When Tuomas Mattila took over Kilpiä Farm from his father in 2005, he was eager to transition to organic methods – an undertaking that, for him and his wife Iiris, would turn out to be a unique challenge and a neverending learning process.
Years of monoculture and mechanization had left the farm’s sandy and silty soil in dire need of regeneration. Adding to the challenge was a tricky landscape with steep and long slopes. Altogether, the farm was highly vulnerable to erosion and nutrient runoff.
“I had switched the farm to organic crop rotation and farmed that way for four years, but the soil was not getting any better,” recalls Tuomas.
Having found no professional advice, Tuomas and Iiris decided to take matters into their own hands. Drawing upon their shared background in environmental science and microbiology, they set to work researching and testing alternative agricultural methods.
“Trying out new methods is unpredictable,” says Iiris. “The challenge is to keep on searching and trying. But it’s a good challenge.”
Eventually, Tuomas and Iiris discovered a formula that worked, based on two key principles: keep the soil in place and keep the soil ecosystem working. They implemented a minimum tillage system, established a contour farming system and covered the most erosion prone slope with an apple orchard.
“Keeping the soil covered, supplying it with photosynthesis derived energy, and avoiding killing soil life through erosion, tillage and compaction just made sense,” says Tuomas. “Same applies to plant and soil testing– without knowing what is happening in the system, it would be crazy to add fertilizers at random.”
As for the results, the farm’s ecosystem speaks for itself:
“The erosion has diminished and the amount of organic matter has grown
a lot,” says Iiris. “We have moved from a soil of sand to potting soil. The number of insects on a flowering field is huge.”
“The soil surface has so many spiders and beetles, I feel bad driving on the field,” adds Tuomas.
But the experimental days are not over yet. Tuomas and Iiris’ dedication to finding better, more sustainable ways to farm has grown to such an extent that they now run Kilpiä Farm as a private research and educational farm. Working solutions are regularly shared with fellow farmers through lectures, trade magazine articles and consulting.
In 2018, Tuomas and Iiris Mattila received the national Baltic Sea Farmer of the Year Award in recognition of their efforts to reduce nutrient runoff on their farm.
Location: Pusula in southern Finland
Type of farm: Organic crop farm (255 ha)
Main production: Rye, oats, green manure and apples
Key practices: Erosion control and soil conditioning, minimum tillage, tillage based on contour lines, conversion of vulnerable fields to orchards, continuous plant coverage, crop rotation, drainage system improvements
National jury motivation: “The farm is managed as a whole. The farm uses innovative, research-based methods and pays special attention to reducing erosion and its detrimental effects on water bodies. Methods used also include the improvement of soil, crop rotation, plant choices, renewable energy and energy efficiency. Additionally, a Continuous Cover Forestry approach is used to manage the farm’s forests. The farm develops its activities all the time and actively spreads information to other farmers.”