Keep an eye out for crop deficiencies following excessive winter leaching

Soils have suffered substantial nutrient leaching following the adverse wet weather earlier this year, meaning crops are at risk of stunted growth and damage from pests and disease, while water quality is also negatively affected.

Marion Perrett-Pearson, senior agricultural advisor at Severn Trent, says that in her experience the severity of the effects comes down to the soil type.

“Clay soils don’t typically suffer from leaching; however, the sudden dry weather has led to cracks in the surface. This change in structure allows groundwater to run through the soil profile leading to soil erosion and nutrient loss, as well as the effects of surface water run-off.

“Sandy soils on the other hand are most prone to leaching, due to their texture, and it’s likely they’ll have lost a significant volume of nutrients this winter,” she continues.

Monitor for deficiencies

Marion explains that considering this, growers should monitor crops closely so any deficiencies or pest and disease damage can be identified before taking hold.

“Macronutrients such as nitrates, potassium, calcium, magnesium and sulphur are most easily leached, whereas phosphorus is immobile in most soils, so it’s only really lost when surface soil particles are eroded through run off.

“Deficiencies of calcium and potassium can affect cell wall development, which causes weaknesses that makes the plant more prone to fungal spore diseases, such as Powdery Mildew.”

She explains there are several ways producers can remedy these deficiencies and get crops back on track.

Apply fertiliser in small batches

One thing they can do now to ensure crops get sufficient nutrients is applying fertiliser in a number of smaller applications during the cropping season. This way the nutrients can be taken up gradually by the plant, which is also beneficial for growers as it reduces the cost of ineffective over-application.

“Then when it comes to the autumn, soil testing can be undertaken so any deficiencies are quickly identified, and a bespoke nutrition programme can be applied to suit the soils requirements.  Crop rotation and cultivation techniques are also important to consider, as these help restore soil health and structure, and can reduce the impact of nutrient leaching on farm,” recommends Marion.

For further information, or to find out how a STEPS grant could help fund soil structure improvements, please visit https://www.stwater.co.uk/STEPS.

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About The Author

John Swire - Deputy editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer as well as responsibility for the Agronomist and Arable Farmer and Farm Business websites. After 17 years milking cows on the family farm John started writing about agriculture in 1998 and has since written for a variety of publications and has developed a wide circle of contacts within the industry. When not working John is a season ticket holder at Stoke City and also of late has become a fitness freak, listing cycling, swimming and walking as his exercises of choice.