North Wyke Farm, a 350 hectare farm in Devon, looks no different to other farms where beef suckler cows and sheep can be found. But there’s something unique about the farm whch also happens to operate as a “farm lab” with the aim to test ways of making agriculture more sustainable.
The North Wyke Farm “farm lab” is a large-scale research facility to study the complete flow of nutrients from soil to food, with the clear and distinct aim of making farming a more sustainable endeavour.
Cabins at the field’s edge serve as on-site laboratories, housing equipment that test ways of making agriculture more sustainable as rising temperatures and greenhouse gas emissions threaten productivity.
Scientists monitor nutrient levels in everything from fertilisers, water and animal feed to meat, manure and methane to try to understand how nutrients are gained and lost in the farming process.
The cutting-edge technology measures and analyses each drop of water running off the land, and measures emissions from the soil of planet-heating greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide.
North Wyke Farm is part of an initiative by Rothamsted Research, the world’s oldest agricultural research institute. The information ascertained from the on site “farm lab” is helping scientists at Rothamsted Research to develop more sustainable farming methods.
Research carried out at the facility will help identify land management strategies to optimise the transfer of essential nutrients from soil to crops, livestock and then into food, thereby contributing to a healthy diet and cleaner natural environment at the same time.
In a series of experiments, cattle, who are monitored on the farm via electronic tags in their ear, were found to emit up to 40% less methane than others. Identifying and breeding such cattle could be one simple way to cut emissions. While growing legumes cut emissions by up to 20% at the facility since growing legumes also improve soil health, which the researchers say plays a big role in improving the quality of grazing land.
Speaking to Thomson Reuters Foundation, Taro Takahashi, a research scientist at Rothamsted Research, said: ““Because the pasture grows better, the animal grows better.
“We want to make an efficient (agricultural) system so that we can consume as much of the nutrients we put in, and we lose as little. That’s the ultimate goal.”
He added that by demonstrating short-term economic benefits to farmers makes them more likely to accept changes.
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyles including sustainable and green living. She also offers content services to businesses and individuals at Rosamedea.com