Regenerative Agriculture trials at Leeds University Farm
Our regenerative agriculture team, based at University of Leeds, have successfully finished the first year of their regenerative agriculture trials at Leeds University farm. They have been measuring the impact of following different combinations of regenerative agriculture practices such as minimal cultivation, addition of farmyard manure, mixed varieties of wheat, incorporating livestock in the arable rotation, living mulches and herbal leys, on soil health, crop production, greenhouse gas emissions and yield.
In 2022, they took a conventionally managed field and implemented seven different farming systems in a fully replicated large plot trial (each plot 12m x 40m) (Fig. 2.). They have been measuring the impact on winter wheat in the first year and have just harvested the trial in Aug 2023. They are currently compiling all the data they have taken over the past year. Following the wheat harvest, the team have drilled simple (5 species) and more complex (10 species) cover crops and are comparing these cover crops with leaving over-winter stubble, maintaining a living mulch and addition of herbal leys in the rotation. They will also be investigating different options of cover crop termination including grazing.
Fig. 1. Greenhouse gas chambers in winter wheat crop June 2023. The chambers are automated, measuring greenhouse gas emissions including carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions, twice every hour throughout the growing season so we can calculate the carbon balance of each system.
The decision making for each farming system has been particularly challenging as everyone is doing something different, there are many different options to take (there is no regenerative agriculture rule book to follow!) and there is currently a lack of data on what practices to do when and where, so the Leeds team have co-designed these trials with local farmers, agribusiness and allied-organisation.
We would like to thank all those involved for giving up their time and sharing their thoughts with the group to direct these trials. We hope that the data collected will enable greater insights into the impacts of regenerative agriculture on farming systems.
Fig. 2. Drone image of trial area in March 2023. The lighter green plots are the herbal leys whereas the darker green plots are winter wheat. There are seven different farming systems replicated in three blocks down the field. In the block at the top of the field there are nine chambers measuring greenhouse gas emissions including carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions.