Our soil is healthier than ever before. We can see it in the abundance of this year’s grass.
Because of a strategic decision made last year to re-seed with new grass seed, it’s growing new, healthier, and stronger roots going into our soil, which is good for us as farmers. It’s also kidnapping more carbon and helping the climate, which is good for everyone.
This is the happy result of long and dedicated work, making strategic decisions about the way we manage our farmland.
We always thought about our soils as a key resource in our operation. Nearly two decades ago on our farm in Poland, thanks to the Polish accession into the European Union, we were given new tools to take this understanding to a new level: a resource we could improve through deliberate action, while improving our bottom line.
Our new approach to soil started in 2004, when we abandoned rigorous ploughing and adopted a system of regenerative agriculture. We moved away from winter crops and replaced them with spring crops as well as cover crops. More important in terms of soil health, we also took up a method of minimal tillage that allowed us to limit the disruptions associated with turning over the earth.
Ploughing is an excellent way to control weeds, which is why it became a traditional practice in the first place. Yet repeatedly digging into the soil comes with a cost: It releases moisture, can disrupt biodiversity, and exposes farmland to the threat of soil erosion. It also causes carbon stored in the soil to oxidate, hence releasing more carbon into the atmosphere.
In 2008, we made another change on our farm, advancing our regenerative practices further. We replaced cereals with hay and turned our farm into a permanent grassland. Now we grow ryegrass, orchard grass, meadow fescue, and more, selling it as animal feed for horses and dairy cows as well as for paper production. Many of our customers are here in Poland but we also serve export markets.
We cut our grass twice a year. We recently finished this year’s first cut—a little later than normal because heavy rains slowed us down. We’ll probably start our second cut toward the end of August.
When we switched from cereals to hay, we also quit tillage. We haven’t ploughed our farm in 14 years. Nor have we used any chemicals on our land since then.
Every year, our soil has improved. This summer, we’re seeing the evidence of its health in a new way because of a strategic choice: A year ago, we decided to reseed our farm with new grass. As a result, the grass we’re cutting now is first rate. The new grass is spreading strong roots into a soil that it ready to receive them.
It’s also kidnapping more carbon, which is to say, plants are grabbing carbon from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and locking it into the soil, where it can contribute to soil health rather than climate change.
This is an excellent example of how regenerative agriculture is a positive force in the effort to lower greenhouse gases. Although farmers are often blamed for making things worse, we are in fact the key part of any realistic, long-term solution to the problem of climate change.
We’re not kidnapping carbon on our farm for the sake of kidnapping carbon. Our farm is not a charity. This isn’t about being cool or winning the praise of conservationists, even though we do receive accolades and prizes for our work, which shows we are on the right track and helps build bridges with the “others”.
However, our key consideration in making decisions are financial considerations. Moving our farm from a system of tillage to non-tillage was fundamentally about business. Putting carbon in the soil makes sense for us. We’re of course pleased to make an environmental contribution. It shows that environmental and economic sustainability can work together in harmony.
We’ve reduced our emissions in other ways, too. Poland borders Ukraine, so we’ve felt the economic impact of Russia’s invasion, especially in terms of soaring fuel prices. Because of this, we’re running our equipment as little as possible, and learning lessons about efficiency that could pay off even when the cost of fuel comes down again.
We’re also trying to stay engaged with the global and the EU’s political and regulatory processes that encourage soil carbon capture.
What is most important for everyone to understand is how the agriculture system functions. Rather than obsessing over a single metric, we all: farmers, public officials and media should look at the bigger picture regarding robust systems of agriculture—and how farms like ours are mitigating and adapting to climate change through soil health and carbon kidnapping. And as farmers, we must continually and proactively share this holistic understanding of the ecosystems we work in with the public.