Results from NIAB TAG’s STAR project, now in its tenth year, have highlighted changes in crop performance between differing rotation and cultivation approaches in the study.
The STAR Project, based near Otley in Suffolk on a heavy soil type, compares four different cultivation methods - plough, deep and shallow non-inversion, and a managed approach where decisions are made annually based on field assessments. The study also compares four different rotations based around winter cropping, spring cropping, continuous wheat and alternate wheat / fallow rotations. This forms part of a fully factorial design delivering 16 treatments.
Ron Stobart, NIAB TAG’s farming systems specialist, speaking at the STAR Project Open Day on Friday 5th June 2015, told farmers that long term research results are showing differences in crop performance in response to different cultivation systems.
“The rotational structure of the study means we grow wheat every other year, so the long term nature of the project now means we have four iterations of wheat established through plough, deep or shallow based systems over the duration of the study,” said Mr Stobart.
“The results over this time have been surprising. Research is demonstrating relatively little difference in mean wheat yield between the systems. While there is some variation year to year, the average wheat yields between plough, deep or shallow based systems have all been within a couple of percent of each other on this site. However, margin is the real driver here and of the plough, deep and shallow approached the deep is tending to give us the higher figure.”
The story is not quite the same for break crops, and while it takes longer to get sufficient iterations of specific crops to build up a similar picture as has been developed for wheat, findings are suggesting that break crop yields can be more variable in response to cultivation systems and some are better suited to non-inversion systems than others.
Mr Stobart also drew attendee’s attention to the New Farming Systems (NFS) project at Morley; this suite of long term studies contains one experiment with similar treatments to the STAR project but on a medium soil type.
“We don’t yet have the same duration as the STAR project in the NFS study at Morley, but finding in the winter wheat are generally similar to those we are seeing in the STAR Project. That is, the yield is relatively stable irrespective of the cultivation system. However, on the lighter soil at Morley there is a suggestion of a yield drop off with the shallow tillage, but equally some suggestion we can use cover crops here to help add structure and perhaps mitigate this yield loss.”
It takes a long time and a lot of effort to set up and run these project and many years before these long term trends can be established and explored. Mr Stobart also noted thanks to the supporting charitable Trusts.
“We have had great support from the Felix Cobbold Trust and The Chadacre Trust for the STAR project and similarly from The Morley Agricultural Foundation and the JC Mann Trust for NFS. These trusts deserve a great deal of thanks and acknowledgment for having the foresight to instigate these studies as we now have unique platforms in East Anglia and are collecting some great information.”
Both the STAR and NFS projects are also contributing to the national AHDB Cereals and Oilseeds Soil Platform project.