The Scottish Organic Producers Association (SOPA), the UK’s only membership body owning Scottish organic standards, has just completed a project examining a new product in the hope of allowing Scottish farmers to draw down more carbon into their soils, and has reported some positive results.
The project, known as Rock On Soils, was run with funding from the Knowledge Transfer and Innovation Fund (KTIF) and saw scientists and farmers working together to investigate the use of crushed basic silicate rock as a soil input, looking to determine the carbon sequestration potential alongside any additional soil and biodiversity benefits.
SOPA collaborated with Abertay University, the James Hutton Institute, the University of Dundee, and the Agrosphere Institute of Forschungszentrum Juelich, Germany, with additional farmer involvement, including from Alex Brewster of Rotmell Farm in Perthshire who is the Farm Carbon Toolkit and Innovation for Agriculture 2020 Soil Farmer of the Year.
The project had three main objectives:
to monitor the impacts of applying silicate rock on the soil at Rotmell
to bring together a network of innovative farmers to help identify potential barriers of using the silicate rock on farm
to develop a mobile app to calculate the carbon capture and storage potential of fields when the product is applied
Project results, presented by the science team, show that the most significant change seen on the test site has been in soil microbiology. The area that received crushed basic silicate rock has a more balanced and higher value microbial biodiversity.
With access to the latest DNA techniques, the team looked at what roles these microbes have in the soil. The data revealed an increase in microbes that sequester carbon, help provide nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium for plants and an increase in microbes that help defend our crops from pests and diseases. This positive effect was still being seen three years after treatment suggesting that the benefit is still there well after the product was applied.
Emily Grant, Project Manager said:
“This is a really exciting outcome. The effect we have seen at Rotmell is important and suggests wider benefits of this product than just carbon sequestration. In short, the beneficial bugs are being favoured – we are seeing a better soil microbiome.”
Debs Roberts, Policy Manager for SOPA, had the following to say about the project:
“As Alex Brewster said in a podcast about the project, the soil is the six inches beneath our feet which keep us alive. That is why we must all do what we can to find new and innovative ways in which we can try to improve and maintain the health of the soil that we farm.
“There is a real need for action when it comes to tackling climate change and delivering Scottish Government targets. But there are potential solutions out there and this model of bringing together farmers and scientists has shown that a lot can be achieved in a very short timescale.
Dr. Alexandra Morel, project partner from University of Dundee, says:
“As an applied ecologist working in agricultural settings, it is exciting to see that this soil amendment seems to be supporting beneficial microbial diversity, with implications for the long-term resilience of these agricultural systems. I am very excited to explore these effects further and on different farm types.”
Dr Ehsan Jorat from Abertay University says about the project:
“Results from this project have provided a major insight into better understanding mineral carbonation in soil. This project has proved potential to use silicate material as agricultural input which also introduced new interesting scientific questions to be tackled in the future.”
Matt Aitkenhead from the James Hutton Institute says:
“Novel land management approaches such as crushed silicate rock application need robust testing and evaluation. This project demonstrates the vital collaboration between farmers and academics that is needed to demonstrate these approaches and tackle the climate emergency.”
Notes for Editors:
Listen to the OnFARM podcast episode about the project at www.podfollow.com/onfarm (episode entitled ‘Carbon capture on farm with Rock on Soils and SOPA’, broadcast on 8th March 2021)
You can also find out more on Twitter @RockOnSoils
The Project is funded through EAFRD and KTIF (SRDP).