looking pale, he said the decision taken by the farmer was often to put on additional nitrogen, 
but liming or use of a mechanical aerator could be more beneficial.

For some areas of land, there might be the need to carry out drainage work, and full schemes can cost around £2,500 per acre. Few farmers could justify that level of expenditure, but he said he was hopeful changes to the Scottish Rural Development Programme might see such projects being accepted.

He believed there was clear justification for public expenditure on such schemes, listing reducing the carbon footprint, prevention of flooding of local villages and the production of more food.

If there was a move to carry out more drainage, he said one difficulty might be the lack of experienced drainers. The machinery might be there but the knowledge might not.