Bradford Estates says the plan will ensure it has a healthy legacy for generations to come.
It believes the quality of its soils is critical to the in-hand regenerative farming business and has called upon the expertise of two independent soil experts to look at current farming methods and advise on the best way to protect the 3,600 acre farm business’s most important asset.
Simon Jeffery, reader in soil ecology at Harper Adams University near Newport, and Stephen Briggs, soil and water manager at innovation for agriculture and head of soils at the Royal Agricultural Society of England, have been working with the estates.
The plan introduced by managing director, Alexander Newport, as part of his 100-year regeneration vision for the estates, will see 3,600 acres of farmland return to being managed directly by the estates’ team.
New farming practices will also be adopted across the estates, including increasing ground cover crops and introducing grazing animals to reduce the need for fertilisers, direct drilling into the soil to plant crops instead of invasive tilling to reduce CO2 emissions, and ensuring habitats are created for natural insect predators such as ladybirds and starlings to reduce the need for chemical pesticides.
Duty to change
A soil survey will also be conducted to show what kind of crops are most suited to be grown on the estates.
Viscount Newport said: “Globally modern farming methods are stripping the nutrients out of the soil, and if left unchecked, our farmlands will eventually become unviable for crop growth and farming in the future.
“Most current UK farming relies on chemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides to ensure that the yield is as high as possible.
"But there’s now evidence to show that the side effects of this mean that within the next 50-100 years, our soils will no longer be fertile enough for the growth of crops. We have a duty to change things.
“Simon and Stephen’s input have been invaluable in helping us shape the future of the estates.
“The regenerative agricultural work we’re currently undertaking across the estates will help to increase biodiversity, reduce CO2 emissions and increase carbon sequestration, improve the water cycle and will ultimately lead to better crop yields too.
“While it will not be a quick process, it’s vital to protect not only the future of the estates, but the future of our overall food security.”
Mr Jeffery, who has more than 20 years’ experience in soil, said: “What Bradford Estates is doing is a very positive thing. If current farming methods don’t change across the globe, we will ruin our soil. While people think we have a limitless supply of soil that is not the case - soil is not a renewable resource.
“If you pick up a handful of soil, there’s more bacterial cells in it than there are humans on planet earth, and most of them are doing stuff that’s useful to us, such as releasing nutrients from rocks to feed plants, or capturing methane preventing it from entering the atmosphere. But we’ve got to let them do it.
“It can take 500 years to create one centimetre of soil, and just an afternoon of rainfall to wash it away.
"We will run out of fertile soil if things carry on in the way they have been and when that happens, it will impact our food security.”
Mr Briggs, who was recently awarded the Nuffield Scholar Bullock Award for his pioneering agroforestry work, said: “Bradford Estates is taking bold steps to improve soil health. It would be easier for them to continue using the system they already employ, with tenant farmers, but they want to ensure the health of the soil for the long term.
“Taking back control of their land is a significant step forward, to ensure they can employ regenerative practices. They’ve recognised that their most important asset is the land and soil and it’s vital that it’s in a healthy state.
“It’s a long-term solution, rather than an overnight change. It’s about evolution, not revolution, but what they’re doing is vitally important.”
Viscount Newport added: “Farming ideally should be more about biology rather than chemistry.
"On our estates, I intend to redress what has become an imbalance toward the chemistry and application of artificial fertilisers and manufactured sprays.”