PRESENTING CARBON ACTION FARMS: VERKATAKKILA

26.8.2020

Presenting Carbon Action farms is a podcast series that introduces Carbon Action farmers and their farms. In the series, you get to meet the farmers, learn about the activities on their farm, and understand the farmers’ ideas behind their work. Welcome to our farm tours!

ABOUT THE FARM:

First up is the Verkatakkila farm in Vihti, run by the young farmer couple Sirkku Puumala and Patrick Nyström.

They cultivate about 200 hectares of land on ​​three different farm centres. Enthusiastic about agricultural environmental management, the couple has been taking active measures to improve soil health for the past five years.

The crop rotation at this conventional crop farm includes malting barley, caraway, winter wheat, autumn rye, broad beans, and soil improvement grass.

GRASS IMPROVES SOIL

Sirkku and Patrick have considered and implemented a broad range of methods for improving soil health at Verkatakkila. Their priority is to take care of water management and a versatile crop rotation, which also includes soil improvement grass. The sole purpose of the grass they cultivate is to act as a soil improver!

“It is a funny idea that you can’t cultivate grass unless you have cattle to feed. We also have cattle, underground!” Sirkku laughs.

She makes a good point. After all, one does not have to sow grass by the hectare immediately. Adding it to the cycle to improve the soil where it is needed is a good start. Grass has many benefits; it improves not only soil health but also carbon sequestration.

Sirkku and Patrick in their field. To improve soil health, six different species of grass were sown three summers ago, supplementing as needed later. Last year, the field was subsoiled, or loosened up, so that deep-rooted grasses would be able to make the soil more friable as efficiently as possible.

THE SEED DISTRIBUTOR AND THE CAMERA ARE ROLLING

We are gathered in Verkatakkila not only to have a nice chat, but also to film some new material for our upcoming online training platform. Our photographer jumps on board the machine and in the meantime Sirkku and I talk about being part of Carbon Action.

“It is empowering to see that you can in fact improve soil health. You are less at the mercy of the weather and able to make a difference,” Sirkku says.

I was positively surprised, because this is what we are aiming for in Carbon Action: the feeling that you can make a difference through your actions. There is hope!

Each farm involved in Carbon Action has outlined a part of a field for testing. One side of the plot is used for testing soil carbon storage, and the other one is used as a reference area. Sirkku and Patrick focus on deep-rooted and collector crops. We are now following the sowing of the test segment, where malting barley and collector crops are being sown simultaneously.

ON AGRICULTURE AND POLICY

“I don’t feel like talking about agricultural politics. I’m really not that good at it. Or, I do have my opinions, but I’d rather not talk about them”, says Sirkku, and I agree. I tell her that I do not care for a conversation about agricultural politics either right now. A few moments later, we both notice that we are speaking agriculture politics quite fluently, which we find quite funny.

Patrick stops the seed distributor, and the photographer leaps out. “It is quite dusty. Do you want me to shoot all this dust?” the photographer asks. We all agree that dust is part of the picture in agriculture, especially when sowing during a dry period. Few are the farms on which the conditions are so favourable during the sowing season that no dust would emerge, and no topsoil would be carried away with the wind. The dust ends up in the film, which portrays authentic agriculture, not an idealized version.

The photographer in dusty conditions on board the seed distributor. Patrick sowing malting barley and collector crops on a Carbon Action test segment.

Maybe it is less important to categorize things into dos and don’ts within carbon farming? Each farm is unique, and the important thing is to be able to see the big picture and put things into perspective.   

“On a production field, carbon will simultaneously be sequestered and released, and the combined effects of different measures determine whether the carbon balance turns out positive or negative,” Sirkku sums up.

EFFECTIVE ACTIONS, SMALL AND BIG

Small deeds towards nurturing diversity can grow the diversity of the field.

“Hey, come here and take a picture of this too!” Sirkku calls us, pointing to a small forest island in the middle of the fields. A small, low-yielding strip of grass has been left on its edges, away from crop production, to increase diversity.

The forest island is a good example of the variety of ways in which things can be done  –you don’t always have to make big changes when trying to improve diversity. 

We talk about the small and the big things that can be done. Sirkku and Patrick reckon it is about trying and daring. About attitude.

“You should always just go ahead and try things out, you can start with a small area.” Sirkku says, encouraging other farmers to turn to carbon farming and to start improving soil health.

“Yes, even if you only start with one square meter and expand as you go along,” Patrick suggests, and adds “I could dare even more”.

“Next time we will dare,” Sirkku nods resolutely as to guarantee her words.

We must dare to look at things from many perspectives and challenge ourselves.
 “Do it within your comfort zone and stretch your boundaries gradually,” Sirkku says.

We notice a flock of birds in the field. There are hundreds and hundreds of geese and swans. They could be of real harm too.

“There has been no harm. They tend to graze that grass quite efficiently, but in the end, how you deal with this also depends on your attitude.” Sirkku thinks attitude is a matter of choice. The bird situation on Patrick’s and Sirkku’s farm is not severe enough to have a big impact. “It is more difficult on many other farms,” the couple says.

It’s time to conclude the warm-hearted discussion as we have to say goodbye. It is always a pleasure to visit Sirkku and Patrick. A friendly reception is guaranteed, although hugs cannot be exchanged this time due to the corona situation.

WATCH A SHORT INTRODUCTION HERE:

Interview, images, and text by Sanna Söderlund, Head of training – Co-operation with farmers, Baltic Sea Action Group

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