14 June 2023
Soil Health Educator Joel Williams has a particular interest in designing farming systems that focus on managing soil biology along with crop and soil nutrition to optimise plant immunity and soil function. He shares his insights.
THE principles of redesigning agricultural systems to regenerate soils, biodiversity and the bottom line are the same no matter where you are in the world. It is how we interpret and apply them which changes.
Diversity of plant species is key, as seen by the multi-faceted role our ecological infrastructure - the flower strips, trees, shrubs and hedgerows - play in the ecosystem, and how we can harness their benefits as well as enhance plant diversity within production systems.
Plant diversity dilutes food sources for pests and diseases, enabling us to reduce our dependence on crop protection products. And how, through the variation in rooting depths and habits, plant diversity can lower the need for fertilisers.
Below ground, plant diversity has been shown to stimulate soil biology and improve soil structure, further improving nutrient cycling. With intercropping and diverse pastures, as well as buffer strips and ecological infrastructure being viable options, plant diversity becomes a central tool of redesigning our farming systems.
An integrated pest and disease management (IPDM) session makes other in-field strategies more likely to succeed. Then there's the microbiome - beneficials that live around, on or in plants, can either directly antagonise pests and disease or induce the production of defence chemicals within the plant.
We need to consider how we conceptualise ‘helping farming systems’, redesigning them and moving towards something more sustainable. For example, is a ‘leap’ better than a ‘step’ when moving towards a regenerative approach?
Compare the advantages and disadvantages of incremental versus transformative change, bringing conscious thought to contributing factors, whether that’s financial pressure, capacity to take risks or desired speed of change.
Whichever is right for you and your farm, remember regenerative agriculture, is still an emerging concept and it takes an open mind, initiative and a certain amount of resilience to reimagine a landscape and its farms.
* Joel Williams is a soil health educator, rethinking soils through a lens of biology, based in Canada. He provides lectures, workshops and consultation on soil management, plant nutrition and integrated approaches of sustainable food production. Joel will be speaking at the Groundswell Festival 2023 as well as Groundswell Outreach (GO) Falkland, a fringe Groundswell event with a regional focus in Scotland. For more details on these, visit our events page here.