Joel Williams is founder of Integrated Soils and is a soil enthusiast and engaging presenter on soil health and integrated approaches to sustainable farming. He is an independent consultant and educator and presents lectures and workshops to primary producers around the world. Joel will be discussing soil health at The Future of UK Farming conference this April 27th and 28th at Fir Farm near Stow-on-the-Wold. 

Ahead of the conference, we asked Joel a few questions about the work that he does and his passion for soil. 

Why are you passionate about soil health – why is it so important?

We all eat, and of course soils are clearly important for this reason. But soils are such fascinating, diverse and dynamic ecosystems that it is almost hard not to be captivated by them. After a few decades of taking a proverbial back seat, soils recently – and rightly so – seem to have captivated the interest of producers the world over. Perhaps even more impressively, this idea of healthy soils being central to both human and ecosystem health seems to have also resonated and engaged with people from all walks of life. This is bridging unlikely divides; urban-rural, organic-conventional, environmentalist-farmer. Soils are so important for exactly this reason – they are something we can all unite over and this is an ideal foundation, working together toward an agenda for healthy soils and beyond, in a post-Brexit UK.

What role do you feel grazing livestock play in a sustainable food system? 

There are important discussions to be had regarding the quality and quantity of meat consumed within our society, however, the re-integration of grazing livestock in our production systems can support both the sustainable management of our landscapes as well as the dietary mantra of eating less but better quality meat. I believe that farmscapes should mimic landscapes, where the creation of mixed, layered and multi-functional agro-ecosystems within the farm ‘organism’, is fundamental. An ecosystems approach to this highlights the role and benefits of properly managed animals in functional farmscapes particularly toward recycling fertility around the farm and creating more diverse ecosystems which support more biodiversity – both of which help to build resilience into the farm ecosystem.

What support do you feel should be provided to farmers in order to accelerate the transition to more sustainable soil practices?

Now more than ever we need unifying, inclusive policy measures that are applicable to all producers and production systems across the country. Every single land manager needs to be singing from the same sheet and working toward the same goal. Hence, the most effective strategies for soil health improvement should be identified and incentivised, and the necessary metrics to quantify and monitor will help track progress moving forward. Of course, identifying these strategies will be critical, but I believe the biggest potential supporter and accelerator of this transition would be the united and concerted application of these strategies by all producers.

Tell us more about ‘Integrated Soils’ and the work you do?

All of my work centres around education. I deliver seminars, workshops and field walks to farmers and growers on a range of topics such as soil health, soil biology, soil fertility, plant nutrition, composting, integrated pest and disease management and soil and leaf analysis interpretation. I also do an amount of on-farm and 1-to-1 consulting with producers, however this advisory work is again provided through a lens of education – facilitating the producers’ understanding of the soil-plant dynamics on their farm and improving their own management decisions. I work with a range of production systems but primarily with conventional producers applying a nutritional and biological approach to manage plant and soil health toward reducing input costs. I’m also in the beginnings of authoring a book on soil biology and the links between soil and plant health.

The Future of UK Farming conference features amongst others, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Michael Gove; President of the NFU Minette Batters; the US’s leading livestock farmer Joel Salatin; founder of Ballymaloe Cookery School Darina Allen; and Head of Agriculture at the Buccleuch Estates, Adrian Dolby.

Session themes will cover: Public Money for Public Goods; Building Better Soil Through Farming Practice; Delivering High Animal Welfare and Local Meat Through Small Abattoirs and New Models for Local Food Systems.  

Click here for more information and tickets.

Photograph: Christine Page, Smiling Tree Farm

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