Case study: Francisco Telles Varela & the KUHproKLIMA Germany group
We’re really proud to have supported the KUHproKLIMA group in Germany with their farming research project over the last couple of years.
We recently caught up with Francisco Telles Varela about how their research is going, and how soil monitoring and observation supports their project aims.
Could you give us a summary of the KUHproKLIMA project and what you’re hoping to achieve?
The KUHproKLIMA (or Cow for the Climate) project is an on-farm practice-oriented research project, created by farmers for farmers in the pre-alpine region of Allgäu in South Germany, where seven dairy / meat farms dared to take new steps in the direction of environmentally friendly and regenerative farming.
Christine Bajohr, one of the seven farmers, has created the project that is funded by the EU program EIP-AGRI, in which science and practice jointly research how nature-based grassland management can improve ecosystem processes and services, which will contribute to climate and resource protection. Our goal is to treat the results in such a way that they can be implemented in everyday practice and are comparable with other studies.
For this, in the KUHproKLIMA project, the use of cows is of central importance, as their co-evolutionary development with grasslands makes them suitable for improving the synergies between soil, plants and animals.
The knowledge and experience obtained during the project have been shared through workshops and field days. An online platform for ongoing documentation as well as exchange between farmers was also created, and the outcomes, jointly developed by scientists and the farmers, will be presented in a practical guideline available as a free download on our website at the end of the project.
Could you also give us an explanation of how you have designed the project to test the effects of different grazing techniques?
The aim of the project lies in holistic grazing management adapted to the location as well as the precise promotion of active soil life. That includes initial analyses of each site, herd, type of vegetation (biodiversity), carbon and infrastructure. After these initial baseline assessments, the “Holistic Planned Grazing” pasture management (following the methods of Allan Savory) combined with improvement of soil life (liquid compost extract applications) were introduced during the project on all farms. Based on the inventory of the participating farms, individual land planning concepts were developed to improve the pasture areas mainly by planting hedges and trees.
Workshops were hosted in order to introduce the concepts of Holistic Management and Holistic Planned Grazing multi-paddock system to all seven farmers. Also, an app was provided to each farmer where the initial grazing paddocks were designed and inserted, and data regarding pasture dry matter before and after grazing has been recorded. This monitoring tool provides useful data to inform farmers to better adapt their management regarding pasture productivity, grazing times/periods, number of animals, paddock design, etc.
What have been the biggest challenges to you as a group?
Perhaps the most challenging but also the most rewarding and valuable, has been to try to match scientifically sound research with the daily-life activities of the farm and farmer. The conventional scientific method wants dozens of replicates with very controlled conditions. This is not possible in an on-farm research environment and we had to take this into consideration in the design, and adapt along the way. Things change all the time on a farm, but we know this is the sort of complementary science we also need; science that studies complexity.
Embracing the complexity of nature and research directly into the ecosystem is more difficult, adding to the social unpredictability of farming daily operations, but we believe this is a type of work and research that should be done more to find urgent solutions for our current challenges.
The on-farm experimentation & research approach that we are taking, and already looking for new coming projects, is fundamental to bridging the gap between fundamental scientific research and farming practical challenges, and we aim to develop these concepts to help others create similar projects in different contexts.
How has using Soilmentor supported you to achieve your project goals? Could you give an example of a way that Soilmentor has benefited you?
In order to measure the progress and effects on plant and soil health by the grazing methods and the microbial inoculations, twice a year (Spring & Fall), more than 15 different measurements are carried out on the test areas of all seven farms, which allow statements to be made about various developments, such as soil structure, erosion and compaction, water infiltration, the development of plant species, Brix values and biodiversity levels in flora and fauna. This monitoring work has been fundamental in understanding the immense complexity of these ecosystems and for this, using the Soilmentor app has been key.
Soilmentor makes our fieldwork very efficient and quick, recording all the data points directly in the field and smoothly transferring all the data to the online platform automatically where we can work later on treating the data for research purposes. We can not really imagine doing the field work without Soilmentor anymore, as using paper forms and pens in the very wet Allgäu region would be a disaster besides the immense time we would have to be introducing data later on spreadsheets.
What do you feel have been the biggest successes so far as a project, & are you able to share any early outcomes?
We are still collecting and treating our data points for the project until March 2023, and we are now planning the extension of the project for a further 3 years in order to obtain more long-term data, therefore there are not many relevant numbers to share so far. But one success we can highlight already is the farmers’ quality of life.
Several of the project farmers’ that started adopting the Holistic Management framework expressed that they have reduced their work-load and have more free time, leading to a more balanced and happier life. This makes us already quite happy as a team, knowing that just by changing management it is possible to improve farmers’ quality of life, in a profession with the highest rate of suicide globally.
How important is observation to you to support the KUHproKLIMA project?
Our project supports a more agro-ecological and regenerative way of farming, and we know that if we want to improve our lands in a regenerative trend there are no recipes, every farm context is different. We heard this before many times but actually, we proved it during the project, based on our monitoring results where very similar practices applied in the seven farms produce very different results. So, observing, measuring and reading each context well over time is absolutely key for good management decision making on the land.