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The "Six inches of Soil" Film and my part in it's success.

Updated: Jun 7

Ben Thomas, star of 6 Inches of Soil


Two years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Ben in the Future Farm Resilience Fund program when I went to his and Claudia’s place , near Bodmin, Cornwall, just as they were starting the regenerative farm system. Working with the owners who wanted the land farmed in a more nature friendly manner than the previous tenants. Ben and Claudia had 20 belted Galloways on 55 acres at the time having bred them from cattle at his other job as a Natural England farm ranger  on a nearby holding.

A collection of stores, with the heifers to be retained for breeding , while the steers would be sold as they came to weight to finance the  embryonic business. Something I  did myself as an aspiring farmer, but with pigs.

The owners were happy to encourage Ben to farm the land  with no rent, with the mission to supply local markets with excellent beef reared on  pasture and forage only, grown without concentrates being fed or fertiliser applied to the  land. The previous occupants had continuously grazed the fields with sheep with no rest or rotation, thus reducing the quality and nutrients of the grass species.

The steep Cornish slopes were mostly permanent pasture and Ben was stitching some herbal ley mixes into it, there wasn’t a lot of soil in some places, but it was dark and friable and not too compacted. This  was encouraging as he would certainly  be able to grow grass especially as It was raining the sort of mizzle that Cornwall is famous for. However the summers have been very dry, hence the need to put in drought resistant herbal leys.


We set up some targets for daily liveweight gains for his finishing and breeding stock which he was would weigh periodically and we looked at the Grazing plan that set out around the farm in a fixed rotation. This is governed by the marker paddock, which is a paddock close to home , the grass yield of this paddock will dictate the speed of rotation and if you need to introduce supplementary forage, such as hay, to stay on target.

The rest period is really important for the plants to have time to develop their rooting systems before it becomes dry ,and it's the roots that make herbal leys valuable in mining for minerals and moisture. The roots also develop associations with the microbes in the soil which allows the nutrients to travel up the plants to the leaves. This also comes from having as much biodiversity above the grounds surface as there is diversity in the microbes below the surface too.

We also discussed outwintering with hay bales on the lower performing paddocks that would benefit from reseeding with more mixed species swards. This would be easier as the ground has been trod  over ready for a direct drill and roller. We also looked at the financial gains of farm with low inputs and were quite impressed with the returns projected on such a small project, which will obviously improve as more animals are retained for breeding. The lovely aspect of farming this way is you can grow as the soil and the biodiversity grows too.

Ben came across very well in the film and his passion for Natural Farming shone through as it did when I visited him. Good luck to him, Claudia and baby Ted. .




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Clyde
Jun 06

The title a " bit of tongue in cheek", Ben was already on the game and it was great to talk about his ambitions on the farm.

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