The new generation of “soil healing” farmers in the UK

In the UK, a new generation of farmers work with a more holistic approach to improve soil health, make crops more resilient, and fight challenges like weed and drought.

UK farmer improving soil health
UK farmer improving soil health

In North Hertfordshire, farmer Jo Franklin runs Kaiapoi, a mixed sheep and arable farm. Her interest in organic farming practices started while in agricultural university.

“We spent hours in meetings talking about how to kill black grass. The chemicals were becoming less and less effective. I wanted a more holistic approach. Why were there weeds in the first place, and what could we do to discourage them?”

In 2010, Franklin received a Nuffield Farming Scholarship to look at soil and crop production. She saw a link between weed and poor soil health.

“The organic matter in the UK soil had really decreased. People were not putting anything back. The soil was becoming harder and losing its water retention. This made it more difficult for our equipment. All of these things made the weed problem worse,” she says.

Farmer James Price from Perdiswell farm in Woodstock is also familiar with these challenges.

“Our soil is not deep, so drought is our biggest problem. But we cannot change our soil depth. What we can do is to improve the quality of the soil and get more consistent yields, even during dry periods”, he says.

Farmer and agronomist


Improving soil health to ensure farm’s longevity

Franklin and Price belong to a new generation of farmers who, faced with climate change, stricter regulations, and new market demands, are turning around neglected soil to improve crops and ensure the longevity of their farms.

To support farmers in the endeavor of improving soil health and crop resilience, Yara offers organic-based fertilizers.” Our decades-long crop nutrition knowledge, combined with digital tools for precision farming, enable farmers to ensure efficient nutrient use and quality assurance also when applying organic-based products”, explains Natalie Wood, agronomist from Yara UK.

“The more organic material available in the soil, the healthier it is. Good soil health is better for the roots and for nutrient availability.” 

Jo Franklin, farmer

“The crop becomes more resilient because it can get what it needs when it needs it. Plants need oxygen to get to the roots. If your soil is all compact, and the roots can´t breathe, there's no point in putting everything else on it. Less compact soil is easier to work with for the equipment,” she continues.

The organic material also improves water retention, ensuring more consistent yields during dry periods.

Price finds it compelling that Yara offers organo-mineral fertilizers.

“Since it's a organo-mineral fertilizer, it will, by its very nature, good for the soil,” he says.


Closing the resource loop

Yara’s organic and organo-mineral fertilizers are safely sourced from recycled nutrients, reducing waste and carbon footprint. The pellet fertilizer can be applied as a complement to organic nutrients that exist naturally on the farm.

Applying straw and manure, planting cover crops, and rotating crops are practices both farms employ to take care of their soil. Cover crops improve soil health as they keep the roots in the soil, keep the moisture on top, and help capture nutrients to reduce nutrient loss.

“We try to close the resource loop and buy in as little as possible. Our dairy feed is made from feed that we grow on the farm. The sheep graze and return nitrogen to the soil,“ Franklin says.

The two farmers feel a strong connection with their soil.

“I live and breathe this soil because I want to do the right thing for it. I can’t replace it, I can’t import it, I can’t change it. I must work with what I have, which is this soil,” says Price.

Healthy soil with earthworm

Franklin sees it as her job to heal the soil and to repair it. “I want to give back to the soil as much as it gives to us. I guess it is the right thing to do”.

Yara supports all farmers in implementing efficient, sustainable agricultural practices, regardless of which farming system they use. Our crop nutrition solutions, deep agronomic knowledge and digital precision farming tools are relevant for all production systems, including organic farming.

With Yara’s organic-based fertilizers, farmers have even more ways to make their farms thrive.