How a dairy project aims to increase farm soil carbon by 25%

“Weaponising soils” to increase carbon sequestration is a part of Somerset dairy Yeo Valley’s long-term plans to struggle local weather change, whereas producing nutritious, wholesome meals.

The natural dairy model has set itself the goal of accelerating soil carbon by 25% within the subsequent 40 years at its two dairies in Blagdon, Somerset.

By doing so, the farms will carry a internet carbon footprint of zero, which can assist to cut back the general carbon footprint of the model (see “Yeo Valley information”).

Yeo Valley information

Yeo Valley Farms

Two dairies

Holt Farm, Blagdon, north Somerset

  • 220 pedigree British Friesians, calving in autumn and spring blocks
  • 7,800 litres a cow a yr at 3.99% fats and three.23% protein

Yoxter Farm, Mendip Hills, Somerset

  • 160 pedigree British Friesians calving September to December
  • 7,600 litres a cow a yr at 4.10% fats and three.22% protein

Yeo Valley Organic

  • Yeo Valley takes milk from 130 further UK dairy farmers
  • Milk is used to produce a vary of natural merchandise together with yoghurt, cheese and ice cream
  • Half of Yeo Valley’s suppliers are Arla farmers and half are with the Organic Milk Suppliers’ Co-operative (Omsco)

Farming is a key space for consideration since it’s answerable for 74% of the enterprise’s whole carbon footprint.

In 2020, Yeo Valley Farms, with the assistance of the Farm Carbon Toolkit (FCT), sampled their 809ha (2,000 acres) of farmland to get a sign of soil carbon ranges.

Their reasoning was linked to figures from Iowa State University, which confirmed soils retailer extra carbon than the environment and the entire world’s vegetation and forests mixed.

Tim Mead, director of Yeo Valley Farms, says it can be crucial to recognise this “big local weather asset”, decide base stage carbon shares and methods to elevate them.

See additionally: Reducing emissions is main intention for dairy transition farmers

With one-third extra carbon dioxide within the environment than 60 years in the past, he believes regenerative agriculture is a part of the answer to reversing local weather change.

Regenerative farming is concentrated on agricultural practices that construct soil well being and increase biodiversity and water biking with the intention of preventing local weather change.

Raising soil natural matter is a technique to bolster soil’s carbon storage potential, whereas additionally bringing manufacturing advantages.

Becky Willson, enterprise growth and technical director for FCT, says: “There is a very nice hyperlink [between] soil natural matter, soil natural carbon, soil resilience and soil well being.” (See “The numbers”).

This means constructing natural matter and carbon might help with elements reminiscent of nutrient biking, water infiltration and manufacturing of high quality forage.

The numbers

  • 375,439.75t
    Total soil carbon shares measured in carbon dioxide equal (CO2e) on Yeo Valley’s two farms in 2020. The intention is to increase this by 25% within the subsequent 40 years
  • +0.1%
    Raising the soil natural matter by this a lot for each hectare of land will sequester 8.9 tonnes of carbon a yr (FCT)
  • 58-60%
    The proportion of natural matter that’s natural carbon (FCT)

Ways to increase soil carbon

With all these advantages in thoughts, Yeo Valley has launched the Regenerative Organic Farming Project.

Its 130 dairy farmer suppliers have the choice to participate within the project, which can take a look at farm soil carbon shares and provide recommendation on methods to enhance.

Tim Mead and Tom White in field

Tim Mead and Tom White © Aly Balsom

Mr Mead says the project is about studying, collaboration and sharing data past the producer group. It is working over 5 years enable for time to affect soil carbon ranges.

So far, 25 farms have had their soils examined.

Yeo Valley Farms is evaluating a number of methods to increase soil carbon, from which others could be taught. Organic regenerative farming project supervisor Tom White runs via a few of them:

1. Mob grazing

  • Beef cattle from the dairy herds are mob-grazed utilizing a no-fence satellite tv for pc system throughout 49ha (120 acres)
  • With this method, every animal wears a collar. Once they’re in a 5m zone of a digital fence, a tone is performed. If they get too shut, a pulse is distributed via the collar
  • The digital fence is moved twice every day
  • Stock are grazed on hip-height grass at excessive stocking densities (108 livestock models/ha at peak). Letting the leaf develop longer means extra sugar is pushed into the soil. This is a meals supply for soil microbes, which act as a carbon retailer once they die. Trampling grass into the bottom additionally advantages soil natural matter.

2. Composting

Aerobic composting

  • Farmyard manure (FYM) from unfastened housing is tipped into rows in fields and turned six occasions over an eight-week interval to speed up the composting course of.

Bokashi – anaerobic composting

  • A microbial inoculant is utilized to FYM, which is then ensiled
  • The intention is to restrict losses to the atmosphere and increase nutrient content material
  • Composting helps to maximise decomposition and soil carbon storage.

3. Diverse cropping

  • Last yr, peas, oats and barley have been wholecropped. They have been adopted by a cowl crop together with a number of species reminiscent of tillage radish, purple clover, beans, vetch, mustard and forage rape. Half was grazed by sheep and half might be included into the soils as a inexperienced manure.
  • The totally different root profiles ought to assist soil natural matter, as ought to the muck from sheep.
  • The trial will assess what the carbon advantages are from every observe.

4. Agroforestry

  • 202ha (500 acres) of forestry has been bought
  • Areas the place ash dieback is a downside might be changed with grass and the forest might be grazed with beef and sheep
  • A mixture of grass and timber is alleged to have a higher carbon seize potential than timber alone.

Soil carbon – 4 key issues

The Farm Carbon Toolkit (FCT) is enterprise soil carbon sampling as a part of Yeo Valley’s Regenerative Organic Farming Project.

This enhances FCT’s current Soil Carbon Project which has labored with 100 English farms to perceive how to measure and enhance soil carbon.

Below, Becky Willson, enterprise growth and technical director for FCT, provides an summary of key soil carbon issues.

1. What areas do you take a look at when measuring soil carbon?

  • Soil natural matter
  • Soil natural carbon
  • Bulk density of the soil – used to calculate tonnes of carbon/hectare and a proportion
  • Soil well being indictors, reminiscent of worm counts, infiltration, pH and macronutrients.

2. What influence does soil sort and discipline use have?

Soil sort and land use have a sturdy affect on natural carbon. For instance, throughout Yeo Valley’s personal farms, soil natural carbon to 30cm assorted from 3.79% to 8.16%.

Clay soils have a tendency to have a better means to maintain onto carbon than lighter, sandy soils. Generally, arable floor has decrease carbon ranges than grassland.

3. At what depths are samples taken?

Soil samples are taken at 0-10cm, 10-30cm and 30-50cm depths.

The prime layer of the soil could be very lively, whereas the deeper layers comprise longer-term, extra steady carbon. Just wanting on the prime layer can undervalue the quantity of soil carbon.

4. How can farmers elevate soil carbon?

To elevate soil carbon on the prime stage of the soil, take a look at feeding extra carbon into the system by utilizing natural manures or compost, for instance.

To increase deeper soil carbon, take into consideration incorporating deeper-rooting species in sward mixes, resting between grazings and avoiding compaction to enable root elongation.

Case research: Tom and Sophie Gregory, Chard, Dorset

Tom and Sophie Gregory are utilizing their involvement within the Yeo Valley Regenerative Organic Farming Project to develop their soil administration technique and higher perceive its influence on soil carbon.

Sophie and Tom with cows

© Yeo Valley

The previous 4 years have seen the pair shift consideration to regenerative farming rules after discovering a decline in soil nutrient ranges throughout their natural dairy.

Through the Yeo Valley project they are going to set up baseline soil carbon ranges and monitor how administration modifications influence on them over the following 5 years.

Farm information

Home Farm, Chard, Dorset

  • Tom and Sophie Gregory in a share-farming association with one different social gathering
  • 364ha (900 acres) whole
  • 360 primarily Irish Friesian cows
  • Two-thirds calve in a nine-week spring block, one-third in a nine-week autumn block
  • 5,500 litres a cow a yr and 440kg milk solids a cow a yr
  • Arla natural farm supplying Yeo Valley

The first soil carbon samples have been taken about two months in the past.

Mrs Gregory explains: “Having the info sooner or later with funds on carbon sequestration goes to be important [so] getting these baselines carried out is actually necessary.”

As an Arla natural farm supplying Yeo Valley, all of the steps they’re taking are additionally in keeping with Arla’s sustainability focus and internet zero goal.

Mr Gregory believes if farmers need to get to the “holy grail” of internet zero, carbon sequestration wants to be a precedence.

With that in thoughts, along with the data that wholesome soils are extra productive, the couple have made some modifications to their system.

1. Increasing species variety

Multispecies leys have been launched to encourage better bacterial variety inside the soils than is current with monocultures, and higher grassland productiveness.

“If you’ve acquired a number of micro organism and fungi, you’ve acquired the carbon cycle. You’re taking carbon dioxide and storing it within the soil through carbon sequestration,” Mr Gregory explains.

Some of the mixes used embrace perennial ryegrass, white clover, purple clover, festulolium, plantain and sainfoin.

2. Mob-grazing

Youngstock are mob-grazed. In this method, one third of the grass is eaten, one third is trampled in and one third is left.

Mr Gregory says permitting among the leaf to die and wilt will increase the ratio of carbon to nitrogen, so a excessive carbon meals supply is added to the soils.

“We’re attempting to increase the carbon to nitrogen ratio within the soil. A regular grass ley is 10:1; we’re attempting to increase that to 30:1 by mob grazing,” he says.

On good covers, heifers are stocked at 49,420kg of liveweight a hectare on a 12-hour fence transfer.

3. Direct-drilling

Since 2020, the Gregorys have stopped ploughing and moved to direct-drilling to safeguard soil natural matter and restrict the discharge of carbon dioxide into the environment.

4. Composting

They are additionally trialling composting of farmyard manure. The intention is to apply it within the rising season to enhance nutrient uptake and reduce leaching.

It must also profit cardio exercise within the soil, soil well being and soil biking, plant progress and carbon sequestration.

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