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Soil Organic Matter Farm Walk

Read the write up and see the photos of our recent farm walk in Northamptonshire

Practising sustainable and regenerative agriculture

On a bright (but very chilly!) morning last week a group of farmers, and advisors met up at Stephen Goodwin’s farm on the Northamptonshire / Oxfordshire border.  Steve had kindly come along and spoken at our event in Warwickshire in November and the farmers who listened had been so enthused that a farm walk was set up at Steve’s farm to see in a bit more detail what he was up to.

Steve showed us around his 650 acre mixed farm.  He has 150 acres of permanent grassland, a flock of 800 breeding ewes and the rest of his farm is down to crops including winter wheat, winter rye, cover crops, and stubble turnips for the sheep to graze.

Steve is passionate about managing his soil and leaving it alone as much as possible.  He has not moved his soil for the last 12 years, and has spent that time experimenting with cover crops, direct drilling, managing residues and re-introducing livestock into his former arable farm.  His soil ranges from some heavier clay fields, to lighter loamy soils. 

The walk began in a field of winter rye, with Steve joking that he was bringing us to his worse field first! The winter rye is grown for a nearby AD plant, and there was evidence of damage from some subsoiling that had taken place earlier in the winter.  Armed with a trusty spade, soil pits were dug from the area where the subsoil had passed and further in the field to compare the results.

Travelling further on up the hill the group looked at a field of winter wheat that was involved in a trial for BASE UK.  In half of the field Skyfall had been established using a conventional plough and drill method and in the other half direct drilled.  The intention was to use the field as a demonstration site and allow farmers to come and see the differences in the same field (removing all other variables!).  Lots of discussions ensued about blackgrass and its control.

As well as the arable fields the group went across the road and looked at a field, where they were challenged to guess the cover crop.  Having given up after several guesses and being told it was ‘fat hen’ Steve reminded everyone that the most important thing was keeping the soil covered, it didn’t really matter with what! Steve did highlight the importance of diversity within the cover, as diversity on top of the group also provides a diverse root system allowing water infiltration, nutrient access and a diverse food source for soil biota.

The group were also taken to see a grass field (the coldest field on the farm!) and David explained that the flock had been mob grazed across the field to ensure optimal utilisation of the forage.  The sheep are all Romneys, lamb outside in April, and are not fed any supplementary feed in terms of concentrates, with the multiples given mineral licks.  

After lunch the group ventured to see the sheep grazing on stubble turnips and a field of reseeded grass.  It was a great opportunity to discuss the motivations behind the switch and the need for a simple system that worked.  Steve was passionate in talking about the need for a change from what we have done for the last 60 years and the need to protect our most important asset, our soils. 

The day was enjoyed by all who attended, and provided a great base for discussion and an opportunity to see something inspirational.

Thanks to Stephen and David for their kind hosting.  For more information on the soil carbon project and upcoming events, why not check out the soil carbon pages.