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'We made the change to ‘conservation agriculture’ 14 years ago'

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Farmer Tony Gent writes the weekly Word on the Ground column...

Food production is having to make many changes in the light of economics, resources and labour availability, with no help or even tangible input from a government, seemingly with its head struck firmly in the sand with a massive denial of reality. It’s so obvious government priorities are: give away trade deals, scrap standards, protection, security and reliability with more and more reliance on lorries, ships and airfreight from afar flying in the face of climate pollution.

On our farm, thankfully, we made the change now 14 years ago to ‘conservation agriculture’ – what has become fashionably known as ‘regenerative agriculture’.

The fruits of that change means the soil has changed out of all recognition in that time with a massive improvement in organic matter contributing to the much-improved friability and natural fertility.

Tony Gent (56120216)
Tony Gent (56120216)

Also, due to reduced field operations, the return of natural predators and defensive organisms. We now don’t use insecticides on our farm and very little slug control. Natural fertility is obviously enhanced with improved soil biology, but also there is a clear benefit from the redevelopment of mycorrhiza. This is a naturally accruing fungal that attaches to plants roots and acts as an extension to their roots, feeding in moisture and nutrition from much a wider source. Cultivation destroys mycorrhiza.

So, in practice, it’s a win win for our soils, the environment, economics and above all with the reverse of soil degradation that leads to sustainability.

The main first step is to dramatically reduce soil movement and completely stop any aggressive soil inversion operations, endeavour not to leave the soil exposed to sun light and having some form of plant cover all the time, maintaining a continuous surface cover and root structure.

With all this, our very valuable soil has become much more stable against seasonal weather extremes, leading to much better natural drainage with excessive wet conditions and because of its development, natural stable pores throughout the structure retains usable moisture in extreme dry conditions.

With enhanced worms and microbial activity, the soil does not compact, with heavy machine traffic damage being naturally repaired. Overall, crop yields are at least maintained and in some cases as the soil improves, enhanced.

Also, now to have a recognised method of carbon sequestration for reduced tillage producing measured and monitored carbon certificates, that can be traded directly for cash or become part of your product enhancement.

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