Geographical description

The Allerton Project runs a 333ha mainly arable farm at Loddington in central England. The soils are mainly Hanslope and Denchworth clays overlying Iron stone. The farm is at approximately 150 metres asl and receives approximately 650mm annual rainfall.

Farm map
Case study farm at Loddington, central England.

Pedo-climatic zone
Atlantic Central/ North, clay soils

Cropping systems

Cropping intensity
The cropping system is broadly typical of others in the area but adopts an Integrated Farm Management approach with the creation of habitats to encourage beneficial predatory and pollinating insects and other wildlife.

Types of crop
The crop rotation is wheat, rape, wheat, beans or oats but pasture is also present on the farm and grass leys are being brought into the rotation. A three or four course rotation including wheat, ape and beans or oats is typical of the local area, although a two course wheat rape rotation has been practiced until recently.

Management of soil, water, nutrients and pests
Over the past decade, there has been a move from plough based to reduced tillage and most recently, a no till approach to crop establishment. Crop residues are returned to the soil. Cover crops are adopted before spring sow crops. Soil are tested for P, K and Mg at least once in each rotation. Some fields mapped for soil type and nutrients. Variable rate N application using Yara’s N Sensor. No irrigation.

Soil improving cropping system and techniques currently used
Reduced tillage or no-till, crop residue returned, cover crops.

Problems that cause yield loss or increased costs
Soil compaction and low organic matter affect rooting capacity, nutrient uptake and soil moisture, as well as runoff and water pollution. Blackgrass (Alopecurus myosuroides), often associated with waterlogged soils, causes severe competition and high herbicide costs.

External drivers and factors

Institutional and political drivers
CAP Greening has increased stages in crop rotation locally, but not at Loddington itself. Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive influences pesticide use and encourages IPM. Water Framework is a major policy driver influencing soil management, fertiliser application, cropping and pesticide use.

Societal drivers
Environmental criteria such as popular interest in wildlife conservation influence production of cereals for human consumption (e.g. Conservation Grade, Kelloggs). Conservation of farmland birds and pollinating insects.

Bio-physical drivers
Prolonged heavy rainfall in 2012 affected yields over a two-year period. Increasing intensity of winter storm events, and dry summers could supress yields in future. Soil management needs to adapt accordingly.

 Microbial biomass
Microbial biomass as a function of tillage and cover crop in spring 2015.