Together with researchers and farmers, Axfoundation is evaluating technologies and cultivation methods that contribute to improving soil health and sequestering carbon in arable land.
Topsoil, the basis for all our food production, is depleted, polluted and eroded in many places around the world, resulting in a long-term decline in production capacity, with lower yields from soils of lower quality. Farming is at the same time a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. According to estimates from IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), 23 % of the global emissions of greenhouse gases come from forestry and agriculture. The emissions are made up of methane gas from beef cattle, greenhouse gases released from fertilization and lime treatment of soils, carbon dioxide from farming machinery and transports, and nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide released from arable land and organic soil.
More and more researchers are pointing to the need to implement conservation agriculture in order to rectify the climate and environmental problems connected to today’s agricultural system. Conservation agriculture is a combination of different farming methods, not a single action, which together creates an entirety which is larger than “the sum of the parts”, thus contributing to a reduction in the adverse effect on the environment. The moisture in the ground is better preserved by using this system, which decreases the risk of draught and erosion. Furthermore, it improves the soil fertility and increases the humus content in the soil.
Conservation agriculture is a combination of different farming methods that may require the farmer to:
- Disturb the soil as little as possible (i.e., plough minimally).
- Keep the fields green for as large a part of the year as possible to sequester the carbon in the ground.
- Grind down the cover crop into the soil just before sowing.
- Direct drilling (i.e., seed placement without ploughing).
- Arrange the rotation of plants as efficiently as possible, this leads to a wide variety of crops, minimizing the use of plant protectant products and maximizing biodiversity.
Axfoundation collaborates with researchers and farmers who practice conservation agriculture. We want to gather Swedish and international expertise at Torsåker farm, Axfoundations center for future food, to make further developments. Axfoundation’s ambition is to, with the help of researchers in various fields, scientifically analyze which methods contribute to increased carbon storage and improved soil fertility. We also want to increase the level of knowledge of Swedish farmers, advisors and machine manufacturers regarding the advantages and disadvantages of conservation agriculture and assist Swedish farmers to adapt to more sustainable farming methods without risking the loss of crop yields or profits. In the long term, the ambition is to increase the soil content and carbon storage in Sweden’s agricultural soils.
The farmer at Torsåker farm, Mats Eriksson, practices a farming method called the “Sättra-method” which could be classified as a “light version” of conservation agriculture. The long-term effects of the Sättra method are now being evaluated together with researchers in the project “Soil fertility for increased carbon storage and adaptation to a changing climate”, partly funded by the Swedish Board of Agriculture. A development of the method is also examined, to see how a combination of different intermediate crops can improve the method.
Axfoundation is also a development partner in Svensk Kolinlagring – a collaboration to increase carbon sequestration in Swedish agricultural soils. As a partner, we get the chance to make a concrete contribution so that different methods for carbon storage in the soil can be tested in practice and that the measurement methods are evaluated scientifically.
In addition, Axfoundation is a partner in the project that will define the concept of conservation agriculture for the Nordic region. The project is run by Svenskt Sigill – an eco-label for Swedish food and flowers – together with a number of environmental and agricultural organizations.
The Sättra-method could be classified as a “light version” of conservation agriculture. The method ensures that the ground is undisturbed from the threshing in the autumn to the cultivation in the spring. This is different from traditional farming where the ground is ploughed or cultivated as early as in the autumn. A thorough cultivation takes place in the spring with disk harrows just prior to sowing using a seed drill. According to Mats Eriksson, who owns and runs Sättra farm and has developed the Sättra-method, the fields where the Sättra-method has been used show:
- Increased fertility.
- Increased biological activity.
- Clear increase in straw decomposition in the fields.
- More birds around the machinery and increased occurrence of worms and worm tunnels in the soil.
- Improved drainage (decreased problems with surface water) because of less packed soil since Sättra-method requires less passages than conventional ploughing.
- Increased mineralization – there are more minerals in the ground if it’s covered by plants, leading to less need for nitrogen fertilizers and a better structure with soil that is more porous and loose.
- Maintained or increased harvest.
- Reduced problems with soil erosion.
- Non-existent problems with soil crushing.
- Less stone picking.
- Reduced fuel consumption.
- Reduced hours worked per hectare.
Hushållningssällskapet (a national body made up by 17 independent Rural Economy and Agricultural Societies), Lantmännen Ekonomisk förening (a Swedish agricultural cooperative and Northern Europe’s leader in agriculture, machinery, bioenergy and food products), Svensk Kolinlagring (a collaboration to increase carbon sequestration in Swedish agricultural soils), The Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), Svenskt Sigill (an eco-label for Swedish food and flowers), Sättra Farm, Örebro University.
In 2021, the first samples of the Sättra method were taken to evaluate its long-term effects.