27 May 2023
By Brigette Nagel, Carbon Project Developer
On 27 May, the CNG AgriCarbon team visited one of our farmers, Nickie Serdyn, on two of his farms close to the quaint town of Riebeek Kasteel in the Western Cape region of South Africa. Upon meeting Nickie, we were immediately struck by his passion for regenerative agriculture, underpinned by a firm belief that a natural ecosystem has the ability to heal itself if supported rather than overruled by human intervention.
This concept entails building soil organic carbon by keeping living roots in the soil throughout the year, incorporating livestock, practicing minimal chemical or mechanical soil disturbance, keeping the soil covered and therefore protected from harsh elements like sun and wind, while building plant diversity in the soil.
Nickie argues that, instead of balancing soil chemistry through synthetic additives, farmers should focus on correcting soil-biology and then allow the soil chemistry to balance itself. He says that we underestimate the power of micro-organisms, earthworms, insects, and plant extracts to bring about the desired results in cropping systems. He jokingly adds “A farmer who doesn’t own a microscope is not truly regenerative.”
During our visit, Nickie explained that weeds and pests actually have a meaningful purpose – to scavenge weak plants, and to spotlight – and repair – areas of disturbance and nutrient depletion in the soil. Once the soil is healthy, varied and balanced plant growth will occur. This is observed by the fascinating Brix concept (a measurement of the sugar content in plant sap). Plants with a Brix score below 7 are susceptible to moulds, algae, and fungi. On the other hand, plants with a Brix score above 14 will thrive as insects cannot tolerate the high sugar content in the sap. When asked how to increase plants’ Brix score, Nickie noted: “A healthy microbial community will make all the difference”.
Like other farmers partnering with CNG, to Nickie this is not just a topic of interest but cuts to the core of farms’ survival in the face of extreme challenges. In 2017 the Western Cape was hit by the worst drought in 100 years. This forced him to discontinue his dairy herd and rely solely on crop-based farming. Thankfully, one of the benefits of regenerative farming is resilient crops that are better geared to weather the storms faced by farmers.
We left there inspired and acutely aware that the regenerative agriculture journey is much more than an occupation to our farmers. Rather, it is a passion that impacts every part of their daily lives. Their motivation, reaching far beyond meeting financial targets, stems from a deep respect and appreciation for nature and a drive to restore ecosystems to function as they’re intended to – in perfect harmony and balance. We are proud to support farmers like Nickie, and to scale their impact and commitment to the benefit of consumers, communities, and our planet.