Cereals: The Arable Event

Don't neglect soil health this spring

07-Apr-2017 by: Mr Tim Kerr - Hutchinsons Fertiliser Manager Hutchinsons

DATE: 7th April 2017

Don’t neglect nutrition and soil health this spring

In a letter to the State Governors in 1937, the 32nd President of the Unites States of America, Franklin D Roosevelt wrote “a Nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.”

80 years on and those words of wisdom about soil still ring true and apply to our farming activities here in the UK. In recognition of the need for common sense advice and decision support in managing this fundamentally precious resource, Hutchinsons is now introducing its Healthy Soils programme (more details about the Healthy Soils programme and our services can be found by visiting us at Cereals – Stand 926.)

Potash – a vital crop requirement

“It is a sad fact that one of the UK’s domestic nutrition resources has been depleted to the point that the owners of the Boulby Mine in the North East of England (the UK’s deepest mine) recently announced they will cease to extract potassium chloride, or MOP as it is commonly known, in the next two years,” explains Tim Kerr, Hutchinsons Fertiliser Manager.

“Boulby supplies over half of the UK’s potash, however it is becoming uneconomical to continue mining potassium chloride. The mine will continue, and its focus will be on polyhalite production which is a valuable fertiliser containing sulphur, potash, magnesium and calcium.”

“Thankfully there are plentiful global supplies of potash and there are other European sources of MOP – Russia, Germany and Spain all have working potash production facilities.”

“Polyhalite, marketed as Polysulphate, will undoubtedly become a more familiar product to farmers in the near future. Not only will the existing potash mine convert its production over to this material but also Sirius Minerals are pursuing an ambitious project to develop a brand-new mine producing polyhalite further down the coast from the existing Boulby mine.”

Mr Kerr notes that as we approach the first round of spring nitrogen applications, it is worth reminding ourselves of the importance of other nutrients such as potash in contributing to yield.

“Nitrogen is a key driver of yield, in part through its role in cell initiation and expansion. Increased cell numbers and size have a positive impact on capturing and converting the energy of the sun into dry matter.”

“More, larger plant cells will consequently require more water to maintain turgor – and potassium is the key element in maintaining the cell tissue’s water content.”

Remarkably, a wheat crop which is not limited by nitrogen will contain between 10 and 15 tonnes per hectare more water than a crop with limited N supply. In order to maintain the benefits of the nitrogen that is increasing the crop’s yield potential, correspondingly more potassium will be needed by the crop, he says.

“I am indebted to Dr Johnny Johnston for this information about the extra water in crops that are not limited by nitrogen. It helps us to understand, in part, the influence of potash on the nitrogen use efficiency.”

High yielding crops need balanced potash requirement

“The phosphate and potash recommendations in the tables in the Fertiliser manual (RB209) refer to specific yields (e.g. 8 tonnes per ha of winter wheat) and it should be stressed that if your yield expectation is greater than that, then it is worth paying careful attention to balancing the potash requirements of the crop.”

Mr Kerr suggest that early spring is as an ideal time for applying potash, so it is a good idea to check the levels of plant available K in your soil by having a sample analysed and ensure that sufficient K has been, or is, applied to meet the crop potential.

“Yield will be compromised where soil K levels cannot meet the demand of the crop. Considering that the peak uptake can reach 10kg/ha per day in cereals through the late spring, it pays to understand the capabilities of your soil and its ability to replenish the K in the water being taken up by the roots.”

This brings us back to the topic of soil and understanding its properties and how to look after it.
Soil really is the farmer’s most precious resource - we should therefore take heed of the words of Mr Roosevelt, and do our best to improve and preserve it.

Questions on this article, or planning nutrition for your crops this spring?

Please contact us at information@hlhltd.co.uk


662 words

Notes to Editors:


  • Paul Hobson

Tel : 01945 586413

Email : paul.hobson@hlhltd.co.uk




  • Niamh Tye

Tel: 01780 410902

Email: niamh@siafu.biz



With turnover in excess of £200 million, the business has grown to become one of the leading national agricultural and horticultural input advice and supply companies. Hutchinsons takes a dynamic, forward thinking approach to supporting grower clients in the production of quality crops and food in a sustainable and responsible manner.

Agriculture and horticulture have always faced fluctuating conditions and prosperity and the industry is once again experiencing a period of significant change. 

Hutchinsons recognises that the people working within the business are the most important ingredient in maintaining and enhancing the quality of services offered to their customers.

Hutchinsons employs over 400 people, more than half of which are directly involved with the provision of professional agronomic services, supported by efficient and dedicated distribution and administration teams, who are committed to the highest levels of customer service and support.




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