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February 21, 2019 / Apley Estate - Hamiltons

Apley Farming update

Food & farming are core to Apley Farm Shop, which is set in the heart of the Apley Estate (in Shropshire, UK) where our farming operations develop & progress every year. I will endeavour to continue to share notes on a range of food & farming issues such as vaccinations, fertilising, free range, alternative crops, food miles, Brexit, sustainability, soils, climate, fads & veganism.

Our farm manager Adrian Joynt, has just sent me this update which I thought may be of interest to our farm shop customers but also to other farms & estates.

Livestock

Vaccinations are used to prevent disease & reduce antibiotic use. The need to vaccinate is confirmed by blood tests & veterinary advice. Cattle graze extensively on permanent pasture which is an environmentally friendly method of farming, as it contains a mix of grass species, herbs & wild flowers. The grass also acts as carbon sink. Herbicides are only used where necessary to control invasive weeds (docks, nettles & thistles) & poisonous weeds (ragwort). All the livestock manure is applied to the arable soils (ie spread in fields where wheat, oats or barley are growing) to return nutrients & organic matter to the soil.

Fertilisers

These are applied to crops based on the soil type, previous use of organic manures & the crop requirements. All the arable fields have been mapped into one hectare blocks for the soil reserves of potash, phosphate, magnesium & lime. The fertiliser or lime is applied using precision farming techniques at variable rates to only the areas of the field that require it. The reasons for this are to avoid waste of nutrients by over-application, to maintain or increase crop yields by ensuring that there is adequate nutrition & to improve water quality.

Cultivation

Our cultivation strategy is mainly “min till” (ie. minimum cultivating before planting) or non inversion, by cultivating shallower & not inverting (turning it over) the soil. The result is that the soil structure improves, drainage improves & soil organic matter is maintained (soil organic matter is lost by oxidation when air is incorporated into the soil). The plough is used when there is a need to control grass weeds (grass seeds do not usually emerge from depth & degrade in the soil relatively quickly). Min till cultivation requires less power & fuel.

We  apply chicken muck & sewage sludge to improve the soils on the farms. This helps to maintain soil structure & moisture retention by raising the organic matter content, as well as providing valuable nutrients & trace elements.

Cover crops

Cover crops are grown on much of the land for spring cropping (ie. planting in the spring). These use nutrients (nitrogen, sulphur & phosphate) that would otherwise be leached out of the soil over the winter period & into the water courses & groundwater. The roots of these crops are useful in maintaining & improving soil structure. Firstly they penetrate the soil & then as they decompose they provide organic matter & channels for water to drain through.

A range of crops are grown in rotation to prevent the build up of disease, particularly soil borne diseases such as Club Root & Take All. Varietal selection (eg we can choose a different variety of wheat) of each crop is based on yield & disease resistance.

If you’ve found this interesting, look out for new posts on this blog & in our enewsletter. If you don’t get the latter, but would like to, just click HERE.

You can watch the farming year from our Skylark Nature Trail which is a free 45 min walk starting from & finishing in the car park at Apley Farm Shop (TF11 9EF).

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