R&D

As we have re-engaged natural production systems, we are having to unlearn some of our old lessons and relearn how to work with the naturally farmed ecosystem

Soil Health
R&D

At Mindrum, our regenerative journey is driven by information and learning. This information model draws from a number of doctrinal approaches a to help us refine the way we work.  Some of these trials are highly contextual, tailored to our unique operating context, while others have broader applicability and potential benefits for the wider agricultural community.

We try to blend traditional observation, which has guided agriculture for millennia, with modern techniques in a number of projects.  Some of these are internal and some running in collaboration with the agricultural, scientific, and academic communities. We view these diverse research approaches not as separate disciplines but as interconnected and complementary components of the way we do business.

 

Innovative Farmers - Insects and Wild Flower Margins

Over 2022, we have been involved with an innovative Farmers project to study the impact of wild flower margins on aphid populations as part of an integrated pest management programme.  

Whilst the main data gathering phase is now complete, the data is now being analysed to produce findings. 

Vermiculture

Whilst we have been running some small scale worm bins for some time, we have recently developed a larger continuous flow vermiculture system.  Whilst it is still coming up to full production, it will produce enough Vermicast to dress seeds, create liquid interventions and should be pretty scaleable.  

The worms are also breeding fast so that we can scale the system, using our own waste materials to make the most incredible vermicast. 

Fecal Egg Counting and Dung Beetles

Dung Beetles are increasingly sparse in many parts of the country, especially where there are few livestock.  They represent a critical part of the foodweb, and particularly represent a vital link between nutrient deposition on the surface of the ground (Dung) and the soil ecosystem.

We conduct Fecal Egg counting which has dramatically reduced the amount to wormers being used.  These wormers kill a significant proportion of the Dung Beetles which are part of the food web.

Where possible we also reduce the need to worm and the impact of worming by planting anthelmintic plants and forage which naturally reduce parasite burdens.

Dung beetle safaris are also an excellent and fun way for visiting school groups to understand the way that nature cycles nutrients.  

Living Mulches Trial

We are supporting the Organic Research Centre Living Mulches Trial to explore how a number of seed varieties and blends work within a living mulch model. 

As part of this, we strip tilled 7 different varieties and blends of wheat into a living clover based mulch in November 2023.  This is being monitored by ORC.

Harnessing the power of thistles '24

This is an internal project exploring the role of Thistles as Nutrient Pumps.  Based on the observation that whilst thistle seeds seem to be present in the ground, even when they are not germinating, but that their germination seems to be triggered by a number of different situations, we are exploring their role in the wider system.

For many years, we have battled with thistles, in some places but not in others.  Now we are spending a bit more time trying to understand what is going on, its clear that they are probably not there by accident.

Having done some exploration over the last couple of years we are continuing the motion, and are currently exploring how effective they are as nutrient pumps.

Managing Micorrhizae

We have observed that though we have been managing the ground sensitively for some years, some of our previously hard farmed areas are not recovering their Arbuscular Micorrhizal Fungal (AMF) populations as quickly as we had expected.

We are spending time looking at these areas and their micorrhizal fungi in detail to see if we can understand why….

Then spending a bit of time trying to think like an AMF…. – curiously harder than it seems as they appear to have a particularly elegant and nuanced system – which is making us all feel rather humble…

 

BioFertilisers - Indigenous Micro Organisms

This is an internal project we have been running since 2021, involving the on farm manufacture of biofertilizers made from Indiginous Micro Organisms captured on farm.  This enables us to innoculate soil in fields that have been degraded over recent decades.

This is a technique which forms part of the Korean Natural Farming system.  It works pretty well and has the advantage of producing locally relevant biological inputs at farm scale.

Flexible Tillage Techniques

There is a balance between the need to establish cash crops and the damage caused by invertion tillage (ploughing).  We are experimenting with a number of techniques to minimise tillage, whilst providing optimal conditions for the establishment of cash crops, in this case, heritage wheat.

These projects range from different approaches to tillage itself – it has become clear that in an organic model there are occasions where physical intervention is required – to the use of perennial companion crops which provide a “canvas” for the direct establishment of cash crops.

Heritage Techniques - Grazing winter cereals

We are exploring a range of heritage techniques, that had fallen out of use when we were conventionally farming.  In this project we are using livestock to graze winter cereals.

This cleans up the winter crops, encourages them to tiller and causes the plants to release root exudates into the soil to stimulate the soil biology during the winter.

This is proving very successful and we are trying a number of different ways this year.

Microscopic bioindicators

After some retraining, we are now able to use a number of microscopic bio-indicators to give us operational intelligence to support operational decisionmaking on the ground.  We are developing this model, in the 

Brix Testing

Brix tests are a quick way to assess current sugar levels in a particular plant sample using a Refractometer.  Sugar in plants is useful to understand at a tactical level, sometimes we want to optimise the sugars in forage, and on other occasions, as with laminitic horses, we need to ensure that there is not too much sugar in the diet.

Whilst brix levels change as plants change their rate of photosynthesis and between plants it does give a relative measure of sugar in the plant at the time of the test.

It is particularly useful to compare target crop plants and weeds – and can be a good indication of how well the farmed ecosystem is suited to particular plant groups. 

Whilst we have been looking at Brix for a while, we have just started recording all the brix tests in an attempt to see if we can generate a useful data body.

 

Seed Selection and Blends

We are looking at a number of heritage blends and seeds in addition to techniques.  Often, these were more suited to life without artificial support.  Other things we are actively looking at is ensuring an optimal competitive ecosystem by designing  seed combinations which enable us to enhance productivity using things like height, light, soil temperature and nutrient mining ability to select for different components of the mix at different stages of the growth cycle.

Feeding Willow to Lambs

Mindrum is in an area which has been historically low in cobalt.  Whilst this appears to be based on underlying geology, it is probably exacerbated by several hundred years of set stocking.

We have noticed that where willow trees were present, the sheep seemed to be browsing deliberately.  On a whim, in 2023, we decided to have a quick look at this and took some blood tests from a group of lambs before giving some of them access to willow to eat twice a week for 3 weeks.  At the end of this we re-tested and found that the cobalt had doubled in 3 weeks.

Heartened by this, we were introduced to Nottingham University who are helping do a more formal trial.  In the mean time we have also planted a number of in field patches of willow in some fields in a distributed wood meadow configuration to further develop on farm observations.

Alongside the field lab, Innovative Farmers and the Soil Association are hosting an Agroforestry Learning Network on the topic of feeding willow to lambs.  This aims to enhance the learnings from the trial, and share farmer experiences, including the practicalities of planting willow for different livestock systems, methods of feeding to lambs and the anecdotal impact of willow on animal health and welfare.  The group will also be holding their own mini trials to support the main IF trial.

This field lab is funded by The Oglesby Charitable Trust