healthy soil

Building natural fertility

The foundation for all sustainable farming

Soil is the foundation for all sustainable farming systems and we do our best to farm in a way that regenerates soil health. Fir Farm has a range of soils, from Cotswold brash on the higher ground to heavy clays down by the River Dikler.

Grassland and grazing livestock play a critical role when it comes to building soil organic matter and sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, which helps to mitigate climate change.

Our pastures are a mixture of permanent grassland and multi-species grass leys. These diverse, deep rooting plants improve soil structure, retain moisture and build carbon. We also grow forage legumes, such as clover, in order to fix nitrogen in the soil, building natural soil fertility which means we do not use any artificial fertilisers. Nitrogen fertiliser contributes to soil degradation, as well as to air and water pollution. In our efforts to farm in a closed loop system, we also recycle composted farmyard manure back into the land as a natural soil conditioner.

Since 2013 we have used Soil Quest to map the differences in soil types and nutrient levels across the farm, enabling us to tailor our manure applications and seed rates based on the exact requirements of different parts of the fields.

SOIL FACTS

Over 95% of our Food

comes from the soil. This means it is vital to our survival and that of almost all land animals.

Soil contains 25% of global biodiversity

and supports an intricate ecosystem of microorganisms, invertebrates, insects and small mammals.

3 million tonnes of topsoil is lost per year

in the UK. Globally, 24 billion tonnes are washed away every year. Our way of farming minimises topsoil loss.

Soil is lost at 10x its creation rate

because of poor land management practices, seriously threatening our future food production capacity.

Soil stores 2,500 billion metric tonnes

of carbon, around twice as much as in the atmosphere and four times the level in plants and animals.

We’ve lost 50% of organic carbon

in cropland to the atmosphere. Restoring soil reduces atmospheric CO2 and dramatically improves water retention.

To reverse rapid soil degradation, real systemic change is required in the way land is managed.

A return to mixed farming – integrating crop production with grassland and grazing livestock, along with deeper rooting plants and returning organic waste to farmland, ideally through compost – is essential to rebuild soil fertility and organic carbon levels.

Rearing livestock in rotation using a mob grazing system has significant benefits for the soil. Through natural trampling by the livestock, broken plant stems decompose, building organic matter and feeding the soil microbiology. Longer rooting plants draw moisture up from the ground and also keep soil covered and protected, preventing erosion and drought.

Soil testing

We work with a range of expert tools to test and monitor our soil health. Our recent work with the Global Farm Metric requires us to test three elements of the soil:

  1. Organic matter: Enhances the physical, chemical and biological properties of the soil.
  2. Structure: measures the solids and voids in the soil that indicates water holding capacity and infiltration rate. This affects root penetration, water availability and soil aeration and highlights how prone the soil is to erosion.
  3. Biota: captures the type and abundance of organisms in the soil. This reflects how balanced a soil is and how healthy the ecosystem below ground is for plants and nutrients.

Additionally, we have done testing with Niels Corfield and the Sectormentor App to collect information about our soils. Sectormentor for Soils is a beautiful simple app that enables farmers to monitor and assess soil health on their farm. Monitoring soils and learning from those observations is a vital part of a more regenerative approach to farming. The app uses a series of tests that the farmer carries out to see how well aggregated the soil is. A healthy soil is an incredibly complex ecosystem that provides amazing resilience to a farm whatever the climate may bring and can also help in the sequestration of carbon.

FURTHER RESOURCES

Linking Soil, Plant and Animal Health. This expert panel discuss which methods of production have the potential to rebuild lost soil fertility, promote integrated nature conservation and create viable and profitable business models for producers in the future, as well as considering how government incentives could help accelerate this change.
Soils for Food Security and Climate. The 4 per 1000 Initiative promotes an innovative model for mitigating climate change, through the annual increase in soil organic carbon by 0.4 per cent in the top 30-40 cm of agricultural soils.
Soil Testing. This Simple Test By Sectormentor Assesses Soil Structure Based On The Appearance And Feel Of Soil Dug Out With A Spade. Here, Structure Is A Shorthand For Soil Health Based On How Aggregated (The Crumb Structure That Healthy Soil Naturally Has) The Soil Is. Aggregation Is A Product Of Biological Action, Normally The Result Of Microbes Gluing Soil Particles Together Into Larger Clumps (Or Aggregates). That Is Why True Biological Aggregates Will Have A Rounded (Or Crumb-Like) Appearance, Sort Of Like Cottage Cheese But On A Much Smaller Scale.

Soil degradation: a major threat to humanity

This report by the Sustainable Food Trust explains why soil degradation is increasing and calls for it to be recognised alongside climate change, as one of the most pressing problems facing humanity.

The report says soil degradation costs up to £7 trillion a year and poses a grave long-term threat to food security and the environment. More than 95% of the food we eat depends on soil, but half of all farmland soils worldwide are already degraded, largely due to inappropriate farming methods

OUR FARMING VALUES

Sustainable livestock

We use a rotational grazing and mixed livestock system that prioritises animal welfare and the environment.

Enhancing our environment

Working with nature, our circular farming system observes nature’s principles of diversity and balance, restoring environmental health.

Building soil health

Our way of farming uses natural processes to build soil fertility, prevent erosion and improve soil organic carbon and biodiversity.

Sharing knowledge

We feel it is part of our responsibility to share knowledge and ideas, engage in discussion and contribute to future farming policy. .

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