Healthy Soils Workshops

Innovation for Agriculture, in partnership with Catchment Sensitive Farming, are staging Healthy Soils workshops over the country this winter.

Commencing on the 13th December in Heckfield, Basingstoke, Stephen Briggs Nuffield Scholar, and David Gardener IfA CEO, will be delivering over 20 workshops to farmers and advisors before spring.

These events are free to attend and are focusing on the options and strategies for improving soil health and the increasing popularity in growing Cover Crops.

To find out more information or to book a place on a workshop in your area, please contact the CSF Farm Events Team on 0208 026 8780.


Soil Farmer Of The Year 2018 Launched

Sharing best practice and innovation through championing farmers who are improving their soils

The Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit and Innovation for Agriculture’s competition to find the UK’s Soil Farmer of 2018 is open for applications.

Following its success over the last two years, the competition is open again this year. It aims to find farmers and growers who are engaged with and passionate about managing their soils in a way which supports productive agriculture, biodiversity, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and builds soil organic matter.

Sustainable soil management is one of the cornerstones of profitable farm businesses, a thriving and diverse natural environment, and a transformation to a low carbon economy. Soil health is of critical importance to everyone and this competition champions farmers who understand the importance of soil, and are changing their management to protect and improve it.

The competition has attracted top quality farmers to apply, both large and small, conventional and organic, who were involved in a variety of enterprises on-farm. The competition has seen previous winners including Clive Bailye in 2016, and joint winners of Richard Suddes and Tim Parton in 2017.

The success of the first Soil Farmer of the Year competition exceeded our expectations”, explains FCCT director Jonathan Smith. “It was inspiring to read so many farmers and growers tell us what positive things they were doing for their soils. Judging it really was a difficult process, due to the high quality of entries. We’re hoping even more farmers and growers will want to compete for this prestigious prize this year. For FCCT it firmly places us as a champion of good soil management on farms, and demonstrating the potential farmland has to sequester carbon.”

The competition is open to any UK farmer or grower who are managing their soils in a way which optimises soil health and quality. Applications are being taken online through this link (insert link ), where there is more information and an opportunity to read the write ups from the last two years. The competition is being generously sponsored again by Cotswold Seeds, and the top three entries will all receive prizes of fertility building or green manure seed.

FCCT is delighted that this project is in partnership with 4 per 1000 Initiative, the international collaboration aiming to demonstrate that agriculture, and in particular agricultural soils can play a crucial role where food security and climate change are concerned. As the first project in the UK to be officially partnered by 4 per 1000, we firmly support the aims of the Initiative, and in particular recognise the enormous potential of farm soils to sequester carbon whilst providing multiple co-benefits to farmers and society.

Previous applicants are invited to apply again, and as a first this year, farmers are able to nominate others who they think are excelling in prioritising soil health in their business.

The competition opens on World Soils Day on the 5th December, and will close on the 5thof March 2018. Shortlisted applicants will be visited by the judging panel and the results will be published at the end of April. The top three applicants will also be hosting farm walks during 2018.


 Further information for journalists:

Contact: Becky Willson, Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit Project Manager,  01579 372376 / 07875 35611

Coming soon: Demo units

Coming soon: Demo units for dairy sensors, grassland carbon and organic livestock

In the next four years, UK demonstration units will be established as showcases for sensor technologies in the dairy sector, grassland and carbon capture, and animal health in the organic sector. They will result from a new EU project called Nefertiti, in which Innovation for Agriculture (IfA) is involved along with 24 other partners from 16 countries. In addition to UK, the project will establish demonstrations right across Europe, some based on commercial farms and others at research institutes. The sensor technology element is a logical progression of our existing Data Driven Dairy Decisions for Farmers (4D4F) EU project.

The two other demo topics also fit well with our existing programmes on soil health and antibiotic reduction. A key part of Nefertiti will involve the exchange of information and experiences across the partnership, so that successful strategies can be replicated elsewhere.

So unhindered (so far, fingers crossed) by Brexit, we continue to exchange ideas across Europe and seek opportunities to engage with the Horizon 2020 science programme to achieve our organisational WHY (see first item) “to help farmers make best use of existing and emerging knowledge to…

Of course, we very much hope and intend that our involvement will continue in Europe after the dust has settled!

Earthworms deserve to be on your payroll

Earthworms should be on every farmer’s payroll, according to Des Kay, Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) officer in the east midlands. At one of 21 healthy soils workshops staged by IfA for CSF all over the country, he outlined a three-way gain from knowledge-driven farming that worked in sympathy with soil biology, not against it. “Land becomes more productive, the business more profitable, and the environment better protected,” he said, “To achieve all these requires a healthy earthworm population. They are an essential and highly productive part of your workforce.” On the same theme, leader of IfA’s healthy soils project Stephen Briggs revelled in telling crop growers at the workshops that they were really livestock farmers. “One hectare of healthy topsoil is home to about 50 tonnes of micro-livestock, mainly earthworms and eelworms, bacterial and protozoa,” he says. “Above ground, one lowland hectare can support about two adult cows or 20 breeding ewes. In contrast below ground, these micro-livestock amount to the equivalent of about 67 cows or 670 ewes. “To survive and thrive, these subterranean livestock require much the same as their above ground neighbours: A suitable environment in which to thrive, including balanced supplies of air, water and food. CSF operates where rivers are subject to sedimentation or leakage of nitrates or phosphates from farm land. It aims to help farmers keep those things where they’re most useful – on the farm – and away from rivers where they’re certainly not wanted.

Winner of the Soil Farmer of the Year 2017 announced

Richard Suddes, a mixed farmer from Durham, and Tim Parton, an arable farmer from Staffordshire have been awarded the 2017 Soil Farmer of the Year Award as joint winners.

The competition, now in its second year is organised by the Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit (FCCT) and Innovation for Agriculture (IfA).

The competition aims to find famers and growers who are engaged with, and passionate about managing their soils in a way which supports productive agriculture, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and builds soil health, organic matter and carbon.

The two winning farmers are working in different conditions, with Richard farming at 850 feet above sea level and Tim farming in the Staffordshire countryside.

Tim farms 300 hectares of combinable crops with sheep contracted in to graze cover crops. He has transitioned over the last 7 years from using a plough, through strip till to the farm now being completely zero till with soil health as the number one priority.

Tim has been chosen as one of the winners this year due to his enthusiasm and passion for his soil and how to manage it. He is a self-confessed ‘soil addict’ focussed on building soil organic matter and biological populations that will help produce quality food with a reduced dependency on inputs.

Tim explains, “Soil is life, and I am so proud to have been recognised as a good custodian.”

Richard farms 1200 acres in county Durham, running a mixed farming system with cattle and arable cropping. Richard changed his farming system about 9 years ago as he was fighting a losing battle against the weather and conditions, as well as a realisation that there was a need to look after the soil.

The judges recognised Richard’s dedication to his soil management and his pioneering attitude to trying new things and integrating cropping and livestock together to build soil health. He is experimenting with undersowing crops with clover as well as focussing on nutrient usage and maximising the benefits of the livestock manures on the arable rotation.

Richard comments, “We are delighted to have won and had our hard work recognised.”

The accolade of third prize was taken by Richard Boldan, an arable farmer from East Yorkshire. Richard was awarded third prize for his fantastic attitude towards not just soil health, but also for his work promoting sustainable soil management up the supply chain and developing on-farm trials to look at the viability of direct drilling for vining peas.

Richard is “absolutely delighted to have been placed third, given the quality of the other entrants.”

Jonathan Smith, FCCT Director said “In the second year of running this competition, it is fantastic to see such amazing farmers sharing their soil management stories. Yet again there was a lot of strong applicants, and it was a hard decision on who to shortlist as well as to decide the final result.  We appreciate the effort all entrants put in to the competition. These farmers and growers are demonstrating the benefits of building soil organic matter – healthier, more productive soils, increased carbon sequestration and better yields. It’s a win-win approach, and a message we would like to spread far and wide.”

The top three famers will all receive prizes of fertility building or green manure seed from the kind sponsor of the competition, Cotswold Seeds.

The top three farmers will also all be hosting farm walks where their prizes will be presented and there will be a chance to see, understand and dig a bit deeper into what they are doing. The walk at Richard Boldan’s in Yorkshire will take place on the 28th June, Richard Suddes’ in County Durham on the 5th July and at Tim Parton’s farm near Wolverhampton on the 6th July. All walks will run from 6pm until 8.30pm. Further details are available on the FCCT website.

Two other farmers were awarded highly commended for their dedication to soil health, their exemplary soil management and level of innovation. These were Adam Lewis from Herefordshire and George Hosier from Wiltshire.


Further information

Contact: Becky Willson, Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit Project Officer,, 01579 372376.

Soil Farmer of the Year – Shortlist announced

The shortlist for the Soil Farmer of the Year competition has been announced.

The competition which Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit and Innovation for Agriculture, with kind sponsorship by Cotswold Seeds, ran for the second time this year and the standard of entries was extremely high. This year entries have been spread across the country and spanned different enterprises and scales. Despite the range of farming systems, a common thread across all entries was a passion for soil management and a recognition of the crucial importance that soil health has to the running of their farming and growing operations.

A shortlisted applicant explained “Soil health is the focus of everything that I do on the farm now. It is the primary consideration for day to day management decisions.”

All received applications have been judged by a panel of judges which included scientists from Rothamstead Research North Wyke, farmers from the Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit, last year’s Soil Farmer of the Year, our sponsor Cotswold Seeds and staff from Innovation for Agriculture. Applicants were scored on their responses to questions on soil management, analysis and organic matter, biology, as well as attitudes towards soil health.

5 applicants have been shortlisted. These are (in alphabetical order):

  • Richard Boldan (Arable)
  • George Hosier (Mixed)
  • Adam Lewis (Arable)
  • Tim Parton (Mixed)
  • Richard Suddes (Mixed)

The shortlisted applicants will now be visited by FCCT and then the decision of the top three soil farmers will be made. The decision will be announced in mid June with the presentation of the awards taking place on a farm walk later in the year, which will give other farmers the chance to come and visit the UK Soil Farmer of the Year and the runners up, and dig a little deeper into why they have been awarded the accolade.

Don’t get left behind… Westmorland members keeping pace with arable hotshots

Healthy soils are all the rage in arable farming, for very good reason: They produce more plant life and higher yields of saleable crop. The same applies not just to grassland reseeds, but permanent pasture too…it’s just less obvious, according to arable farmer and soils specialist at Innovation for Agriculture, Stephen Briggs.

He was speaking at a recent ‘Enrich Your Soils…Enrich Your Farming’ discussion group for society members. “One of the things that soil health and productivity depend on is a subterrarean population of micro-organisms,” he explains. “In a typical healthy soil, one hectare is home to about 50 tonnes of these micro-livestock: mainly earthworms, eelworms, bacterial and protozoa.

“So above ground, one lowland hectare can support about two adult cows. Below ground, as micro-livestock, it contains the equivalent of about 67 cows, without which the two up top would not get fed.”
To survive and thrive, Stephen Briggs says subterranean livestock require much the same as their above ground neighbours: Air, enough water but not too much, and a nutrient supply.

With the first two of these in mind, the enemy of air and drainage is compaction. Obvious culprits on silage or hay ground are tractors, forage harvesters or big balers, and trailers. But Stephen Briggs cautions against overlooking the impact of cattle and sheep hooves, especially when highly stocked or when ground conditions are wet.

“The best way to deal with compaction is avoid it in the first place,” he advises. “In crop production, controlled traffic systems minimise the area used by machinery wheels. Theoretically, this is equally feasible in silage fields if a group of farmers get together with their contractor to set it up.

“Otherwise, field studies have found silage harvesting results in 100% of each field being run over at least once by heavy machinery. It is the first pass that creates most compaction.”
Clearly, controlled traffic in grassland areas will take time to develop, Mr Briggs acknowledges. Meanwhile, he says short term measures to improve soil aeration and tackle compaction include subsoiling and minimum tillage reseeding.

For a useful comparison of soil conditions, he suggests digging two holes about half-a-metre deep, one in the field and the other under a nearby hedge, where a farm’s best soils will be. “Count earthworms and compare colours, smells and textures. If both holes are the same, count your blessings. If not, develop a soil improvement plan.”
An ‘Enrich Your Soils’ information pack is available from Innovation for Agriculture.