Written by Rob Purdew, one of our Farm Carbon and Soils Advisors.
A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend the final farm meeting wrapping up an Innovative Farmers trial looking at the use of diverse forage mixtures for overwintering. Apart from being the perfect demonstration of how empowering farmers to be able to trial new practices on their own farms can produce results far greater than the sum of their parts (especially when compared to multi-million pound research projects) the big take home message for me was how powerful diversity is in our farming systems, at all levels.
A diverse mix of plant species above ground is reflected in increased diversity below the soil surface and the benefits this brings are many fold. Increased organic matter, nutrient availability and the ability of the soil to hold water are just a few. When out on a farm you can always guarantee that the best soils occur where the above ground diversity is greatest, relative to the surrounding area. This is one of the reasons that herbal leys have received a lot of much deserved attention over the last 10 years.
Having had firsthand experience grazing large groups of animals on herbal leys I can certainly vouch for their benefits, and spending a lot of time digging holes on farms has only reinforced this. And where the establishment of new herbal leys don’t fit or are unaffordable, simple changes to grazing management or stitching additional species into existing pasture can be equally effective in bringing diversity into your sward. These are the things that get me up in the morning, that and the views from one of the many fields I’ve been soil sampling in recently.