Regenerative agricultural practices are championed by the Paris Climate Change agreement and the Intergovernmental Policy on Climate Change (IPCC) as easy to implement, with far ranging benefits to society and environment. The key processes of regenerative agriculture are:-
¥ no tillage,
¥ diverse cover crops,
¥ in-farm fertility - microbes, green manures, cover crops (no external nutrients),
¥ no pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, and multiple crop rotations.
Together, these practices increase carbon-rich soil organic matter. The result: vital microbes proliferate, toxic chemicals and high salt levels in soil immediately get complexed, roots go deeper, nutrient uptake improves, water retention increases, plants become more pest resistant, and soil fertility compounds.
"It is estimated that at least 50 percent of the carbon in the earth’s soils has been released into the atmosphere over the past centuries. Bringing that carbon back home through regenerative agriculture is one of the greatest opportunities to address human and climate health, along with the financial well-being of farmers". Paul Hawkins Drawdown.org.
History - 1 hector of sandy clay soil on full conventional chemical fertilizer program, growing Jersey Royal potatoes for 25 years +.
Potatoes stay in soil for 12 weeks, field is left fallow for 9 months of the year. Some years a second crop was grown.
2016 Potato Cyst Nematode count 2 -3, 2016 yield 3 - 4.5 tons per verge.
Rhizoctonia levels 15 out of 20
Soil problems two dead spots where Shot-put herbicide turned soil (geology with life) to dirt (geology without life) to the extent potatoes / cover crops, pasture grass could not grow.
Neighbouring land owner is a bee keeper - reported suffering annual colony loss and high versa counts.
Microbial Regenerative Soil Strategy. (MRS) Engaged with farmer 17.06.16
Treatment - Two weeks following harvest of the conventional potato crop, farmer subsoiled 650 gallons of Fungal dominant Compost extract (beneficial microbes) ½ meter into the top soil. Immediately followed by sowing a mixed crop of vetch, rye and radish cover crop / green manure.
Cover Crop observations, period 17.06.2016 - 19.04.17.
June there was an Island wide outbreak of diamond back moth followed by infestation of cabbage root fly and cabbage white butterfly / caterpillar. Early damage was observed on the radish (brassicas). An application of Compost tea helped suppress fly’s attack and reduced caterpillar damage. With weeds becoming the weaker species (as the succession balance of soil shifted to suit the higher succession cover crops) (more fungal), brassicas (radish) showed signs of protecting themselves and pests turned to attacking weaker species - weeds.
Biodiversity bloomed, the honey production at the neighboring apiary increased, beekeeper reported less colony collapse.
Sample 07.08.16No weeds observed in the microbe inoculated area, only noticeable close to banks where subsoiled (microbes) weren't injected. Where Activated Compost Tea was spayed there was a noticeable leaf burn of Docks.
Patches of poor soil, shot-put crossover, were quickly taken over by vetch, (rye and radish did not germinate). We concluded the nitrifying bacteria populating and denatured the toxins so vetch as a N fixer proliferated, as humans complex the toxins as long as disturbance both chemical and physical are minimized hopefully the baron patches will recover.
Despite a hot dry summer, a fungal mat was observed throughout and soil moisture remained at 25% level through to 2017
December / January we sprayed the hedgerows with a fungal Compost tea in an attempt to out compete blight spoors.
14.03.17 potatoes where planted into the remaining cover crop roots. The root system of the radish supported the fungal networks and decaying radish would release minerals and nutrients for following crop - potatoes.
Sampled soil on the 14.03.17
The F:B biomass had balanced. The humic faction in the soil had increased by approx 2% and p.H settled at 6.4, which meant the soils hydrology capabilities had developed and humus factions were forming. 1gm of additional carbon is capable of holding 8 gas of water, A 1% increase of SOC across an acre increased water holding capacity of soil by 20,000 gallons.
Terminating the crop in November and again in January 2017 because regrowth was vigorous. In February Jersey experienced higher than normal rain which meant we did not get onto the field to plant potatoes until March.
It worried me that the terminated crop was left to rot on the soil prior to planting potatoes, decaying organic matter in wet conditions attracts pathogenic biodegraders and potential disease causing disease causing organisms. (as can be seen in the soil assessment we experienced a bloom of oomycetes on the 14.03.17).
Planting potato crop
Ploughing releases 162g CO2 m2 of Soil carbon back to the atmosphere at 280mm plough depth - standard in Jersey.
It was the decision of the farmer because soil had turned to a cottage cheese texture -, not to plough.
NPK and magnesium readings where 114.8, 255, 44 MG/L (available) form laboratory analysis SOM was good.
As this was the first year into a farmer led experiment the farmer opted to apply 25%, 50% and 75% normal application of N.P.K in neighboring field to compare crop yields.
Planted nitrogen fixing vetch and pigeon pea with the seed potato. Mycorrhiza fungi was added to support the crop.
There was a noticeable difference in the above ground growth but an immeasurable difference in the potato yields at harvest. (NPK decimates humus and soil carbon)
09.04.17 Planted Royals with nitrogen fixers:- Hairy vetch and pigeon peas. Reddish still grew through from the 2016 seed but did not affect the potato yields.
28.04.17 First spray of Compost Tea. Then weekly sprays while the weather supported blight conditions.
12.05.17 Using an Oyster mushroom mycelium (collected locally) added to the Compost Tea as a feed, we witnessed a bacterial feeding nematode being stalked and killed by the fungi. Compost tea mixes and feeds applied were bacterial dominant.
23.04.17 BRIX on Jersey Royals 9+ PH 6.4 Leaf BRIX 12. Soil moisture levels 25% in the driest month, when other conventional fields where being irrigated our Microbe Regenerates Soil (MRS) field received no irrigation.
Final BRIX measured on harvested potatoes - 9.5 - 10 back at farm.
Yield on 2 acres was 14 boxes = 14 tons of potatoes = 5.6 tons a verge, matching and in some cases exceeding the farmers conventionally grown crop.
Rhizoctonia levels 4 (small field) and 9 (big field) out of 20
For the first year of transitioning out of conventional agriculture into regenerative agriculture the results where better than expected.
Soil carbon in the form of humics (plant available carbon) was the most surprising improvement.
Plants looked healthy right up to the last CT application.
Tractor damaging the foliage opens up the likelihood of disease.
Note next year - stop spraying CT once potatoes get to tractor high
Microbial Regenerated Soil. (MRS)
Conventionally managed (chemicals)
Soils identically prepared in A) , B), and C) No further treatment with chemicals or Compost teas, the objective of the trial is to understand the growing capacity of soil with low soil organic carbon due to intensive practices. Soil with three plus years of natural SOC accumulation and regenerated soil after one year out of conventional agriculture regenerated with microbes to suit the successional needs of Jersey Royal Potatoes.
The cover crop used in all three trial plots was a Special Green Manure mix sponsored by Cotswold Seeds, consisting of 53% Forage Rye, 15% Early English Vetch, 15% Arvica forage pea, 5% Alpha tillage radish, 5% buckwheat, 2% main crop turnip, 5% Sparta cocksfoot
The Farmer who kindly donated his fields for the trial was Paul and Peter Carre Fosse Au Bosse Farm
13.07.17 other than 2 cm of rain the crop had had no water and no added input.
MRS trial:- The cover crop was dense, still some bare soil was exposed, no sign of pest or disease, all seven species of cover crop where visible. Average height of plants 6 cm.
Organic:- Cover crop was not as dense, patches of bare soil could be easily seen. Cabbage white butterfly / caterpillar damage was evident. Average height of pant 4-5cm
Conventional:- Lots of exposed soil, brassicas had taken but looked very brown, pest damage obvious, height of crop 3-4 cm.
22nd July 2017. Two days of good rain 16cm
A) 23cm growth Very dense cover, no signs of bare soil. No sign of pest damage. All varieties taken.
B) 23cm growth. Very dense growth, color of leaf darker, slight pest damage. Not all varieties taken mostly brassicas.
C) 15cm growth. lots of bare soil viable, color of leaf only brassicas, vetch and cocksfoot visible