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Regenerative Agriculture: A Scottish farmer’s low threat strategy

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A gradual strategy to adopting regenerative agriculture has allowed Scottish grower Jock McFarlane to cut back inputs and minimise his farming enterprise’s publicity to threat.

Having began seven years in the past by leaving one area unploughed, this autumn would be the first season that the 174ha of combinable crops grown at Easter Rattray Farm close to Blairgowrie are established with none tillage.

See additionally: Regenerative agriculture: What to keep away from and easy methods to begin

In that point, his rotation has modified significantly, with double the variety of crops now being grown for native markets, whereas soils have benefited from the inclusion of canopy crops, natural manures and chopped straw.

Farm Info

  • Easter Rattray Farm, Blairgowrie, Perthshire
  • 220ha – 174ha of combinable crops
  • Cropping consists of winter wheat, winter barley, oilseed rape, spring barley, spelt, winter beans and spring oats
  • Christmas tree enterprise
  • Vacation cottages
  • Horse livery  

With nutrient biking beginning to work nicely as soils have improved, he has been capable of lower out using all phosphate (P) and potassium (Okay) fertilisers, in addition to any others used within the seed-bed.

As well as, insecticide use throughout the complete farm has been eradicated as he appears to be like to stability his farming system with nature. Consequently, he now has nitrogen fertiliser and fungicide charges in his sights.

Consolation zone

Jock McFarlane in his spelt area © Jock McFarlane

Not altering an excessive amount of at anybody time has been key, because it has allowed him to plan forward and keep some flexibility, whereas protecting inside his consolation zone because the system has advanced.  

“I’ve eased into it,” says Mr McFarlane. “As soon as I’d recognised that I wanted to do one thing, it got here as a revelation that life might proceed with out the plough.”

Having heard French regenerative agriculture pioneer Frederic Thomas at a BASE-UK assembly in Dundee, he determined to strive a regenerative strategy. “That’s when the penny dropped and I began to consider easy methods to adapt,” he recollects.  

The choice to name time on a comfortable fruit enterprise again in 2011 had left him with a four-year rotation consisting of winter barley, oilseed rape, spring barley and winter wheat, all grown with bought handled seed, seed-bed fertiliser and different pricey synthetic inputs.    

“This farm might fairly simply be a high-input, low-output enterprise,” he explains. “With steep, stony land, our yields have been by no means going to be record-breaking. It grew to become clear that I wanted to develop a sustainable system primarily based on soil well being, reasonably than chase output.”

Cowl crops

Wild bird seed crop

Wild fowl seed crop © Jock McFarlane

Within the first yr of change, Mr McFarlane used an influence harrow/seed drill mixture to ascertain a winter cereal crop with out ploughing. It labored, so he adopted it up with spring barley, earlier than buying an outdated Horsch CO4 drill for establishing cowl crops.

Inspired by James Warne of Soil First Farming to purchase a very good low-cost starter drill and have a go, the Horsch CO4 proved appropriate.

As soon as cowl crops containing a mixture of species have been within the system, his unique rotation didn’t go well with the brand new strategy. In an effort to spray them off, in addition to management volunteers, he widened the rotation by rising spelt, winter beans and spring oats.

“Including further crops purchased in rather more variety, maintained a dwelling root presence and saved soils energetic,” he says. “Stewardship has additionally been included with a summer time cowl crop, which acts as a inexperienced manure, and wild fowl meals seed.”

Whereas the quilt crops don’t all the time placed on a number of biomass as a result of later harvest dates in Scotland, they don’t value him a lot and make a helpful contribution to soil construction.

“This yr, I’m investigating broadcasting them right into a standing cereal crop to see in the event that they get away faster.”

Natural matter

With no livestock on the farm Mr McFarlane makes good use of native provides of farmyard manure, applies different natural manures forward of oilseed rape and in addition has entry to council compost. He goals to provide the entire farm a “mild dusting” each two years or so.

He has not too long ago began to measure soil natural matter and recorded a stage of 8.2% within the area that hasn’t been ploughed for seven years. For comparability, different fields have been at 6.2% and 6.3%.

“The soil is darker in color and has much more worms,” he stories.

Having achieved away with different fertilisers, lowering nitrogen is now a key purpose. Consequently, he consists of molasses and fulvic acid together with his liquid nitrogen, in order that he will get higher use of the fertiliser and retains soil biology energetic by together with a carbon supply.

Wheat crops grown after a summer time cowl and winter beans have already had their nitrogen enter diminished by one-third.

 

Farmer help

He grew to become a member of the farmer-led group BASE-UK three years in the past, which inspired him to provide regenerative agriculture a go and supplied help when he wanted it. He describes it as an exquisite organisation for anybody beginning on the no-till journey.

“It’s a mindset change,” he stresses. It’s easy, however not simple. As soon as my confidence ranges began to rise, I discovered that it made farming enjoyable once more.”

His recommendation to others is to pay money for an outdated, fundamental drill and take a look at some. “Simply make a begin. Solely do as a lot as you’re feeling comfy with, as it may be fairly scary.”

His colleague Ian McIntosh has embraced the brand new method of working, which Mr McFarlane is grateful for, declaring that getting workers and different members of the family behind you is essential if the system is to work.

Mr McFarlane agrees with the findings of the Groundswell benchmarking group that every part is decrease in a regenerative system, aside from the margin.

“Financially we’re in the identical place as we have been, despite the fact that yields are down. Our prices are decrease and may proceed to come back down, so there’s not a lot in danger, whereas our pure capital is rising.

“The farm is in higher form for regardless of the future might carry.”

What’s subsequent?

Jock McFarlane has recognized some goals for the following yr or so:-

  • Cut back inputs additional
  • Consolidate farm efficiency
  • Finalise the rotation
  • Minimise errors
  • Broadcast cowl crops into standing crops
  • Enhance revenue

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