Highlighting best practice as a representative in The Parliamentary Review

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Edaphos is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.


Mike Harrington collecting
regular tissue and soil samples
Mike Harrington, managing director, presenting
at an Edaphos “soils workshop” event
Edaphos, an agronomy-based consultancy company, was set
up in 2005 after ten years of trying to implement change
through the current distributer suppliers of chemicals and
fertilisers. The company has a specialist interest in soil health
and the restoration of soil and fertile growing systems. It offers
a full agronomy service to customers, including chemical, crop
and fertiliser planning, with a particular focus on the biological
management of soil fertility. It works with the worldwide
farming community to help restore constituents that are
essential to the soil’s health. The company’s goal is to create
solutions that facilitate the best of any farm system, from
organic agriculture and biodynamics to agroecology. Managing
Director Mike Harrington tells
The Parliamentary Review
Through a balance of consultancy and knowledge, we provide a range of services
aimed at targeting a farm’s specific requirements. Our philosophy is to improve soil
and plant health, while harnessing the soil’s stored resources to achieve a healthy,
well-balanced system.
Getting the best out of systems
Carbon drives all systems: funding microbial digestion, recycling and releasing
nutrients in the soil. Without life in soil, soil cannot be maintained to grow crops.
By understanding the nutritional and biological connection between the soil and
plants, we can create a process to manage and restore a successful system –
continually reviewing and refining.
»Managing Director: Mike
»Established in 2005
»Based in Ginge, south
»Services: Agronomy and
biological consultancy and
»No. of employees: 7
»Advocate of the view that
field testing is necessary
to understand the unique
scenarios between plants, soil
and their nutrients
Highlighting best practice
When the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio
is not balanced, microbes accelerate
carbon consumption, respiring carbon
dioxide back to the atmosphere,
depleting carbon and causing long-
term degradation. Organic matter
levels are so low in many arable soils
that there is not enough energy
or air to allow biological activity to
function. As such, soil begins to slump
and become lifeless, leading to poor
rooting, poor plant health and poor
nutrient utilisation. Growers end up
buying more inputs to replace what
the soil cannot provide – and this goes
on and on until the farm is buying in
almost everything, adding significant
expense to the operation. To begin
to get out of this spiral, the emphasis
needs to shift from high yield to
efficiency, bringing biology to the fore.
Over the last 30 years or so, the
emphasis has been on growing for
maximum yield – any problems can be
overcome by increasing output. This
has placed a big emphasis on increased
nitrogen applications and associated
inputs. However, what we are trying to
achieve is to place more emphasis on
efficiency by building fertility and the
associated soil health.
Change from within the
Essentially, there is only one person
who can change farming, and that’s
the farmer. Our role as agronomists
is to advise and support them so they
can have the confidence to make the
decision to change – something that is
lost when farming is driven by inputs.
One could ask why we need to change
when science and the industry believes
yield is most important. This high-
input system has been tremendously
successful, but it can only work when
soils are healthy and function as a
living entity.
As soil health deteriorates, the costs
of soil management and chemical and
fertiliser inputs begin to accelerate.
With this, the use of chemicals and
associated problems escalates, which
leads to increased issues with toxicity
to the environment. There is also a
build-up of resistance to pests and
aggressive recovery of problems after
treatment. The solution isn’t to keep
on doing more of the same, which
is what many are doing. In fact, the
industry tends to promote disease and
insect problems rather than control
them. As natural predators and
soil health deteriorates, the system
becomes completely unsustainable.
We have been treating symptoms
without due attention to their causes.
Fortunately, farmers across the world
are realising this cannot go on. This is
a system change driven by farming and
not the associated industry or science.
This change is not a fantasy, but a real
paradigm shift in thinking. It has been
developing for some 20 years now. We
have found that by changing farming
practices through emphasising carbon
rather than nitrogen, and through
farming with nature rather than turbo-
charging and burning the life out of
soil, inputs can dramatically reduce.
We begin to change from applying
products in order to grow a crop, to a
systems approach whereby the system
becomes the driver for growth and
products support the system. We have
lost and bypassed natural resources
and placed the emphasis on inputs to
achieve output.
Mike Harrington walking
a field of cover crops
with owner, Charles
Hunter-Smart, discussing
the benefits the crop will
It is a whole-
system change,
as all things
which is an
important shift
in thinking
New thinking is required
The reason we use the term “paradigm
shift” is that it is not just about
buying a drill, growing a cover crop
or planting some wild flowers. It is a
whole-system change, as all things
become interconnected, which is an
important shift in thinking. The whole
support system to the farm has to
change. Through knowledge, we are
moving away from the chemical era
into a biological era – understanding
that balance and interconnectivity is
From the issues developing with
climate change, many countries have
no choice but to try to farm in a way
that builds organic matter in order
to retain and utilise precious water –
covering the ground with a growing
crop, and having a mulch to reduce
the effects from high temperature and
moisture loss. It is essential to change
if farming is to be maintained in some
of these regions. The knock-on effects
are a reduction of stress and increased
health, with chemical and fertiliser
inputs beginning to tumble.
What the future needs
As a company, we are very proud to
have been involved in the original
concepts for change and are
continuing to work to develop new
principles and ideas for future farming
techniques. The goal is foresight:
create a plan that anticipates needs,
rather than a plan that patches up;
create a plan that manages purpose-
made nutrition, specifically taking into
account the farm’s own requirements;
and make carbon management and
soil health a priority.
Many farms with over ten years of
change are delighted with what has
been achieved. Huge changes in how
the soil has responded have led to a
new understanding of agronomy and
how plants can be managed with
benefits to the environment. Dramatic
increases in wildlife have occurred,
allowing the soil food web and above-
ground life to proliferate, with true
integration occurring. With this level of
beneficial predators around, chemical
intervention becomes superfluous.
This challenges the largest farm units
and those on high-yielding land that
can still make good profits within the
intensive arena. However, if smaller
farms can make a better living more
sustainably and survive, then it is only
a matter of time before it attracts
change for all.
The government should support
and give flexibility to those who are
already ahead with environmental
and soil management, rather than
restricting it and imposing change
that they’re already ahead of. These
farms are leaders in innovation, and
many farmers are now far beyond the
advice and knowledge currently being
given to government and shared by
scientists. Science is good at measuring
components of a system, but it isn’t
good at interpreting within a systems
approach and is unable to consider
how all factors integrate. Farmers are
beginning to remember that they are
the caretakers of earth. If we use soil,
we cannot grow crops for long outside
nature’s influence.
The government
should support
and give
flexibility to
those who are
already ahead
and soil
Ben Harrington,
agronomist at Edaphos,
discussing soil fertility
and structure with
Edaphos client Chris
Parker of Earth Trust


This article was sponsored by Edaphos. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it.