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UK Leads the Way for Agricultural Innovation at US Climate Summit

With the UK investing £3 million to the Global Fertiliser Challenge in an effort to fund new research for alternative fertilisers – Breakthrough Press speaks to sustainable Edinburgh farm, The Free Company

Credit: Wix

The UK marked itself as a global leader in food productivity, sustainable farming and tackling climate change at the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM for Climate) Summit, that took place the 9th of May, including investing £3 million to develop more sustainable fertilisers

Attending the summit in Washington D.C., Farming Minister Mark Spencer helped bring over 20 countries together to push global progress on the “Agriculture Breakthrough” initiative.

Agriculture Breakthrough is a collaborative effort, created under the UK’s COP26 Presidency to propel the development of clean technologies and sustainable solutions in the agriculture sector.

Included in this effort is the US-led Global Fertiliser Challenge, which the UK joined with a £3 million investment to develop, test and scale up new and alternative fertilisers that can enhance soil health, agricultural productivity, and the sustainability of agriculture globally.

Farming Minister, Mark Spencer said: “Innovation is key to unlocking a more sustainable, profitable future for our farming and agriculture sectors. It is vital we join together and fund new research to catalyse pioneering solutions that will support farmers around the world to meet the challenges of food security while delivering for our environment.”

Spencer continued in addressing the summit, saying: “We must continue to foster this innovation not only at home but around the world, and I encourage countries to get onboard as we work to generate a real breakthrough for the agri-food sector.

One sustainable farm in the UK, The Free Company, recognises the value of sustainable farming – not just for the environment, but also for the farms themselves.

Breakthrough Press spoke with owner Charlie Buchanan Smith to find out more.

Sustainable Farming in the UK: The Free Company

The Edinburgh-based farm has employed the no-till system as their primary sustainable farming practice. This process requires farmers to never disturb the soil. Free Company owner, Charlie Buchanan-Smith gave Breakthrough Press an insight into how the farm works to the no-till method.

“Soil is an inherently layered living system,” Charlie explained. “It doesn't like to be turned - in the natural world you don't see exposed soil on the surface. When soil becomes exposed, the organic matter in the soil encounters oxygen, which means it becomes oxidised and inviable.”

Kalina Swiatek, a Glasgow-based environmental management student, said: “When you till land, everything that is in it dies. It’s like an antibiotic – it’s not just killing the bad stuff, it’s also killing the good stuff.”

The process of tilling also releases excessive carbon and degrades the soil health, which increases the need for fertilisers. In addition to this, tilling can also cause contaminated run-off. This run-off can then pollute rivers and ponds. Charlie noted that whether they are growing vegetables, or grazing animals on permanent pasture – the Free Company always ensures they are working to this sustainable method.

Image by Eva Mackenzie

Intense Rotation

One of the ways to maintain a no-till method is by continually rotating animals through pastures. The Free Company farm employ these techniques, with Charlie explaining:

“With intensive grazing techniques, we're aiming for animals to graze a third, leave a third, and then trample a third – which is the perfect ratio in a grazing pasture system. This forces your grass to send its roots down to much deeper levels. In doing that, you're building up organic matter in the ground.”

Charlie continued, “If you look at ancient grasslands across the world, they have massive roots that can go metres down. This concept is something that in conventional and industrial systems is completely lost. We now have these weak grasses that are completely reliant on spraying nitrogen onto them.”

Roots & Compost

The agricultural team at the farm make huge amounts of compost on a yearly basis to create the medium in which their vegetables grow. Their compost is made from animal bedding, veg scraps and wood chips, which is then placed directly on top of the pasture in the fields. Over time, the roots of these vegetable crops will grow through the compost and continue to descend into the pasture below.

“To align with the no-dig method, when it comes to the end of the life cycle of a veg crop, instead of ripping out the plant, we simply cut the plant at the top of the root system and leave the whole root in the ground. This will then feed the next stage of microbial interactions – which will aid in the fertilization of the soil for the next succession of planting.”, said Charlie.

“This forms the basis of no-till farming. Maintaining that life keeps all the necessary microbial bacterial interactions in the soil – restoring a happier, healthier and much more natural system.”, Charlie affirmed.

No-Till is the Way Forward

Kalina added: “Contemporary farms should recognise the huge benefits of the no-till technique. Whilst it has ancient origins, it’s the method of farming that is not just going to benefit farms – it’s helping to save the planet. Sustainable farming is definitely the way forward.”

With the UK recognising the importance of innovative agriculture, and working towards a more sustainable future for the vital industry - it appears we are returning to our roots.
Breakthrough Press spoke with Kalina Swiatek to learn more about No-Till farming - check it out here!


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