Cultivating on-farm Fertility through Diverse Biodynamic Approaches

Oakbrook Market Garden Tour at the Family of Farms Day 2023

Our Family of Farms day this year hosted a workshop discussion on the question of building soil fertility within the farm organism.

Each of the Land Trust farms are situated across different geographies, and at the heart of building fertility is the adoption of diverse practices to build in resilience within the farm and wider farming landscape. At the centre of the conversation was the integral role trees play in the farming system, often in the form of Agroforestry, with the inclusion of animal grazing.

Benefits of Agroforestry:

Many of our farms described agroforestry as a way of synergising the benefits of agriculture and forestry; making it a valuable tool for mixed farming systems. Farms explained how integrating trees within the farming system has the potential to increase biodiversity, control pests, build in resilience in the face of crop failures, and makes large landscapes more human scale, positively impacting farm worker wellbeing. 

Planting a variety of trees adds a three-dimensional aspect to the landscape, contributing to both aesthetic appeal and ecological diversity. It’s crucial to choose the right trees for the right space, and ongoing experimentation helps determine which trees thrive in a particular environment.

Government grants play a crucial role in supporting sustainable farming practices. Public grants for hedges, capital grants for small farms under the Countryside Stewardship scheme, and carbon offsetting payments are avenues through which farmers can receive financial support for implementing agroforestry.

Benefits of Mob Grazing:

Mob grazing, was another core part of the discussion around soil fertility; to which the cow takes centre stage in building humus – a treasure coveted by farmers immersed in the art of biodynamics. Many of our farms use mob grazing (involving controlled, carefully timed) movements of their livestock to enhance the diversity of herbs in the pasture and over time helps to outcompete other dominant grass types. Farmers also expressed further benefits such as efficient nutrient cycling, and enhanced microbial activity.

Introducing herbal leys can enhance biodiversity and provide various nutrients to livestock. However, selecting herbs that are not native to the region may disrupt the existing ecological balance. Native plant species have evolved to the local climate and soil conditions and play a crucial role in supporting local wildlife.

While mob grazing and herbal leys can offer benefits, Land Trust farmers expressed reservation in considering the ecological impact on the local environment, the adaptation of plants to the region, and the potential introduction of non-native species. Thoughtful management practices, monitoring, and adaptability are key to ensuring that these approaches align with the principles of biodynamic farming while respecting and enhancing the local ecosystem.

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