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Andy Gray measures soil health on his farm

Innovative Farmers delivers real impact from the ground up

The Prince of Wales’s Charitable Fund has supported the Soil Association for more than five years by awarding over £3.5 million to enable farmers to research the issues that matter to them and their livelihoods.

Thanks to the customers of Waitrose Duchy Organic, we continue to deliver on our commitment to promote Good Food, Good Farming and Good Causes, by supporting Innovative Farmers (part of the Duchy Futures Farming Programme) which includes a new study into the future of agroforestry in the UK. In particular, it investigates whether agroforestry could be a viable way to protect farmland and continue to farm sustainably through the climate crisis.

Innovative Farmers is a not for profit network giving farmers research support and funding on their own terms. Through the network, groups of farmers can work directly with a researcher to design practical on-farm trials, called field labs. This new, agroforestry study hopes to add to research to date, which suggests that soil health will improve. The agroforestry study has potential  to improve livestock health and welfare through providing shelter and additional nutrition, and diversify farm income by providing extra crops of fruit, nuts and timber. There are wider benefits too – trees are important stores of carbon and help to mitigate flooding – proving that Good Farming really can affect us all for the better.

The field lab will see seven farms in Devon plant a mix of twelve native tree and shrub species, including oak, downy birch, aspen, alder and willow. The trees are chosen for their ecological associations with the local landscape, but also for the nutritional and medicinal properties they can provide to livestock, and their ability to flourish in an open woodland environment.

Innovative Farmers are already recognising the benefits for biodiversity and farming sustainably into the future, which this study is helping to solidify. Andy Gray, one of the farmers involved in the lab, commented that ‘the list of the benefits you can get are undeniable: soil health, water quality, shelter for animals. It also provides an extremely good marketing opportunity as it helps us show our customers that we are doing our bit.”

Gray continued: “With big changes in agricultural policy ahead, farmers are now looking into the regenerative practices we can do on our farms to prepare our businesses to benefit from public money for public goods. For me, agroforestry is one of these changes.”

To find out more about Innovative Farmers, and how the programme is innovating for an uncertain farming future, please see their website: https://www.innovativefarmers.org/.