EEAS Scholar- Dr Liz Genever: Course Case Study

Integrity Soils was established by Nicole Masters, an agroecologist, educator and author, who is passionate about inspiring people to engage differently with soil. The organisation specialises in education of biological and regenerative farming systems.

Through their CREATE programme, they are currently training consultants in their approaches to soil management and coaching clients. I was one of the 24 successful participants for CREATE UK training programme, which started with an residential at Althorp Hall in September 2023. We then had weekly teaching, mentoring or coaching sessions until the final residential back at Althorp at the beginning of May 2024.

The people on the course ranged from vets, cider makers, landscape architects, regenerative farmers, farm managers, horticulturists, vitaculturists, soil health advisers, consultants, ex pop star and compost specialists. Most of them were from the UK, but there was also people from Australia, America, Kenya, Portugal, Estonia and France. The four coaches were from New Zealand, America and Canada. Across everyone, there were eleven different nationalities on the course. Due to the range of experiences, backgrounds and objectives, it is an extremely powerful network.

I left Althorp with two lever arch folders of technical material that we were going to do through on our online training meetings. What was different about this course compared to others, was a focus on how to get behaviour change on farm as well as learning the technical bits. We were encouraged to reflect on our own patterns of behaviour and see how we can tweak how we approach areas of our live and work to amplify our impact.

We were broken into small hubs with three other people and we worked through tasks together and provided an opportunity to reflect on what we were learning and experiencing. We got a new hub in the New Year, which provided an opportunity to get to know more people and experience different ways of working.

I took advantage of the opportunity to do regular coaching calls, and generally did a coaching call with one of the four coaches every week. I tended to work through them on rotation, until I found my favourites. This gave an opportunity to reflect on what was happening in the course but also how I was trying to implement the new tools and techniques I was learning.

As part of the course, I had to do a project with a farmer. I chose to work with Dave Cross (near Heacham in north Norfolk), who I had worked with before on a lucerne project and he was curious about how to improve his soil health. I managed to get additional funding from AHDB and Regenerate Outcomes to cover my time working him and the additional soil tests that were needed. A subscription to Soilmentor was included in the CREATE course and we used their guidance and app to collect the information from the site visit.

The last four days back at Althorp Hall involved listening to everyone’s presentations about their project farm and the group practised running a soil trench (see photo below). It was great opportunity to catch-up with everyone and hear about their plans for the future.

As part of the project, I delivered a webinar for AHDB in March 2024 and an event for the North Norfolk Coastal Group in May. As part of the knowledge exchange activity we talked through the key findings of the report and the recommendations. The main focuses were to improved rooting depth, nodulation on the clover roots and rhizosheaths, which is when soil sticks to the roots. More funding from AHDB will hopefully allow the activity to continue until 2025, as we want to scale up the trials and see if we can get more drought tolerance on light soils in a dry place.

The course has had a huge impact on how I approach my work, my life and my family farm. It has encouraged me self-reflect more and try to understand other people’s perspectives and motivations. It has provided me with lots of new tools and techniques to use at farmer meetings and also one-to-one with clients. It has also provided me with the practical experience of interpreting more detailed soil and plant tissue tests, and developing recommendations that align with the farmer’s objectives.