As we work to engage nature in our farming model, we are are continually coming into contact with the many interlinked systems and cycles that nature uses to drive the global ecosystem. These components have been tuned and polished over millennia and are often subtle and generally elegant. They interact in a complex put powerful dance which is defined by complexity and nuance. Over the coming weeks, we will dive into some of the components of the soil food web and how we are seeking to harness these here at Mindrum, an Organic mixed farm in North Northumberland, overlooking the historic Scottish Borders.
My goal is to explore how best to engage with nature’s intricate systems and cycles to reshape our farming practices.
Traditionally, (at lease for the past 50 years), conventional farming models have largely overlooked the dynamic nature of soil, treating it more as an inert medium for agricultural operations. However, in a natural farming model, we view soil as a dynamic and contested ecosystem teeming with a myriad of diverse organisms who together drive life. By creating the right conditions, we aim to harness this incredible natural community to produce healthy food with a profitable business model.
Ranging from our interaction with soil bacteria and their complex relationships, such as their role in the Rhizophagy Cycle, where they provide plant nutrition whilst cycling through plant roots, to using them to feed communities of microscopic predators that exist within the soil. We’re learning how to utilize bacteria to unlock soil nutrients or balance them using predatory soil organisms, thus preventing nutrient runoff into watercourses.
We are also beginning to understand how to create conditions whereby microbial communities can accelerate the production of natural fertility locked up in the soil so as to reduce the need to apply soluble nutrients much of which are lost into watercourses. We are exploring how to manage quorum sensing, where bacterial communities use chemical signals to adjust their behavior based on population density changes.
Fungi are another crucial component. Some types release nutrients trapped in the soil, while others aid plants in nutrient collection, vastly improving nutrient efficiency and facilitating communication between plants. We are beginning to understand how to balance diverse microbial communities which work together to provide fertility for agricultural production without polluting the environment.
We are working with microscopic predators like protozoa, nematodes, and various micro and macrofauna who play a vital role in making fertility accessible and contributing to high-quality food production. Work with the increasing population of dung beetles on the farm, for example, has demonstrated their incredible role in the integration of livestock waste into the soil food web and their incredible role in managing parasite eggs.
This complex ecosystem, including the soil food web, has the potential to produce nutrient-rich and healthy food while enhancing the natural environment that produces it. Far from merely minimizing negative impacts, it offers an opportunity to reverse decades of ecological impact.
Our journey includes learning to read the signs in our fields and woods, using bioindicators to inform our operational decisions. Taking advantage of nature’s ability to cover bare ground and initiate an ecological succession helps us use nature’s systems to transform ground which has become addicted to artificial inputs into a functional, productive ecosystem.
As farmers, embracing these natural processes allows us to farm in a way that not only supports but sustains our environment. While this journey is ongoing and each solution often leads to new questions and challenges, this exciting journey makes farming not just productive, but lots of fun as well.
Join us as we delve deeper into the marvels of the soil food web and productive agroecology at Mindrum, exploring how we can work alongside nature to foster a more sustainable and thriving agricultural future.