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 have a critical role when it comes to building soil organic matter and sequestering carbon. Our pastures are a mixture of permanent grassland and multispecies grass leys. Grassland is crucial for sequestering carbon from the atmosphere which helps to mitigate climate change.
We also grow forage legumes, such as clover, in order to fix nitrogen in the soil. These build natural soil fertility and means we do not need to use any artificial fertilisers that are a key cause of soil degradation and 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.
Over 95% of our food comes from the soil. Soil contains 25% of global biodiversity and supports an intricate ecosystem of microorganisms, invertebrates, insects and small mammals. Poor farming and land management practices are causing soil to be destroyed at approximately 10 times the rate it is being created, seriously threatening our future food production capacity. Some 3 million tonnes of topsoil are lost in the UK each year. Globally, 24 billion tonnes are lost annually, 3.4 tonnes for every adult and child on the planet. Soil stores 2,500 billion metric tonnes of carbon, almost twice as much as in the atmosphere and over four times the 560 billion tonnes found in plants and animals. But most cropland has already lost between 40-60% of its organic carbon to the atmosphere. In the UK, soil degradation has an economic cost to society of around £3.21 billion annually. For every 1% increase in soil organic matter, the first foot of soil is able to hold an additional 16,500 gallons of water per acre.
To reverse this, 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 rooted plants draw moisture up from the ground and also keep soil covered and protected, preventing soil erosion and drought.
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.