Case study – Simeon Morgan Farming
Simeon Morgan Farming (SMF) has been tilling land in the New Forest for well over 20 years and currently grows around 800 acres of maize.
The New Forest National Park Authority has been working with SMF in Keyhaven to help secure £40,000 of funding to trial a new method of planting called strip-till
Strip-till is a conservation farming technique that requires special machinery that prepares just the seeding line ready for planting crops in rows. Researchers say it helps improve soil conditions and better yields while delivering up to a 40% reduction in diesel used.
“Until now the old method required deep cultivation or ploughing and subsoiling, and then secondary cultivation to produce a fine firm seedbed across the width of the field although the maize seed is planted in rows 75 cms apart. This technique is time consuming, expensive, with high fossil fuel usage, causes high water evaporation rates and allows for little improvement in soil health. Our new method is showing yields comparable to if not better than our previous methods.” – Simeon Morgan
Over the last two seasons SMF, using a new piece of machinery called a ‘striger’, has been trialing ‘strip-tilling’ a 15-20 cm wide ‘seeding zone’. This advanced farming tool is literally on the cutting edge of sustainable agriculture creating the seeding strip in one pass rather than the usual three or four operations required. The land either side of the strip is completely untouched. This is further enhanced with the use of ‘cover cropping’ with additional plants to provide soil protection and prevent the loss of valuable nutrients.
The creation of the tilled strip ahead of seeding the maize also allows for a more targeted approach to nutrient management. All the SMF land is soil tested and mapped for phosphate and potash levels and therefore fertilisers can be applied in the strip at a variable rate for increased efficiencies. It’s led to a potash reduction of around 50%. Additionally the reduction of man and machinery impact such as soil compaction will improve soil health. The undisturbed zone either side of the seeding zone will maintain its sequestered carbon from uncultivated soils and reduce the release of CO2.
“We have been able to demonstrate the benefits of our new method to other farmers both within and near to the New Forest. We’ve hosted an open morning for farmers to view the process in operation. They see for themselves how only one pass is now required by the machine to plant the maize as well as the ‘clean’ and cultivated strip and the area in between that remains untouched” – Simeon Morgan
As part of the initial project evaluation there have been extensive trials to prove the model would be successful in reducing costs and enhancing the soil and plant health. Following the grant funding the team at SMF is confident of the long-term success of the strip-tilled maize process in changing the future of farming in protected landscapes like the New Forest.