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Nutrient Stratification in No-Till Soil. What Can We Do About It?

By Frederik Vilhelm Larsen

When you practice long-term direct seeding, phosphorus and potassium can become concentrated in the top of the soil. This is particularly relevant when combining direct seeding with manure application, where the manure is typically distributed on the soil surface.

Surface application is perfectly fine for nitrogen and sulfur, since both are highly mobile and easily move deeper into the soil. The challenge lies with P and K.

Soil mobility of phosphorous and potassium

The first thing to note is that K moves in sandy soil (i.e., JB4 and below), whereas K behaves much like phosphorus above JB4. This means that K does not move within the soil profile.

Next is phosphorus (P). P does not move within the soil and only diffuses a few millimeters towards the root during plant uptake. In our directly seeded cultivation systems, we hope to recruit mycorrhizal fungi and earthworms to assist with P and K supply.

Earth worms and mycorrhiza impact nutrient availability

We often observe how earthworms can create a fertile topsoil lining along their burrows deep into the soil. Usually, plant roots follow these burrows, intuitively suggesting better P and K uptake where earthworm burrows have facilitated this. Whether mycorrhizal fungi can supply the crop with sufficient P is debated, but we can observe that direct seeding has the potential to provide favorable conditions for them to do their best.

Experiments with deep placement of P and K

In Australia, they have been conducting experiments on nutrient stratification in agricultural soil for many years. This is partly because they have a longer and more widespread tradition of direct seeding, but also because their old soil naturally has low nutrient content. Here, it has been shown that as a rule of thumb, a crop takes up 50% of its P from below 10 cm in the soil.

In the province of Queensland, over a 10-year period, the effect of a series of experiments on deep placement of P and K at a depth of 20-25 cm was investigated. Specifically, this was done as a single crop rotation allocation that could benefit several subsequent crops. P and K were placed at a depth of 25 cm and with either 25 or 50 cm row spacing. The main conclusion from the experiment was increased yields of 10-40%, primarily for spring crops. I would expect winter wheat to have a smaller response to deep placement of P and K because winter wheat can take up more P and K from the surface before the soil dries out during spring and summer.

If one were to experiment with this under Danish conditions, it would be advisable to place 30-50 kg P/ha and 80-100 kg K/ha at a depth of 25 cm when group seeding winter rapeseed in August. This way, subsequent no-till crops can benefit from this depot.

Nutrient stratification in no-till: How to take soil samples

By Frederik Vilhelm Larsen, Crop Consultant, Agroganic

Are you taking your soil samples correctly? It’s winter, and that means time for field planning but also for soil sampling. A common question we often have to address in no-till and reduced tillage agriculture is: how should we handle liming and soil sampling in non-till cultivation systems?

When is stratification an issue?

The term “stratification” means that there can be a concentration difference in the pH and nutrients in a soil profile depending on the depth. For example, if phosphorus is applied to the soil surface, there is more phosphorus available in the topmost centimeters.

It’s usually not a problem if the soil is regularly mixed by harrowing and, if necessary, plowing. If deeper soil tillage is omitted, then stratification can begin. This can be relevant if superficial harrowing (5-8cm) is primarily performed, or direct seeding is practiced.

This is something we can observe in practice. Attached figures (bottom of the article) provide some specific examples. For instance, pH is approximately 0.5 lower in the upper 10cm of the soil profile compared to the next 10cm. Similarly, there is a significant difference in phosphorus levels between the upper and lower samples in our experiment. If only regular soil samples (0-25cm) are taken, it might average out an acute issue in the top centimeters of the soil profile.

What can we use this knowledge for?

First and foremost, we must consider that the sampling depth for soil samples should match our soil cultivation history and strategy. If we don’t till the soil for an extended period and sow directly, we should be prepared to deal with local acidification in the top of the soil. Fortunately, this is not necessarily a problem and can be easily solved by applying small amounts of agricultural lime (e.g., 500-1000kg/ha) every few years to avoid falling behind.

How to deal with phosphorus stratification in plowed and no-till systems

Phosphorus stratification can be worse because phosphorus hardly moves in the soil. It becomes particularly problematic in dry years because as soon as the soil dries out, nutrients cannot move in the soil solution.

In this case, a tentative argument for rotational plowing can be made. Thus, after nutrient stratification (probably taking at least 5 years) in the top centimeters of the soil profile, turning the soil upside down and starting the process anew is possible.

If direct seeding and/or superficial harrowing are practiced, some preventive measures need to be considered. Two specific solutions are possible.

First, in a direct seeding system, work towards applying phosphorus by placing it with the seeder. Never apply on the soil surface through broad spreading. This way, P is moved a few centimeters into the soil where it is closer to the crop’s roots. Similarly, applying manure into the soil would be relevant if practically possible.

Secondly, one can consider a strategy for phosphorus application through foliar feeding directly with flat-spray nozzles on the crop. This way, P can be applied directly on crop leaves, avoiding application on the soil.

Concentration differences after many years of direct seeding show that phosphorus is very immobile in the soil. That is, if there is a risk of phosphorus leaching, it is mainly due to particle runoff from the soil surface (wind/water erosion). This is effectively eliminated by practicing direct seeding.

 

BIOSTIMULANTS AND REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE?

Agroganic is determined to be a leading player in regenerative agriculture: The topic of this year’s field experiments – BIOSTIMULANTS

During the past years, an array of new biostimulant products have hit the shelves. At Agroganic, we are testing the effects of some of these products to explore the benefits of biostimulants.

What are biostimulants? Biostimulants are neither pesticides nor fertilizers but an umbrella term for a range of substances that can be applied to the soil, seeds, or crops to stimulate growth. Many types of biostimulants have been introduced so far but some of the major groups include amino acids, compost extract containing microorganisms, and nitrogen fixating bacteria.

At Agroganic we want to know whether biostimulants could be one of the tools in the future of agriculture, leading to hardier crops, higher yields, and lower inputs of fertilizers and pesticides. To explore the potential of biostimulants, we have launched a series of field experiments to test the effects of amino acids and compost extracts in winter wheat, spring barley, and fava beans.

If you are as intrigued as we are to find out what these new products can do for the future of farming, keep an eye out for our upcoming articles and updates on the field experiments or contact us at contact@agroganic.com if you already now want to get started on implementing biostimulants in your agribusiness.

The Path to Regenerative Agriculture

Regenerative agriculture isn’t achieved overnight but there are many steps you can take to get you closer to that goal. No till farming is one of the key principles in regenerative agriculture and at Agroganic we have the pleasure of working with clients who dare to take this step.

One of our clients who has been practicing no till farming for many years is Niels Hansen. Niels hasn’t ploughed his fields since 2008 and doesn’t even own a plough. He stopped ploughing his oil seed rape fields in the 90s and has since only driven in his fields with his direct seeder. Instead, Niels lets the cover crops and the microorganisms do the work.

Agriculture is constantly evolving, and for Niels, improving his soil is an ongoing process. He is passionate about working with the soil instead of against it to discover which processes it can handle on its own to the benefit of both his business and nature.

There are a lot of benefits to no till farming but for Niels, the most important one is that it gets easier to be a farmer. He notes that it might take a while to restore the soil, but when you have, it does a lot of the work for you. To him, it’s a big advantage to save precious time when he doesn’t have to plough and till, and it doesn’t hurt to save money on fuel either. And then it’s even good for the soil.

Another benefit Niels has experienced is that he doesn’t have to spray with insecticides anymore and he hasn’t sprayed with fungicides for the past three years either. Instead, the soil and crops are doing the work for him. In the future, he hopes to further reduce his input of pesticides.

If Niels’ story got you interested in learning more about no till farming, our consultants at Agroganic are experts on the subject and ready to help. Contact us here,

Get started with precision farming

Precision farming is a great tool towards a more sustainable way of farming. The available technology allows us to achieve higher yields, save costs, increase biodiversity, and attain better efficiency from field to field. The benefits are many, but how do you know where to start?

The important thing is to take it one step at a time. The possibilities with the new technology are endless and that’s why it’s necessary to start out small. Each individual farm must discover the most beneficial way to incorporate precision farming to reach its full potential.

Using precision farming for graduation of seeds, fertilizer, and pesticides can save costs, and when you redistribute your input to where it’s needed, it’s beneficial for the environment as well. Spot spraying with herbicides only where the weed actually is instead of the whole field, can save up to 60-80% of herbicide doses, depending on the weed pressure.

With rising costs of pesticides and fertilizers as well as tighter legislation, it can pay off to look into how the new technology can help your agribusiness continue to thrive in the future.

At Agroganic, our consultants are experts in precision farming and figuring out which solutions are optimal for your fields. We offer application maps for graduation of seeds and fertilizer as well as spot spraying, and we’re ready to assist with equipment and technology to find the best solution for you. We can also help you with data management: when your tractor drives in the field, it collects valuable data that holds enormous potential if you know how to utilize it. Existing data can already be used to optimize efficiency on an individual field level. Collected data can be a valuable asset in negotiations with stakeholders as it gives us the opportunity to show how we use technology and our professional knowledge to improve our farming practices for the benefit of the environment as well as our bottom line.

Figure out how precision farming can be beneficial for you and have a talk about equipment by contacting us at https://agroganic.com/contact/

The principles of direct drilling

Direct drilling is a convenient way to establish your crop. It can save time and costs, and it’s good for the soil. During direct drilling, seeds are placed in the stubble of the previous crop without any prior soil cultivation. This leaves the soil pores intact, conserves soil moisture, and prevents germination of the soil seed bank. Minimum soil disturbance is a key principle of regenerative agriculture and is a great way to cultivate a healthy soil.

Direct drilling has many benefits but how do you make sure the conditions are optimal?

Typical issues farmers face when they want to do direct drilling are problems with wet soil, cold soil temperatures because of the layer of straw from the previous crop that prevents the soil from heating up as fast as a plowed field, and that the crops emerge later” crop advisor Kristian Thomsen states.

Luckily, there are ways to work around all of these issues.

To use direct drilling, the soil needs to be dried up enough, so the soil pores won’t be damaged when driving in the field and create water-logging. It is better to wait until the soil is dry enough than to establish early and risk closing the soil pores, preventing water from draining.

You can reduce the risk of wet soils in the spring if you make sure you have a good soil structure with a large earthworm population to create macropores, which will reduce waterlogging and create better drained fields. Establishing a good cover crop with taproots in the fall will also help draining the fields in the spring.

If you have problems with cold soil because of residual straw from the previous crop, it can be beneficial to remove the layer of straw with a straw rake, allowing the soil to warm up more quickly.

Direct drilling can cause the crops to emerge a little later than in plowed fields but this can be made up for by increasing the number of seeds when sowing. The individual plant might grow less bushy, but an increased number of plants will compensate for this” Kristian explains.

Preparing a good seedbed is essential for a well-established crop when using direct drilling to make sure the seed is placed precisely and has good contact with the soil. Choosing the right seed drill for the field is important. There are two types of direct seed drills – tine drills and disc drills. With a tine drill, a seed tine is pulled through the soil and the seed is placed behind the tine. With a disk drill, a roller disc cuts a groove in the ground where the seed is laid and the groove is pressed in again. There are pros and cons to both types.

An advantage of the tine drill is that it works well to place seeds underneath the surface of crop residue, which increases the likelihood that it will be placed in direct contact with the soil. The tine drill also creates mineralization in the groove which can help earlier germination of the seeds. The cons, however, are that there is a risk that residual plant material on the field can be dragged along with the drill, and that the tine causes slightly more soil disturbance, risking larger germination from the soil seed bank.

With disc seed drills, a disc cuts through both crop residues and cover crops, which makes it better suited for fields with larger cover crops, but there is an increased risk of hair-pinning (crop residue being pushed into the seed slot) which can compromise the seeds’ contact with the soil.

If you are just starting out with direct drilling, it can be a good idea to start with crops like peas or fava beans that have large seeds and lots of germination potential since they are less sensitive to seedbed issues. Spring barley on the other hand requires very precise drilling and optimal conditions to become well-established.

Are you eager to get started with direct drilling or do you have questions about the methods you are currently using? Contact crop advisor Kristian Thomsen at krt@agroganic.com if you would like to know more.

Meet our new consultant Jeppe Grabow!

At Agroganic, we are lucky to have Jeppe Grabow as the newest addition to our consultant team. Jeppe has many years of practical experience with large scale farming in Estonia where he was in charge of management of fields and machinery at a 2000 ha property.

Jeppe is an expert in optimizing operations on large scale agribusinesses and is passionate about helping farmers improve their practices.

My greatest strength as a consultant is the amount of practical experience I bring to the table. I know what works in the field and what doesn’t because I’ve tried most of it. I have the advantage of being able to relate to the farmer because I know the ins and outs of the day to day work in the field.”

In Estonia, Jeppe also facilitated cooperation with machinery dealers to arrange machine rentals, so he has a lot of experience with all types of farm machinery. He became an expert in identifying issues, figuring out solutions, and outsourcing assignments to make operations run as smoothly as possible. Now Jeppe has returned to Denmark to use all his knowledge in a new context.

What excites me most about the position in Agroganic is to get the opportunity to work with passionate and knowledgeable colleagues who I can learn from. I’m eager to dive into the new position of going from a hands-on approach to a consultant and I hope I can use all my experience to make a difference for other farmers.”

Jeppe will primarily work with our Danish clients in Jutland, but will also work with our clients in Estonia and the Baltics, where his experience will be invaluable.

My favorite thing is to help farmers optimize their processes and when they can see that my recommendations help their business. Many countries don’t have independent consultant services, so the prospect of giving advice from a farmer’s perspective and not a profit or sales perspective, is very interesting to me.”

Many agribusinesses are increasing in size, and Jeppe predicts that this can cause management issues if the farmers aren’t properly prepared for it. He wants to help farmers be prepared for the future and the challenges it might bring. That is also why he has worked with regenerative approaches like no-till whenever possible, especially in oil seed rape and winter wheat.

When it makes sense, why not do it? It’s less work and it’s good for the soil and for nature. I’d like to see agriculture develop in a direction that leaves more room for biodiversity.”

In the future, Jeppe will be working with precision farming as well, joining our other experts in helping clients get started with precision farming.

We are excited to have Jeppe on the team and we hope you will give him a warm welcome.

View the whole team here.

Reasons to document your sustainable development

Your first question might be: what exactly is an ESG report? ESG stands for Environment (E), Social (S), and Governance (G), and to make an ESG report is a way to document the sustainable development of your business. In this article, we explain how ESG reports can be beneficial to you and how it works.

Farmers deliver essential food, feed and fuel to the world. Sustainability can be defined as minimizing impact on the planet while meeting the needs of consumers and communities. Your agricultural business, like every business, is deeply intertwined with environmental, social, and governance concerns and the subjects represent possibilities to pursue as well as risks to avoid.

If you own and farm land it is an advantage to begin to document your sustainable efforts and areas of actions in an ESG report sooner rather than later. ESG-reporting can help point out business opportunities as well as risks for farmers and landowners. At the same time, it serves as documentation of current sustainability efforts and progress. The documentation functions as a sustainability assurance and risk assessment to your stakeholders.

 

What are the components of the ESG report?

The E in ESG, environmental criteria, includes the resources your company takes in, the waste it discharges, and the consequences for living beings as a result. For an agricultural enterprise important areas to focus on include water and air quality, nature and biodiversity, soil fertility, and optimal resource use. Not least, E encompasses carbon emissions and influence on climate change.

S, social criteria, addresses the relationships your company has and the reputation it fosters with the people and institutions in the communities where you farm the land and do business. For agriculture, S translates into areas such as employee well-being and working conditions, livestock health and welfare, as well as local anchoring and interaction with the local community.

G, governance, is the internal system of practices, controls, and procedures your company adopts in order to govern itself, make effective decisions, comply with law, and meet the needs of external stakeholders. Working actively with company strategy, a thorough risk management scheme, and third-party certifications, like Global GAP, are ways of establishing good governance of your company.

 

A strong environmental, social, and governance (ESG) proposition can create value for you in five essential ways:

Top-line growth: A strong ESG proposition helps companies tap into new markets and expand in existing markets, while it also drives consumer preference.

Cost reductions: Resource efficiency is a step in the sustainable direction while also optimising economic outcome.

Productivity uplift: A strong ESG proposition can help attract and retain quality employees which is very desirable as employee turnover lowers productivity significantly. At the same time, it can enhance motivation and instill a sense of purpose.

Investment and asset optimisation: When it comes to ESG, it’s important to bear in mind that a do nothing approach is usually an eroding line, not a straight line. While investments to update your operations can be substantial, continuing to rely on less sustainable stables, equipment, or practises can be the most expensive option in the end. The rules of the game are shifting all the time: Bans or limitations on less sustainable production will likely introduce new constraints. Consumer preferences shifting market shares towards greater sustainability will affect market value of production facilities including farms that are not up to date.

Regulatory and legal interventions: Company behaviour considered unsustainable by society is prone to taxes and penalties, like carbon emissions. On the other hand, measures towards greater sustainability are sometimes subsidised by the government or the EU like subsidies for investing in green technology or eco-schemes, part of the EU CAP reform, which aim to encourage the adoption of sustainable agricultural practices.

 

A strong ESG proposition might look as follows:
Top-line growth Attract customers with more sustainable products: Some very big players in the food sector like Orkla, Nestlé, and Unilever are already requesting more sustainable farming methods like conservation agriculture or regenerative agriculture from their suppliers. Achieve better access to resources including financing.
Cost reductions Lower energy consumption. Reduced pesticide use.
Productivity uplift Boost employee motivation. Attract talent through greater social credibility.
Investment and asset optimisation Enhance investment return by better allocating capital for the long term (e.g., more sustainable buildings, equipment, and processes on farm property). Ensure your farm’s market value. Avoid investments that may not pay off because of longer-term ESG issues.
Regulatory and legal interventions Documenting responsible conduct and sustainable development. Earn EU subsidies and/or government support.

 

The benefits of ESG reporting are many, and at Agroganic, our consultant Kirsten Marie Risbjerg has great experience on the topic and is ready to assist you with creating your ESG proposition. Contact us here to learn more about what ESG can do for you and how we can help you.

Regenerative is where realistic and ambitious meet

The path to regenerative farming is a journey, not an overnight change, but it pays off in the end. Farming regeneratively results in more resilient crops, more stable yields, less work, and reduced input costs. But how do you get started?

Few people start out as regenerative farmers, especially on a large scale, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Generally, large scale farmers will approach the journey to regenerative agriculture either as conventional or organic farmers. Being regenerative isn’t an either-or-situation but rather a scale of how well you incorporate the principles in ways that make sense for each individual field.

Agroganic has a history of large-scale conventional farming and has worked with conservation agriculture (CA) for many years before choosing to be extra ambitious and take the next step towards regenerative agriculture.

As seen from this figure from the project ‘Design for Sustainable Agrifood Systems’ by Kristine Fisker and Sara Dømler, different types of farming systems can achieve better regenerative practices, depending on their starting points. Organic farmers can achieve better regenerative results by working towards less soil disturbance, while CA farmers can work on reducing their pesticide use. Conventional farmers need to work on both their soil disturbance approach as well as their pesticide use. All three farming methods are valid starting points, and the figure shows that different measures are needed to become more regenerative in different kinds of farming systems.

Regenerative farming is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Each measure will affect fields in different ways depending on the field history, soil types, and local conditions like weather, and it can take time to achieve the desired conditions. Once you have though, nature takes over many of the tasks and makes it easier to be a farmer. The benefits speak for themselves, and regenerative farming increases the resilience of your crops as well as your agribusiness.

How to move towards regenerative agriculture

There are many steps you can take already today to get started with turning your agribusiness regenerative and you don’t have to do it alone. At Agrogaric our consultants are experts in regenerative agriculture and have many years of experience with helping large scale farmers work with regenerative principles. Contact us today to here more on +45 2010 0096 or at contact@agroganic.com

 

Companion crops can help reduce your input

Companion crops are a secondary crop grown with the cash crop and are an important part of regenerative agriculture.

“When done right, companion crops can add nutrients to the soil, reduce pest attacks on the cash crop, minimize weeds, and save input,” our consultant David Hans Dresen states.

Choosing the right companion crops can be an excellent way to reduce the amount of money spent on input. Some companion crops allow you to use less fertilizer by providing nutrients for the cash crops. Legumes like clover or vetch can add N to the soil because of their nitrogen fixing abilities while phacelia is in a symbiosis with mycorrhiza fungi that can make soil phosphorus available. Other companion crops can be used to combat pests and weeds, reducing the need for insecticides and herbicides.

Choose the companion crop(s) in accordance with which issues you want to tackle. The companion crop can be sown together with or after the main crop but which strategy to use depends on the cash crop and the companion crop. It is important to make sure the companion crop doesn’t grow too vigorously, causing it to compete with the cash crop.

“Finding the right companion crop strategy is a delicate balance to get right and making sure the cover crop delivers the right benefits while ensuring it doesn’t outcompete the cash crop is essential,” David says and adds, “Companion crops are part of the future of farming whether we want them or not. We might as well get started with finding a beneficial companion crop strategy now before legislation forces our hand.”

Getting your companion crop right can be a challenge, but you don’t have to figure it out alone. Contact Agroganic today to hear more about how our experts can help you with your companion crop strategy.