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For rivers and farmers – the win-win is in the soil

I am Emma, the Landscape Recovery Manager at Trent Rivers Trust, and after a few years of wanting to go, but budgets, scheduling, and maternity leave getting in the way, I made it for the first time this year. I camped at the Groundswell campsite and attended the first day of the event. In this post, I’m sharing my experience and learnings at the event.

What is it about?

Regenerative agriculture is a movement that has gained a lot of momentum in recent years, in no small part due to the Groundswell event. Regenerative agriculture (“regen-ag”) puts the soil first, adopting practices that minimise the disturbance of, and improve the health of this valuable resource over traditional practices. Minimum and zero tillage cultivation methods are favoured over practices like ploughing so the soil structure isn’t disturbed or damaged, a continuous green cover is maintained to reduce soil erosion and to ensure the vast community of bacteria, fungi and insects have a thriving habitat, and mixed farming systems are being adopted to diversify the rotation and utilise manures for nutrients to reduce the use of artificial fertilisers. All this leads to an improved soil ecosystem which can consist of billions of microscopic organisms, these organisms are invaluable for a good soil structure, are better for crop health and nutrition as more soil nutrients are utilised by plants with the help of these microbes, and they are more resilient to diseases, meaning less fertilisers and chemicals are needed.

Why is Trent Rivers Trust involved?

At Trent Rivers Trust regen-ag has peaked our interest because it allows the environment and productive farm business to thrive in harmony with each other. A healthy soil will create less soil erosion, meaning fewer chemicals, nutrients and sediments end up in rivers. A healthy soil will have greater infiltration rates meaning less surface run off and reduced flood risk. An agricultural system with fewer chemical inputs and a wider rotation leads to greater on farm species and habitat diversity.

Groundswell is a vibrant, inspirational showcase of all the research, ideas, products and experiences around regenerative agriculture today in the UK and around the world. Alongside rows and rows of trade stands and demonstrations are fascinating and motivational talks and presentations from some world leaders of the movement.

My takeaways

The key points that I am bringing back to Trent Rivers Trust are the practical experiences of farmers that are implementing these practices on their farms. There is such open and honest discussion about what has worked and what hasn’t for farmers, about how to make it work practically and financially. Making changes to your livelihood is a daunting concept but knowing there is a whole movement out there to be learning from can bring comfort. Starting small and monitoring the outcomes closely is a recurring message.

What to look for in your soil and how to monitor improvements both long and short term is also a key takeaway and we have been able to add to our knowledge of tests and techniques, and our list of contacts and consultants that can support the soil health work we have already been delivering at Trent Rivers Trust.

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