It's time to take stock of soil structure
Soils must be sufficiently dried out before attempting to loosen any compaction from livestock
Farmers looking to rejuvenate battered permanent pasture and leys that have been subjected to continual livestock trampling and heavy machinery over the past 12 months should wait until soils have dried out sufficiently before attempting to loosen compaction. That's the message coming from specialist Richard Hales from grassland subsoiler manufacturer Sumo.
The advice is backed by independent soil management adviser Philip Wright. "Subsoiling with an implement which fractures the soil to improve drainage and rooting, whilst at the same time leaving the surface relatively undisturbed, requires the soil to be dry enough to do the job properly," suggests Mr Hales.
"The late summer/early autumn period is a good time, especially after a dry week of weather and when silage or harvest has been finished."
He stresses that this applies particularly to clay soils, where hasty use of a subsoiler may aid immediate surface water movement but is likely to only exacerbate sub-surface problems.
"The likelihood is that any action immediately after heavy rain, even if it's just an attempt to encourage the drainage of surface water, will do more damage than good by smearing and compressing the subsoil rather than fracturing it. It is better to hold off subsoiling until soils start to dry out because it is then that subsoiling will create the desired shattering effect that aids drainage and rooting."
Mr Wright, whose consultancy frequently advises tillage farmers with soil structure problems, says many of the same management tips he gives for cropping land management also apply to grassland.
The effects of compaction and poor drainage in long-term pasture have been particularly evident this year, he says, while many leys still down following last year's silage or grazing will have suffered from compaction created by machinery or livestock.
"A spade is just as important to good grassland management - whether leys or permanent pasture - as it is to the assessment of tillage soils," says Mr Wright.