Nurturing Farm Soil Health, Whole Crop Collection
At Earth Trust, our role as farmers and producers of food is a critical part of our identity and the green spaces we care for. We have 500 hectares of mixed farmland, demonstrating the links between environment, wildlife, landscape and growing food. Our aim is to farm in a climate-friendly way, working with the environment to enhance biodiversity, minimise carbon emissions and maximise soil carbon sequestration, whilst producing quality food.
Focusing our time on nurturing healthy soils is critical to the management of our farm and the impact it has on biodiversity and human health. We are constantly seeking to evolve our arable farm operations to reflect growing soil science principles – for example, by increasing the diversity of crops we grow and minimising soil disturbance, reducing tillage, protecting the soil surface with cover crops, using livestock within the rotation and keeping living roots in the soil. This year, we have been experimenting with Whole Crop try-outs.
Whole Crop Collection: A Sustainable Approach
Whole crop collection is a revolutionary harvesting method where the entire plant is gathered at the same time.
As well as boosting efficiency during busy harvest seasons and minimising crop losses caused by damage during traditional harvesting, whole crop collection more importantly preserves soil structure and minimises compaction since heavy machinery operates less frequently.
Furthermore, it can improve the quality of harvested material due to reduced exposure to weather elements.
This technique supports sustainable farming practices by decreasing fuel consumption and minimising carbon emissions.
Whole crop collection streamlines operations while promoting sustainability and quality in agriculture.
Preserving Soil Structure and Microbial Diversity
One of the foremost advantages of whole crop collection is its ability to maintain soil structure. Traditional harvesting methods often involve multiple passes of heavy machinery, which can lead to soil compaction. In contrast, whole crop collection minimises the frequency of machinery operation, thereby reducing the risk of compaction. This preservation of soil structure is vital for optimal root growth, water infiltration, and nutrient movement.
Healthy soil is teeming with diverse microbial life that contributes to nutrient cycling and overall ecosystem balance. By minimising soil disruption during harvesting, whole crop collection helps sustain this delicate microbial ecosystem, ensuring that vital processes continue uninterrupted.
Mitigating Erosion and Enhancing Organic Matter
Erosion poses a significant threat to soil health, often accelerated by traditional harvesting practices that leave fields exposed. Whole crop collection can significantly reduce the duration of field exposure, mitigating erosion risks. This protection against erosion safeguards valuable topsoil, which is rich in organic matter and nutrients crucial for plant growth.
Additionally, whole crop collection indirectly enhances soil organic matter content. The unharvested plant residues left on the field act as natural mulch, gradually breaking down and enriching the soil with organic material. This organic matter enhances soil structure, water-holding capacity, and nutrient availability, contributing to sustained soil fertility.
A Greener Footprint for Sustainable Agriculture
By reducing the number of machinery passes and minimising fuel consumption, whole crop collection aligns with sustainable farming practices. This translates to lower carbon emissions and a reduced environmental footprint. The interplay between responsible land management and innovative techniques like whole crop collection demonstrates the harmonious balance we can strike between production and conservation.
Whole crop harvesting can serve as an efficient and sustainable way to meet goats’ dietary needs, and at Earth Trust Farm we have been working in partnership with our farm-step tenants Norton & Yarrow to explore a sustainable feed option. Read about the project here.
With its capacity to simultaneously enhance harvest efficiency and preserve soil health, whole crop collection has the potential to revolutionise the way we approach farming. As the world seeks resilient solutions to address food security and environmental challenges, embracing techniques such as this can create a more harmonious relationship between humanity and the land we depend on.
Through this integration of progress and preservation, we pave the way for a greener, healthier agricultural landscape that benefits both present and future generations.
Earth Trust Farm is well placed to function as a hub for shared learning, and we are looking to establish a cluster of local farmers and landowners where experimental projects such as this, can provide an opportunity for more collaborative working.
For more information or to get involved, please get in touch.