The West Coast Grassroots club had a separate meeting with grassland specialist, Charlie Morgan, before the main Farmer Network event at Rigg House Farm near Workington on 24th August.

Six of the club were able to make it for a hands-on session looking at the problems of managing heavy clay soils in a semi intensive beef and sheep system. Charlie demonstrated the value of digging small test holes to look at the problems of soil compaction and water logging.  Two fields were used, one where sub soiling had taken place and one where it had not.  The difference was very obvious with much better soil structure and rooting systems in the treated field – the test hole in the untreated field very quickly filled with water, whereas the subsoiled field hole remained dry.

Charlie then engaged the group in discussion about soil biology and bacteria explaining the importance of the fungal content of soils and Ph testing and helped answer questions about the most suitable aeration equipment for different farm conditions.  In his experience, it is best to only sub soil every two or three years; every year can mean the rooting system is disturbed too much.  He stressed the benefit of farm yard manure to improve soil structure but advised surface seeding or pasture regeneration, rather than ploughing in heavy soils.

The Bateson family then welcomed 30 farmers to Rigg House Farm near Workington on 24th August for an event on sustainable lamb production with talks by grassland specialist, Charlie Morgan, and animal health researcher Dr Fiona Kenyon from the Moredun Research Institute.

Charlie Morgan challenged the farmers to think about how to create the right soil conditions that would be resilient in flood and drought.  Fiona Kenyon gave insights from her research about how monitoring the growth rate of lambs, combined with measuring faecal egg counts and identifying which worms were present, helped target the use of anthelmintics to achieve best results and reduce the build-up of resistant worms.  Tabitha Allen demonstrated how the FecPak tool enables quick results on-farm to help with this.  Origin Fertilisers, Farmplan, Animax-vet products and Innovis also attended with relevant information to help the farmers plan sustainable management strategies.

Rigg House has been in the Bateson family for 3 generations. It is not an easy farm to manage, with clay soils in a high rainfall area, but it has been transformed by each generation to maximise production of sheep and cattle, and improve the environment.