The Journey Begins at Elm Farm

Woodchip for Fertile Soils (WOOFS)

The Journey Begins at Elm Farm.

On a crisp November morning, within the inner sanctum of The Organic Research Centre at Elm Farm, I find myself amongst a mob of multi-disciplinary minds. Farmers, scientists and foresters. We are all here for a common reason. Our task: to get the wheels turning on the WOOFS project.

What is WOOFS you ask? To most of us they are those characteristically deep, raspy barks that bellow from dogs both big and small. But for the purpose of this blog post, it stands for the EU funded project titled Woodchip for Fertile Soils. The project, orchestrated by Sally Westaway from the Organic Research Centre, has an overall aim to increase soil health and provide an incentive for farmers to manage woody elements on their farm as part of a whole farm system. That sounds quite broad doesn’t it! Let’s try and break the project down in to more digestible objectives.

Specific objectives include:

  1. Determine whether applying woodchip is beneficial to soil health and structure.

  2. Identify an efficient methodology to produce and apply woodchip on farm

  3. Produce guidelines for farmers on optimum application rates, time of application, stage in a rotation, species of tree, size of chip etc.

We spend the morning discussing how best we can collectively achieve these objectives. Literature reviews, farm visits, logistics, estimating woodchip volumes and hedge survey techniques dominate the conversation. Tasks and milestones are dished out by Sally to respective group members.

Bringing forestry expertise to the table, my boss (William Hamer) and I are initially tasked with surveying the ‘woody elements’ across three trial farms before Christmas – so we need to get planning and moving!

Lunch, in the form of a hearty tomato soup, arrives to bring the meeting to an end and allows us to also digest the mornings proceedings. I think we realise the project will take all involved on an enlightening, challenging and hopefully rewarding journey. My personal feelings leaving Elm Farm, are that given our varied backgrounds and expertise, this team feels like a capable one in achieving the task at hand.

By the next blog post, I should be able to fill you in on those ‘woody elements’ and progress made amongst other group members.

This project is supported by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development