The cost of fuel, fertiliser and climate change mitigation are just some of the reasons why Guernsey apple grower, Rocquette Cider, chose to adopt regenerative agriculture principles back in 2017, as a method for managing its 5,500 apple trees in St. Andrews and Castel.
“We embarked on a journey into ‘Regen-Ag’ after a visit from The Soil Farm” said Rocquette Cider’s manager, James Meller. “We were already growing Soil Association approved organic apples on our land, so it was the logical next step”
A goal of regenerative agriculture is first reducing, then eliminating synthetic inputs including fertiliser, with a particular focus on land management practices and soil biology to support a natural symbiotic relationship that occurs between soil and plants. This farming method has gained increasing interest in recent months due to the soaring price of fertiliser from £200 to £1000 per ton.
Advocates of the regenerative agriculture movement suggest the practices increase health and resilience of the soil and plants, and the profitability of the entire operation once established.
“It has been the perfect storm of events. First Covid and now a war.” said James, “I am receiving regular letters from suppliers with news of unavoidable price increases and supply shortages. The more we can manage efficiently our existing resources on farm the better. We don’t use synthetic inputs, so I am very pleased that we don’t have to add fertilisers to our list of rising costs. This will hopefully make us more resilient going forward”
As part of their revised practices, implemented with the help of The Soil Farm, the company creates specialist compost heaps, affectionately called ‘Super Stacks’, which carefully combine numerous waste resources to culture indigenous micro organisms which are then reintroduced to the landscape in their billions.
Once the compost has matured, it is brewed into ‘teas and extracts’ using a large tank of aerated water, which effectively transports the microbiology into a liquid suspension so it can be applied to the trees and fields more efficiently. As part of their new regeneration programme, Rocquette Cider also compost their bulk waste, including pressed apple pulp and tree prunings, before applying the resulting organic matter back into the orchards.
Last year the company imported two tons of volcanic rock dust to add minerals to the compost. James said,“ I checked the price of rock dust this year and the cost had also shot up, mainly due to UK freight charges, so we decided to try using seaweed instead. We collected 12 tons from the Richmond end of Vazon. It is free and it is everywhere, we didn’t even make a dent in the amount that was lying around.”
“Ongoing research and the sharing of information means we understand a lot more about the soil than we did 20 years ago” said James.
The company plans to start measuring the amounts of carbon in their soil to determine how much carbon they are sequestering year on year. Another positive of adopting regenerative agriculture principles is the drawdown of carbon from the atmosphere, where it is stored safely in the soil, a method listed by the UN as one of the most accessible ways we can start to mitigate climate change.
“If we can successfully demonstrate that we are pulling down carbon, then we can start to offer carbon credits, which is good for the business and the climate” said James.