Farmers in mid-Wales have the opportunity to learn new expertise and gain practical experience at a farm-scale composting course next month. The farmer-led course will take place on 1st March at Treflach Farm, Oswestry and is being organised by Welsh land trust Cwm Harry.
The one day composting masterclass will draw on the work of Richard Northridge, lead researcher and technician of the food waste compost project. Organisers said the masterclass aims to capitalise on growing environmental awareness and a collective realisation amongst businesses and society as a whole that we need to reconsider the concept of ‘waste’.
For farmers, much of what may be considered waste is in fact a great potential resource, which could be used to create stable organic compounds to nourish soil microbes and improve soil health, according to Cwm Harry. Healthier soils can hold and store water and nutrients much better and, against a background of rising fertiliser costs and increasing awareness around issues of sustainability from consumers and business owners alike, better soil management could even be the key to improving efficiency and protecting the bottom line of farm businesses.
The UK, like much of Western Europe, is losing healthy soil at an alarming rate. Environmentally conscious farmers and soil scientists have made numerous appeals to raise awareness of the importance of soil, which is key to building a resilient agriculture. Soil degradation is also a major contributor to atmospheric pollution.
The last study of the UK’s soil resources, conducted in 2009, revealed the country is losing an estimated two million tonnes of topsoil each year. As soil is a non-renewable resource, experts have urged policy makers and farmers alike to do everything in their power to protect their soils.
Conserving and augmenting soil health also makes business sense. Ian Steele, who farms at Treflach, has committed himself to finding practical solutions to reducing both farm costs and waste. Working with Cwm Harry, Steele is exploring organic and permaculture principles on his family farm.
Steele, a dynamic former hill farmer, has diversified his business away from sheep, with the inclusion of pigs, vegetable production and an agro-forest.
Speaking to Farming Online, Mr Steele discussed his motivation for cutting down waste and boosting the resilience of his farm. He said, “We all depend on the top few inches of soil that covers this hunk of rock hurtling through space we cling to. It’s the only real wealth there is; the wealth of fertility that short-sighted mining for short-term profit can destroy all too easily. Fertile soil structure that has taken millennia to build up can be wrecked in a few short cycles of Agri-business (as opposed to Agri-culture).”
Speaking about the work with Cwm Harry, Steele added, “We on Treflach Farm are not professing to hold all the answers or tell others how they should manage their land, but we are on a learning curve that we would like others to join. Composting, anaerobic digestion for digestate (as well as bio-gas) and manure management are hot topics given increasingly severe weather patterns and the ever rising cost of energy and fertiliser. We are just trying to make the best, most informed decisions we can.”
He said, “Meetings of interested, informed energy and sustainability professionals with farmers and land managers, like the Composting Masterclass at Treflach Farm, can make a difference to both the environmental impact of food production and a business’ bottom line.”
The event on 1st March will deal with:
• First principles, carbon & nitrogen
• Aerobic & Anaerobic
• Domestic , garden and farm-scale composting
• Nutrient retention and cycling
• Heat recovery and more