A ground-breaking study at the University of Leeds Farm is shedding light on the remarkable advantages of regenerative agriculture. This research, utilising soil stations developed by the Estonian agri-tech firm Paul-Tech, is comparing various farming systems in terms of soil health, crop yield, greenhouse gas emissions, and profitability.
The study involves seven plots, each measuring 12m x 40m, with different cultivation techniques. While some plots were subjected to traditional ploughing and power harrowing, others experienced minimal cultivation through non-inversion, shallow cultivation methods.
The trial also incorporates practices like cover cropping, living mulches, manures, livestock integration, and herbal leys.
Mikk Plakk, CEO of Paul-Tech, emphasised the profound impact of these findings on soil treatment methods in agriculture. Dr Ruth Wade, a Research Fellow at the University of Leeds leading the trial, highlighted the significance of the study. She stated, “The results coming from this regenerative agriculture plot trial will provide important data on the impacts of different farming systems both on the environment but also for the farm business.”
Paul-Tech's soil stations are pivotal in this research, providing real-time data on nutrient availability, soil water levels, and soil temperature at various depths. The stations revealed that plots with minimal cultivation retained more nutrients and water in the root zone for longer periods compared to ploughed plots. This resulted in a larger nutrient release after fertilisation and higher nutrient availability at shallower depths in the minimally cultivated plots.
Furthermore, soil temperature was also influenced by the cultivation method. Ploughed soil experienced significant temperature fluctuations and even froze during sub-zero air temperatures. In contrast, soil under minimal cultivation maintained a more stable temperature and did not freeze.
Plakk noted the clear differences in soil nutrient availability and temperature between the differently cultivated plots. He explained, “For example, the soil in the conventional ploughed plot froze at root level and showed significant temperature differences while the minimal cultivated plots didn’t freeze and temperatures were relatively consistent in the root zone.”
He added, “Also, in the minimal cultivated plots, the soil was much more effective at holding water, which meant far more nutrients were available at 8cm than was the case in the ploughed plots.”
The findings underscore the potential of cultivation methods to significantly enhance soil and plant health while reducing the need for inputs. Plakk concluded, “The findings have a significant bearing on how farmers should be treating soil. They strongly suggest cultivation methods have the potential to significantly improve soil and plant health while reducing the amount of inputs they need to apply.”
This study, offering valuable insights into regenerative agriculture, is set to be a game-changer for farming practices, emphasising the importance of soil health in sustainable agriculture.