Rob Richmond grew up on a dairy farm and has managed 300 organic dairy cows at Manor Farm Chedworth for the last 10 years. At some point Rob started recognising that things had to change in the industry, soils were depleting even though farmers were doing there best to manage their farms. So Rob did a Nuffield Scholarship in 2009-2011 where he investigated soil carbon and has since had the confidence to pursue new ways of managing his cows and pasture that would help build soil carbon and regenerate the soils.
Of course Rob runs a commercial farm and needs to make these changes over many years, with plenty of experimentation, to ensure that they continue to produce the same amount of milk. He has gradually moved their kale rotations into herbal leys, some converted as recently as 2016. His aim is that all fields will have plants in them all year round (permanent pasture). This is something Rob is very clear about, ‘You need to keep plants in the ground as much as possible if you’re going to build soil carbon. You aren’t gonna get any carbon sequestration if you don’t have any leaf area. That’s the issue with so many of these scientific reports, they don’t understand this.’
Rob uses the amount of milk the cows produce as a measure of how productive the grass is, not a plate meter, because in his experience plate meters are calibrated to rye grass and therefore give unpredictable readings on highly biodiverse pastures.
Rob found that after 3-5 years of a field being converted to pasture he did lose production. However it bounced back by the time the field had been in pasture 7 years and then after that the yield just got better year on year. Rob thinks this is because initially he was still benefiting from the nutrients brought up when the soil was ploughed, once this benefit was lost then there was a lag before he started getting the benefits of the soil biology catching up.
Rob is very confident he is moving all fields in the right direction. However he wants to monitor his fields above and below ground more closely to compare fields that have been in herbal leys differing amounts of time and see how the soil biology is changing. He learns through continual experimentation so monitoring what’s happening above and below ground will provide clear indicators of what is working or not, in improving their soil carbon. Rob rather dislikes technology although he does check his phone continually throughout the day for email updates and calls from people on the farm. By the end of the day he is positive about using the app to record the results of soil tests on his farm: “I don’t like technology but I can definitely use the app to record these tests, it’s easy.”
Steps Rob took to build his soils after finishing Nuffield Scholarship:
- started composting the farmyard manure and spreading on fields
- grazing the herbal leys at flowering time
- moving cows more frequently, so there is more grass left behind that will quickly regrow.
What are Rob’s management objectives?
- Improve grasses and forage for animals
- Understand how to use grazing to improve certain fields
- Maintain or increase milk litreage
What is Rob measuring?
- % of undesirables, sward density
- % of grasses, broadleaves, no. of species of each
- brix % & fuzziness
- milk litreage
- VESS (1-5)
- slake test (1-3)
Find Rob on Twitter @HerbalPastures
Interested in using Soilmentor to monitor soil health and manage your farm both above and below ground?