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An introduction to ploughing

Ploughing is a form of cultivation of the ground that helps prepare the soil to create a seedbed. Ploughing typically takes place in the autumn or early spring months and involves turning over the top nine inches of soil. This buries surface debris and loosens the soil so that seeds can be sown.


Ancient ploughPloughing has been practiced in the UK for around 6,000 years. The earliest ploughs literally scratched the soil into small ridges. These ploughs were made of wood and quickly wore out. It was not until the iron age that the "plough share" (the wearing part in the soil) had a metal point. In Roman times many different types of plough existed. These were stronger and had iron boards that made it possible to plough deeper and more effectively. By the twelth and thirteenth centuries the horse replaced the oxen and the daily output of the ploughman doubled.


ploughing under way in septemberNowadays ploughing is fully mechanised and a tractor can plough as much as 30 times as a man with a horse. On this farm ploughing is under way in september as part of the preparation for drilling (sowing) a crop in october. On the plough are a number of mouldboards which turn over the soil. Each board "cuts" a furrow through the ground.


stubble strawThe ground on the left is the stubble (straw) from the previous crop. This is turned over by the plough and weed seeds and debris rot down underground. Ploughs turn over about nine inches of soil and it will depend on the type of soil as to what happens next. If the soil is "light" the farmer may be able to drill directly into it. But if not other cultivations may be required to create a seedbed for the crop.


Clay soilThis soil has a smeared shiny appearance. This is indicative of a higher clay content in the soil. Clay makes the soil "sticky" and difficult to break down and this field will need additional cultivation before the next crop can be sown.


Tractor turningAt the end of the field the tractor has to turn round. This involves lifting the plough out of the ground and turning it over. You can see the shiny mouldboards above and below the central beam of the plough. The whole beam is turned through 180 degrees to allow the ploughman to drive back down the line he has just ploughed.


mouldboardsThe action of the mouldboards in lifting and turning the soil is demonstrated here.







Statistics for Land use in the UK

Land use in the UK
2000
2001
2002
2003
2004
2005
2006
2007
2008
2009
2010
Agricultural Area
(000 hectares)
18 311 18 557 18 507 18 465 18 431 18 486 18 770 18 692 18 697 18 296 18 282
Crops
(000 hectares)
4 665 4 456 4 574 4 476 4 589 4 421 4 397 4 440 4 735 4 607 4 610
Set Aside
(000 hectares)
567 800 612 681 560 559 466 440
Fallow
(000 hectares)
604 843 644 718 589 699 663 599 194 244 174
Grass <5 years
(000 hectares)
1 226 1 205 1 243 1 200 1 246 1 193 1 137 1 176 1 141 1 241 1 232
Grass >5 years
(000 hectares)
5 363 5 584 5 519 5 683 5 620 5 711 5 967 5 965 6 036 5 865 5 925
Rough Grazing sole right
(000 hectares)
4 445 4 435 4 488 4 329 4 326 4 354 4 491 4 319 4 359 4 131 4 055
Other land and farm woodland
(000 hectares)
779 801 806 821 825 872 874 954 994 972 1 059
Total land on agricultural holdings
(000 hectares)
17 083 17 324 17 272 17 228 17 194 17 250 17 529 17 453 17 459 17 060 17 054
Rough grazing common
(000 hectares)
1 228 1 232 1 234 1 236 1 237 1 236 1 241 1 238 1 238 1 237 1 228