This coming farm year we will be measuring and selling the additional carbon being sequestered in our farmland soils, enabled by a swift transition to regenerative agriculture.
There is a lot of debate around the definition of regenerative agriculture. At Wild Ken Hill we have some very detailed thoughts on this, but to be succinct, we consider regenerative agriculture a style of farming that focuses on soil health.
Soil health is a bit of an abstract concept, but there are indicators we can use to tell us how healthy our soil is, for example the number of earthworms, the variety of fungi, bacteria, and general microbes in our soils, or the density of roots. Although soil science is complex, we know that when soil health improves, we can sequester carbon in soil itself through the build-up of organic matter.
By changing our farming practices at Wild Ken Hill, we can therefore sequester additional carbon in our soils. We are implementing an array of regenerative farming practices that will help us to build soil health and sequester more carbon. These practices include swapping the plough for the direct drill and strip till to minimise soil disturbance, and using cover crops across the farm. And we have plans for additional practices that will help us here, including further integrating grazing into our rotation, performing more pasture cropping, and further reducing synthetic inputs.
As part of the pilot, we are working with a third party to understand the existing carbon stock in our soils, to then measure the amount of carbon being sequestered by our regenerative practices (and also track our emissions). The accuracy of these measurements still has room for improvement and in time we expect new technologies to emerge, but we need to start somewhere. In this pilot, the process combines taking physical soil samples from each field, with laboratory analysis and biochemical modelling to understand carbon stocks and sequestration levels. Taking a conservative approach, we hope it is possible to measure changes over, say, a 5 year period. And the good thing is that we will be helping the industry and science improve these measurements.
The third party will also market Wild Ken Hill’s carbon credits to customers. There has been criticism of carbon offsetting programmes, some of which is valid. But there are many sectors of the economy that are unable to reach net zero and will therefore have to offset their residual emissions through projects like ours – offsetting is an important path on the road to net zero. If intermediaries can make sure to vet purchasers of carbon credits to ensure that the purchaser is also decarbonising and use money to incentivise the uptake of regenerative farming, then we think this is a good step forward. Certainly, the financial incentive here will help us move more quickly towards a completely regenerative system.
This is in addition to the great many environmental benefits we are seeing arise from the transition to a regenerative system. Earthworm counts are improving in our soils and initial surveys are showing increases in invertebrate abundance above ground too. We are also seeing better water infiltration rates – the amount of time it takes for water to permeate into the soil. During heavy rainfall, this means more water will enter our soils than run off into our watercourses, which should be a real boost in terms of avoiding any nutrification.
Stay tuned for more updates on how we are farming and our latest thoughts on regenerative agriculture!