We’ve seen the hottest June on record, and now the wettest July. This unpredictable, often unseasonable weather throws up challenges for farmers, and resilience is needed to survive these conditions.
Extreme weather impacts UK soils, equating to swathes of the earth cracking; laid bare where the vegetation and grass have died, turning the soil to dust.
Just walk through a path on arable land and you’ll see if the ground has been overworked; the soil will be depleted.
We are soil warriors here at Farm2Fork. Rich soils play host to masses of ecological networks, unseen life from billions of species, that provides nutrients to support healthy plant life above ground. There are more living things in one teaspoon of soil than there are people on the planet.
To maintain those healthy systems, we farm in a way that enriches the soil and supports the environment.
The way we graze our cattle and sheep is through rotational time-controlled adaptive grazing. We run our cattle and sheep together in a ‘flerd’ continuously moving them around the farm where we graze tall, mature pastures.
Our philosophy is to graze a third, trample a third, and leave a third. We also rest the pastures for a minimum of 60 days between grazing to allow for all of the diverse meadow species to fully recover, as not all species return at the same rate. By doing this, we maintain and enhance the diversity of the meadows.
This way, we are mimicking the natural process of how large herbivores would graze in the wild, always moving forward, never staying too long, and not returning again until the pastures are flourishing.
By following this natural process we are able to add organic matter back into the soil from the trampling of grass litter and the manure from the animals, feeding the soil life, and increasing the soil carbon.
You’ll find our meadows retain their nutrients and a healthy balance, even in times of extreme weather thanks to this method of grazing.
An increase in 1% of organic matter (about 0.5% increase in carbon) can result in the soil being able to hold an extra 150,000 litres of water per hectare.
Our healthy meadows give the ground protection from the sun with a carpet of tall grass that retains moisture, shielding the earth and preventing it from drying and cracking.
Grazing our meadows short in periods of hot weather would be the worst thing to do.
Here at Dalditch, we face different challenges from those at our previous farm in Ilminster, where the soil was more clay-rich.
Where we are now, the soil is sandy and free draining, so this farm is particularly susceptible to drying out through the summer months.
Given that June was so dry and hot, we’d already kicked into our drought plan – erring on the side of caution, we conserved feed for our animals by slowing down our grazing rotation, in order to retain the health of our animals, our soil, the pastures, and the whole farm.
Now the rains have come and the grass is growing again, we’ve been able to relax our drought plan and return to a more normal livestock rotation, but we’re mindful that should it get hot and dry again, we are able to adapt when necessary.
Don’t underestimate soil. It’s life-giving and bears network upon network of invisible pathways for bacteria, fungi, and biodiversity.
The richer our soils, the more life is breathed into the pastures above. Far from taking from the soil, we are here to give back. To regenerate, to protect, and to secure its healthy future.
While we prepare for hotter summers to come, we can be secure in the knowledge that we are building healthy soils for a healthy future.