Finnish crops systems could boost UK farm efficiency

Adopting a min-till or no-till arable system – sewing onto residues of the previous crop without loosening topsoil – could help British farmers improve efficiency, according to AHDB.

Because large parts of Finland are covered in snow during winter months, the country’s growing season is at least 100 days shorter than the 280-day average in the UK.

On a recent visit to Finnish agricultural institutions and farms, AHDB were shown how farmers use a ‘no-till’ or ‘min-till’ approach to deal with the country’s short growing season. About 45% of arable crop is grown using a min-till or no-till method, with fertiliser added below the seed with a covering of soil over it, to avoid the fertiliser burning the seed.

Finland is Europe’s biggest adopter of no-till cereal production, stated AHDB.

“The first snow starts to fall in Finland in September, with spring arriving as late as May,” said AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds strategy director Martin Grantley-Smith. “These conditions may at first seem challenging but it has driven efficiency in the country’s farming systems.

“While lower machinery purchase, running and fuel costs are seen as a benefit of no-till or min-till systems, they don’t ignore the time savings made. Most Finnish growers are part-time farmers, with no-till using less time to establish crops than conventional cultivations; this allows farmers more time to pursue their other jobs – this approach could benefit UK farmers.”

The pivotal element in the success or failure of the system are the choices farmers make on the ground, added AHDB Arable Knowledge Exchange manager Harry Henderson.

“Considering and understanding a number of factors, from drainage, to soil conditions, having patience with ground temperature and making sure their machinery is smaller, with a system flexible to changes.”

He said no-till farmers will revert to old methods when necessary, and typically own a cultivator and a plough.

“For British farmers and agronomists considering the move to no-till, there’s definitely a lot we can learn and share from the systems the Finns have adopted to cope with their climate,” added Henderson.

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