top of page
  • Writer's pictureSoil Fertility Services

Annus Horribilis

Updated: Mar 30, 2023

Would anybody have thought we could ever have a year like it? Who could’ve predicted it? Record high rainfall and floods; record high temperatures - 34 degrees plus; record drought; milk chucked away; potatoes chucked away; soil structure wrecked; lowest yields in 30 years; what an Annus Horribilis - and it’s not done yet!

As the Queen said in 1992: “This is not a year on which I shall look back with much undiluted pleasure”

This autumn do not waste money on autumn grade fertiliser, they do not fertilise your soil or your crop.

A living healthy soil needs air, water and food, in that order. After the torrential rain, the air has been driven out of the soil, then it has been baked in oven like temperatures of 34+. Simply put, your beneficial life has been destroyed; the survivors will be the pathogens, that will cause Club Root Take All etc. We need to switch back to the beneficial micro-organisms and get your soil working for you again.

Your soil has plenty of P & K and other minerals, all we need to do is to make them available to your new crop. After all how much Phosphate do you think a seed needs, to produce a strong healthy plant in its first 10 weeks, before winters shut down - not much, maybe 5kg/ha.



Scepticism - “I don’t believe it works”

knowledge - “I can’t afford it not to work”

Indecision - “I’m not sure whether it works or not”

Negativity - “It won’t work here”

Time - It’s just too much messing about”

Learned - “I’ve read all the info about it”

Optimistic - “I’m going to give it a go”

Genuine - “We actually do need to improve things”

Informed - “I understand that it’s not a quick fix”

Caring - “I know it’s a healthier way forward”


Hindsight is all well and good and we can all look back and say “I should have done that” So, let’s rewind...

SFS Newsletter August 2019

“So, heavy rain showers now, what next, a wet autumn? How will your soils cope with it; will it be high run off or can you improve infiltration and get it deep into your soils where it needs to be? You can if you use Humic SCG . This has been used for many years to improve water infiltration both on grasslands and arable cropping. We now include it in our Autumn Nutrition Programme.

SFS Newsletter October 2019

Did you get Humic SC on? This is one of our most long-lived products, preventing bound water and improving water infiltration. Your drainage water should be clear enough to drink. Humic SC has a strong negative charge that pushes the clay colloids apart, thereby reducing the ability to trap water.

With the Humic/fulvic compound there is a good food source for the soil, when you think about it, just one kilo of Humate is equivalent to 10,000kg of straw in terms of contributing to soil humus levels; organic matter may be important but it is humus that is essential, it is the only thing on the planet that microbes actually build, everything else they breakdown – your car/tractor both will be broken down given time, back to elemental form; only organic matter is reformed into humus.”

What happened after that very much set 2020’s yields.

  • Investing and building your soil’s potential, is not a quick fix.

  • It is not a one hit and problem solved

  • It is not something that will instantly undo years of soil battering and abuse!

This biological way of farming is a rocky path, littered with pitfalls along its course; but all who travel this path will have the same long-term goals:

  • Reduce conventional agrichemical inputs

  • Improve soil resilience to adverse conditions

  • Increase crop health

Over the last few years there have been a few instances where I blame myself for not tempering farmers expectations of the biologicals and they have given up before giving the system a real chance, often unfairly comparing it to other systems and practices still in place, things like….

“couldn’t see a difference where your stuff went” “our other field that did not have your product yielded more” “we spent £££s this season on biologicals and never saw that back”

Think of it this way …In 2009 Usain Bolt set a world record time of 9.58 seconds for the 100m, with a top speed of 27.8 mph. Sure there have been runners that used performance enhancing drugs that have come close to that speed and time but Bolt got there Naturally, do you think he got that fast over night and without correct preparation or diet ?

Biological systems can disappoint when farmers continually fail to evolve their practices, embarking on recreational tillage, applying inefficient phosphate fertilisers and repeatedly ignoring what the soil and plants are saying in favour of following a text book.

First understand your elements and why you do - or do not need them:


Associated with plant energy, part of cell membranes and is important for healthy roots and crop quality.


The second most used nutrients by crops (the first being nitrogen). Crops with adequate potassium grow well, are strong, produce sugars and proteins, mature early and resist diseases.


For healthy plant growth, protein formation and building humus.

Without adequate ratios of 10:1 Nitrogen to Sulphur, your soil microbes will begin to degrade your soils Humus, thus reducing your soils resilience).

Our system of building your soil, improving water utilisation and increasing soil plant communication is a season round commitment to your soil. What you do today will affect what happens tomorrow and next season.

  1. Test and analyse soils

  2. Address any remedial issues

  3. Optimise your soil’s ability to better release locked up nutrition to your crop

  4. When there is trash to decompose, assist the biological effort needed in its breakdown

SFS are NOT simply peddling soil saving microbes as ‘the solution’, it’s just a small a part of the ecology that aids soil improvement; combine these beneficial micro-organisms with the correct nutrition and with soil building management practices and you simply have the beginnings of soil regeneration.

Recently I have been reading some of John Kempf and his discussions with various soil/science/farming Gurus’ all speaking about their various experiences, latest innovations and generally how they are trying to improve and develop their farming practices; but one thing struck me following a conversation on twitter: “You find what you look for and won't find what you don't want to see.”

Are you one of the people our Kelly has been calling that said: “We love reading the newsletter but have never tried the biologicals“ or “...used a product once on an area and did not see any difference so we gave up”

Keep reading, but have a little faith, Biological farming IS the future!



With my first year at soil fertility completed I have been asked to “contribute to the newsletter, and to not dwell on the past year too much but to try and look forward with some optimism as it can surely only get better”. So…

When I started working at SFS I wasn’t really aware of just how complicated and inter-linked the life of soils and plants are, as only the basics were really covered in my time spent at college and the emphasis was very much on a ‘high input high output’, chemical-based system.

Over the last year, listening to past Acres conferences in the car and to the Biological Farming podcast, I have come to learn that Biological farming is much more of a mind-set and a different way of thinking from conventional agriculture.

I see regenerative agriculture as a way of future proofing our industry, as chemistry becomes more restricted and due to the Covid situation, a closer spotlight is being put on locally and sustainably produced food. Most weeks there is an article in the Farmers Weekly, relating to either bio-stimulants or lower tillage operations; which surely shows we are not the only ones in the industry looking for a different way of producing our food.

As I travel around sampling, I see that harvest is virtually finished; those farmers who opted for slightly higher output machines than they needed, are relieved at their choice for being able to take advantage of tight weather windows.

The OSR is off to a good start thanks to the warm moist conditions recently and the Vita-Protect appears to be working to try and minimize the likelihood of Flea Beetle damage. The Sugar Beet I have seen, seems to be suffering badly from the ban of ‘Neonics’, which is obvious from the yellow leaves, so we shall have to see within the next few months how this affects the yield. I think this will determine how many people continue to grow this crop in coming seasons.

Worms seem to be starting to return to the upper layers of the soil after burrowing deep over the summer; now they are back, they will start their job of taking trash down post-harvest ready for the biology beneath to turn this into humus.



In The Beginning

Imagine you are a tiny seed thrust into a hostile environment where much of the surrounding area and indigenous life perceives you as an invader. Your best way to survive this conflict, is to make beneficial relationships and quickly make the greatest use of the resources at your disposal.

That’s easier said than done when practically everything within your biome is grappling for the same reservoir of goodies. What you need is to grow big and strong and that needs energy - Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) that is found in all living things.

If a cell needs energy to accomplish a task, the ATP is used and this then becomes Adenosine di-phosphate (ADP). That energy is released and is then available for whatever energy task is at hand. Much like a rechargeable battery, ADP can have a phosphate top up and become ATP once more, ready to be used again. So where is the energy giving Phosphate going to come from?

As a young plant your soil exploration capabilities are quite limited as you’ve barely put your roots out and yes you may have been lucky enough to stumble across some Phosphate within your radius, but more than likely you are going to have to invest in some bribery to get what you want for example Phosphate-fixing biologicals.

Roots can release exudates into the soil that include sugars, amino acids and vitamins, in an attempt to make various elements around them more ‘available’ and they will vary these outputs accordingly depending on their needs. The sugary outputs encourage soil to stick to the roots, meaning that all the microbes within that soil are now in direct communication with the plant root system:

Feed the soil and the soil will feed the plant

Feed the plant and the plant will feed the soil

Due to their size, microbes are not limited by the same constraints as plant roots, this makes them very efficient at scavenging various elements from the air residues and from the soil aggregates; plants will use these ‘allies’ abilities to their full advantage.

We now have a scenario where the plant has utilised some of the available soil nutrition and it can also help itself to the goodies that the microbes have scavenged and harvested, with the further bonus that the attracted bacteria also have additional positive effects other than the nutritional, such as the probiotic relief and their disease suppressing qualities hence it’s a ‘win win’ situation for the plant and free food for the microbes in the form of the exudates.

The long story short, is that plants do better with a helping hand; don’t expect them to perform optimally if they are having to do all the hard work for themselves; so why would you limit your crops potential?


What is a success in a challenging year?

In what has been probably the most peculiar year in recent memory, we have all had to adapt to our ‘new normal’. It’s a term that means different things to different people.

In agriculture we have been rocked by one of the wettest autumns followed by the driest springs. Conditions which, for most, have resulted in some of the poorest yields in decades. It is a year when even the smallest of successes need to be celebrated for the achievements that they represent.

For me, 2 recent successes come to mind. Firstly, with harvest in the West (at the time of writing), only about halfway through, we have had some good results. Winter wheat yielding 9t/ha, spring barley over 8t/ha and higher bushel weights than in 2019.

In a normal year this would be disappointing, in fact, probably depressing. What we have done however, is to achieve this whilst reducing fertiliser & fungicide costs and switching crops over to a ‘Biological approach’.

In my last article I highlighted the need to build resilience into whatever farming system you employ; the majority of my clients have spent less money than they normally would have and that means there is some profit to be made and the soils are still improving.

My other success relates specifically to a product that we have supplied to a client; the adjoining photos look like slightly poor forage brassica crops, and they are! However, a month ago, the client in question was facing having to accept that it would be a total write off with CSFB destroying the germinating plants as quickly as they came up.

Not only did a single application of the Vita-Protect stop the CSFB in their tracks, it gave the crop the vigour it needed, along with the improving conditions, to keep growing. A second application prevented the next new leaves from being attacked and these fields are now starting to catch up and motor.

It should be noted that the better looking field (Fig 2.) was actually drilled later than the filled pictured above (Fig 1.), and the Vita-Protect prevented the CSFB from knocking the crop back at cotyledon stage as it had in the other. The crop is much further forward and had much less damage from CSFB.


Mr Roberts of Worcestershire, was recommended to try the Vita-Protect by a neighbour, having seen the damage by the CSFB to the field in Fig 1.


It’s a very worrying time, as if the Covid threat wasn’t enough with Boris making ‘a real Boris’ of it, “ it ain’t over yet” and now the Brexit negotiation shenanigans; whatever the outcome it will affect all of us and I just don’t trust Miss Truss to negotiate a good deal for us with the USA. They want to dump their cheap beef into our market, along with chicken and other cheap commodities. It means we have to really promote the UK Red Tractor label.

More of our customers are turning organic just because they find they now don’t need the chemical-based products or they are simply growing without most of them and are seeing their soil’s fertility improve.

On the home front, Nichola is a bit up and down and continues to confound the Dr’s, but then what do they know about proper nutrition - next to nothing. She gets Seaweed, selenium, garlic Vitamins C,D,E, plus fruit smoothies; a couple more years and she’ll be running round the bedroom!

Good luck with drilling, if they go in right they mostly come out right!



Newsletter Issue No. 62

63 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page