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

Innovation, Research and Development

As we have moved away from the simplified systems that conventional farming has enabled through its use of artificial inputs, we are having to unlearn some of our conventional techniques and relearn new ways to get the most out of the place whilst maintaining a sympathetic approach to the ecosystem.

We have an active R&D Policy covering all aspects of the farm, some of these are internal projects and some of these involve other organisations.  Whilst a number of the projects are formal, we also conduct a great deal of informal R&D and trials to find better ways to work with the ground at farm level.

One of the biggest challenges associated with a fundamental change, is understanding what information (or data) we actually need to collect  – and can collect on a practical basis.  We are tracking and recording a number of metrics with a view to informing our operational picture.

Some of these lessons involve legacy and historical practices, often enhanced with modern tools, knowledge and technology.

 

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.  

Regen Indicators

We are working with a number of like minded groups and teams to record a number of Regenerative Metrics including species diversity, worm counts, slake tests and a range of other metrics with a view to understanding what is important, what adds value and how that picture changes over time.

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.

Microscopy

Having conducted a great deal of retraining, we work with microscopes to conduct onsite biological monitoring.  This enables us to understand precisely what is going on in the soil and, where necessary, take the appropriate action.

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.