Farming Insights – Why do we need to add nutrients to the soil?

All plants, whether grown commercially or in our gardens need the same things in order to produce healthy growth. The soil must not be too acidic or alkaline for the type of plant. It must contain certain nutrients to help the plant form strong roots. The plant must be able to convert the sunlight and water into energy to develop healthy plants and be able to produce fruit or flower for propagation.

The nutrients required are the same for the farmer albeit on a much larger scale than for the allotment gardener. These soil improvers do not last indefinitely in the ground and will require replenishment over a period of time. The soil should be tested initially to establish the acidity.  A PH level that is too acidic, can be addressed by adding lime in a powdered form before sowing the crops. These are the large piles of white powder that you may see in the corners of fields in the springtime and once spread over the fields, it will gradually improve the soil over a few years. After sowing, additional lime in a granular form can be added in the form of top dressing, as a quick release boost to the plants.

Having established the correct PH level of the soil and the sowing completed, the farmer will then arrange for Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium  (NPK) to be added to the crops, not long after the shoots are starting to show and again, later in the growing season. The ratio of NPK added to the field will depend on the type of plant being grown, as some need more of one of the nutrients than others. Getting these calculations correct is important, as both fertiliser and lime products are not cheap and the consequences to the productivity are huge. In addition, the farmer may need to employ a specialist crop spraying contractor.

Obviously the organic farmer does not apply these extra chemicals to the crops. The result of this can be that their “growing” costs are much lower, but so is their productivity level, compared with a non-organic arable producer. The net result in some cases, is that the profits from organic farming can be higher than from a traditional commercial activity.

Any comments or questions?  Please contact Jean Arnott on 07881 093485 or email [email protected]