“When it dries up in the spring, it really does dry up very quickly…”

David Aglen talks of how, despite the perceptions of wetness, farmland in the Eden catchment can dry up quickly in dry weather. He describes a drilling technique he is trying which can reduce soil disturbance and retain worm channels which are excellent at providing drainage. 

Tina McGuiness: Can you tell me about what you were saying, before, about you could see the rain and the water flow off, due to the concrete? #00:00:09-1#

David Aglen: Well, we know, we farm part of the estate is on the boundary of urban areas and, when it does rain heavily, the water courses rise very, very quickly and that’s simply due to the, a lot of it is to do with the fact that the water is channelled straight into the water courses, off the hard surfaces, in towns and villages. #00:00:31-3#

Tina McGuiness: And what’s caused the hard surfaces? You seem to be indicating that there was an increase in the volume #00:00:35-9#

David Aglen: Well it’s just building more houses. More houses. #00:00:38-4#

Tina McGuiness: So development? #00:00:38-9#

David Aglen: Yeah development. And you do see it off the farmland too, now, particularly if it’s been dry like it has been. The ground’s gone very hard and so, if you get heavy rain straight away, it doesn’t soak in, instantly. It kind of runs off the top and you do see the burns rising, as a result of that, in other parts of the estate. #00:00:59-1#

Tina McGuiness: And is that dryness, around this time, is that unusual or is that normal? From your experience? #00:01:05-9#

David Aglen: It’s probably more usual than we’d like to think. Farmer are great for moaning about it being too wet but, when it dries up in the spring, it really dries up very quickly. So we’re trying to use different soil management techniques to try and improve the water holding capacity of our soil, on the estate. So we’ve just been looking at direct drilling crops so reducing the amount of cultivation, significantly and we’ve just purchased a machine, specifically for that reason. #00:01:41-7#

Tina McGuiness: So does that drill in deeper then? #00:01:44-6#

David Aglen: No it doesn’t. What it does is that, if you leave a soil undisturbed, the worms in the soil, they burrow up and down. They’re trying to get the carbon that’s on the surface. That’s what they feed on and them going up to the surface to get it, they leave their channels behind and they stay intact. They don’t collapse, unless we come along with a cultivator or a heavy machine and squash it and move the soil around and that destroys them. But the water. These channels, if left intact, so if you don’t cultivate the field, they drain the water very, very quickly. Assuming you’ve got good under-drainage, so good field drainage systems underneath, which most agricultural land does, nowadays. But if you can put a seed into the ground, without disturbing the soil, then you leave all these drainage pored intact, which is what we’ve been doing. Although, it’s not an easy system to master, in Scotland, due to our climate. That’s not to say we can’t master it. We will but we need to learn how to do it. In every square metre, it’s reckoned, in every square metre of soil that is undisturbed, there is the equivalent of a drain hole 10cm in diameter. Now, if you take a bucket of water and pour it down a hole that size, it disappears very, very quickly. So why shouldn’t soil absorb a lot of water? Why should fields flood? #00:03:17-3#

Tina McGuiness: And how does this new system of drilling work then? Presumably, it’s because it doesn’t disturb that worm cast infrastructure? #00:03:25-2#

David Aglen: All it does is just the machines make a small groove in the soil, puts the seed in, cover it up and that’s it. But we’ve been conditioned to learn that we need to cultivate and move the soil. Make it look brown and then it goes green and it looks wonderful. Whereas, it looks a bit scruffy. And it’s not a new system. It was tried in the 70s, in the country, in the UK, and it failed dismally, as a rule, because most people didn’t really understand what they were trying to achieve. And the technology to do it wasn’t really up to the job. You go to America, Brazil, and South American country, Australia, lots of parts of the continent and they’ve been doing it ever since then and succeeded. #00:04:07-7#

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