Soil Regenerative Agriculture Group
What is the Soil Regenerative Agriculture Group?
Five farmers are working together to establish how best to support, enhance and protect their farm soils. They will aim to improve production and tailor inputs, maximising profitability. Many other benefits can be gained from healthy and resilient soils, ranging from improving water retention and drainage to supporting biodiversity and helping to lock up carbon on the farm.
What will the group look at?
With support from SAC Consulting, researchers and other industry specialists, the group aims to get to the bottom of which management techniques, treatments, crops and rotations help to shape and protect a resilient farm soil.
How can you benefit?
We can all make changes, but it helps to hear about the experiences of other working farmers who have tried it out first. We want you to be involved too; there will be opportunities for you to share and discuss soil issues with the group once we have some results. The group will be posting regular updates about their findings via this webpage and through our Facebook and Twitter accounts.
James is a partner and founder of Cloud Farming and Arable Ventures, combining the family farm Lindertis and Walker-Munro Farms, growing winter wheat, spring barley, winter barley, oats, peas, linseed, beans and grass in an extensive rotation. Farming around 1,100 ha of arable land, James has a range of soil types; three-quarters of which is sandy loam with the remainder sandy silt, organic or clay loams. Dung is put back on to the land via a straw for dung exchange at Walker-Munro Farms and an in-house cattle enterprise at Lindertis.
Hugh farms in partnership with his father James. The business extends to around 400 ha, 50 ha of which is rented ground. Although there is some variation in soil type, most soils at Backboath are sandy loams. James and Hugh produce winter wheat, winter and spring barley, oilseed rape and potatoes. They operate a six to seven-year rotation with two breaks.
Ben farms over 200 ha in Perthshire with his family. Leitfie is a mixed arable and beef unit, growing grass for livestock plus barley, wheat, oats, beans and oilseed rape, with the intention of trying linseed in 2020. The rotation at Leitfie will be a diverse 7 crop 9-year rotation with 3 break crops.
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Douglas Ruxton farms Moss-side of Easslie, near Fettercairn, a 121 ha arable unit. Following some research and investigation, Douglas moved away from traditional ploughing to direct drilling, investing in a Claydon Strip Till Drill and straw harrow. Moving to this system in 2012, Douglas has learned a lot about his soils already, and on the whole, is very encouraged by the results to date.
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Ross Mitchell runs Castleton Farm in partnership with his father Murray. The business covers over 600 ha, specialising in strawberries, raspberries, cherries and blueberries, supplying Marks & Spencers. Ross and Murray have some root crops and daffodils, although the land is predominantly managed for soft fruit production under polytunnels.
Looking again at using cover crops to build soil structure and mitigate the effects of increasing weather extremes could reap benefits for farmers in Scotland, according to Zach Reilly of SAC Consulting, part of Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC). Mr Reilly is working with Farming for a Better Climate’s Soil Regeneration Group. The five farmers in the East of Scotland involved in the discussion group have each been trialling different seed mixes and establishment methods to keep costs low and returns high.
A Stripper header is a type of combine header which removes the grain from the plant, leaving the stem standing in the field. Stripper headers work by using rotating fingers which are able to catch and pull the grain from cereal plants, boasting increased work rates due to less material passing through the combine. They are available for most combines and are attached in a similar manner to a standard header.
Read more here
The primary aim of tillage is to create a tilth; however, tillage can also achieve levelling, optimise soil moisture, improve aeration and control weeds. So why is there a move to reduce tillage? Subsoiling, ploughing, power harrowing, grubbing – no matter how or why you chose to cultivate there is no doubt about it, it is time-consuming. Timeliness aside, there is a growing bank of evidence to suggest that tillage is destructive.
Read more here
What is Regenerative Agriculture?
Regenerative agriculture (also referred to as conservation agriculture or ecological farming), is an approach centred around improving and revitalising soil health. The group are focusing their work around the following principles:
- Minimise soil disturbance - help support a healthy soil food web.
- Maximise crop diversity - different crops bring different rooting depths and attributes, supporting a range of biodiversity both above and below ground.
- Provide constant soil cover - protect soils from wind and water erosion; reduces water loss.
- Keep a living root in the system - root exudates benefit microbial populations, supporting soil health.
- Integration of livestock - promoting species diversity from microbes to mammals and putting dung back into the system.
The key will be working out how we can integrate these five principles into a profitable business in Scotland.
- Valuing Your Soils: Practical guidance for Scottish farmers (3.53 MB, PDF )
- Improving soil quality (699.59 KB, PDF)
- Soil Organic Matter (2 MB, PDF)
- Soil management (599 KB, PDF)
- West Mains of Kinblethmont - controlled traffic farming (871 KB, PDF)
- Mountfair Farming Ltd - taking care of soil life (1.12MB, PDF)
- Scotland's Farm Advisory Service
- Scotland's Soils
Listen to Ben Barron, Ross Mitchell and Peter Lindsay, (SAC Consulting) discuss how they've found the move to no-till and the benefits of working as a group when they were interviewed as for episode 19 of the Farmers Weekly podcast series.