Learning about soils with the power of observation – Garrettstown Farm, Ireland
Our latest Soilmentor case study is with David Corrigan, a farmer and soil enthusiast learning more about his soils with the power of observation. David farms at Garrettstown, a 230 acre dairy farm in County Carlow, Ireland, which has been passed down through six or seven generations of farming families.
David told us he’s always had an interest in biology, but in recent years he’s begun to take a closer look at soil ecosystems, in his journey to move away from a reliance on agri-chemical companies and chemical inputs at Garrettstown. His online research led him to regenerative farming, and he stumbled upon soil health specialists such as John Kempf, Christine Jones, Walter Jehne and Nicole Masters.
When looking for soil courses to join, David was drawn to Nicole Masters’ Soil Health Foundations course through Integrity Soils. Nicole’s experience working with pasture-based and intensive dairy farms in New Zealand felt relevant to his context, and her focus on exploring soil processes in more depth suited his needs.
Now, David is putting his learnings into practice and using Soilmentor to support the Soil Health Foundations course, recording his own soil health observations, checking the history of tests done at each field, and benchmarking his results on the Regen Platform dashboard:
I’m using Soilmentor more and more as I learn more, and realise the full potential of it. Some of the first things I realised was that the application of artificial fertiliser was detrimental to the health of the soil, and this is a gradual weaning process. It’s a matter of getting confidence that as you progress you can still produce. That’s where I am at the moment – learning the links between different soil processes and observing as I go…
Photos added by David Corrigan to Soilmentor, recording butterfly species spotted around the farm
One of the benefits of Soilmentor is you can record successes, and perhaps some failures or mistakes along the regenerative journey…
The power of observation has become more important. I find myself observing more than I would have done before when walking across the field or besides a hedgerow. Now I’m more inclined to look around and check things, seeing how much life is there. Now my sense of what a good field of grass is, is a lot different to what it would have been 12 years ago. I used to look for a field that’s nice and green with no weeds in it, now it’s totally different – brix readings are more important now, I’m looking for completely different things.
Some of the more in depth insights he learnt from Nicole’s course have guided what David is interested in monitoring and observing on Soilmentor…
I’m beginning to understand how trace elements may be affecting the legumes or soil structure. These tests are a good stepping stone to launch from – it’s very useful and stimulating. I have photographs of nodules on the roots of my crops [on Soilmentor]. It’s extremely valuable to be able to make and record these observations myself: what I found is, an awful lot of farmers don’t know if their clover is fixing nitrogen, or they don’t know what to look for, so it’s wonderful to be able to do that.
Photos added by David Corrigan to Soilmentor, referencing legume nodule scoring
Changes in the Irish climate in recent years have also catalysed David’s regenerative journey:
Since 2018 every summer here is getting drier – it’s becoming more and more important to understand how to deal with prolonged periods of dry weather, and the importance of building organic matter and deeper roots for this purpose…
My vision for the future would be to put in more multi-species swards, reduce artificial fertiliser, try to cut out virtually all chemical weed sprays and instead use seaweed, bio-stimulants, trace elements – possibly soft rock phosphate, everything to enhance the soil rather than trying to destroy something. Trying to get deeper roots, hopefully store some carbon, and cope with the drier months.
In order to improve the resilience of his grazing land, David told us he’s looking to shift his pasture to better cope with drier conditions, and has been experimenting with sowing multispecies crops, and integrating the grazing of his heifers on his arable land.
Reflecting on his regenerative experiments, David told us:
Farming in this way, you’re that much closer to nature, and you’re trying to see what you can improve the health of – you’re not thinking about ‘what you can kill today’ as Gabe Brown says. I feel closer to nature and part of an ecosystem, rather than being the owner and the driver of it – you realise that you’re only a part of that. You have to give due recognition to your fellow species.
Photos added by David Corrigan to Soilmentor, making observations at different sample sites
Some of David’s neighbouring farms have also begun to change their mindset over the last couple of years –
It feels like there’s a growing movement – it’s nice to be part of something that’s growing traction… it’s good because you don’t feel quite so isolated, and you can give each other support
We love how David uses Soilmentor to record wildlife observations, inputs added, soil temperatures, and grazing patterns. We’re interested to see how David’s regenerative journey progresses at Garrettstown, and how his soil observations continue to guide his insights and farming practice.
Do get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to learn more about our collaboration with Nicole Masters and the Regen Platform – we’re always keen to hear from you.