Loomio
Sat 24 Mar 2018

2018: What are we going to plant in the year ahead?

AR
Abby Rose Public Seen by 50

As we start farming OurField for 2018, with the slightly larger area of 28 acres and 60 members we promptly need to decide what we want to plant or how we want to farm the field this year, as John needs to order seeds on Mon 9th April. So here is the timeline:

24/25 March: FARMER'S THOUGHTS Farmer John Cherry will kick of the conversation with the options he thinks might work.
25 March - 4 April: DISCUSSION we will discuss these ideas, with members asking questions and adding in any extra research or ideas.
5 April - 8 April: THE VOTE based on the discussion a series of options will be put to vote.

9 April: JOHN ORDER SEEDS

JC

John Cherry Sat 24 Mar 2018

Ok, I'll try to keep this brief and on topic. What to plant...

Our main problem is that the #ourfield field has had two crops of wheat grown on it in a row and so it is ready for a break. Before the wheats we grew a crop of peaola (pea and oilseed rape companion crop). We could do that again, but it is a bit close together rotation wise, there are diseases of both peas and rape that could lurk in the soil and ambush either if we try to grow them too frequently.

I was keen to offer you buckwheat as a radical new break crop. Buckwheat is a 'false grain', it is actually a broadleaved crop that is grown in quite a big way in Canada and Russia and places like that, that have a continental climate. We grew a field as an experiment last year and it seemed quite successful, except the entire harvest went mouldy as I was too slow drying it. It turns out the reason that it suits a continental climate is the hot summers suit the plants ability to grow fast and the dry frosts kill the plant and make dry harvesting easier. Processing the grain is tricky too and there are precious few people in the UK with the necessary tackle or inclination to do so. It needs dehulling, like spelt, but the hull is attached much more strongly to the endosperm or whatever the middle bit is called. To summarise: we could grow it, but you probably won't get anything back from harvest, if we get a harvest at all.

There are a range of standard spring break crops grown around here, like peas, beans and linseed. These are all realistic options, if a little dull. Peas come in a range of colours and harvested dry (like little bullets) for making into mushy peas, Hodmedod snacks, pet food or animal feed...all depending on the quality. We are not on the best soil for top quality peas and we've grown them a bit too recently as mentioned above. Also pigeons love them and ourfield is hard to watch against pigeon predation.

Beans will do ok on our soil, but tend to end up in animal feed as they normally get attacked by bruchid beetles, which leave annoying holes in the seed which buyers for human consumption don't like. Last year we talked about a companion crop of beans and wheat...this is still a possibility, but I don't know whether it would compromise our chances of growing a really good 'first' wheat next year. Also, it might be a dreadful mess and we'd get a tiny dirty sample of both beans and wheat (looking on the gloomy side).

Linseed is very pretty when flowering and will leave the ground in cracking order for a good wheat next year. But it is sensitive, so won't want drilling for a while and won't be ready to harvest until late autumn. Being a relative of flax, the straw is incredibly strong (linen) and can be a pig to cut with the combine if conditions aren't perfect. I'm not making an effort to sell this as it is making work for us, but it might earn a (little) bit for ourfield. When we've grown it before, 1tonne/acre is the most we've managed, usually rather less. Probably get £200/tonne at the moment. Don't plan a Caribbean holiday on the back of a linseed harvest.

There are other crops like soya beans which are becoming more mainstream in the UK. I'd rule this out unless we could get an ourfield rota of 24/7 pigeon frightening. We grew a test plot once and they had every plant as it emerged. We have a lot of pigeons here, there are so many woods they can lurk and wait for your attention to wander then flock in. I'd rather grow things they don't eat.

Richard the agronomist was suggesting we grow squashes of some sort. He was saying that potatoes are so damaging to soils and inappropriate for our climate (though we grew a test crop of no-till potatoes last year quite successfully), squashes that grow on top like marrows would be far more suitable and store more easily than spuds. But presumably have to be harvested by hand. And marketed. How keen are you guys to get involved...?To be honest, if we were to do this, I'd want to plant a cover crop of forage rye in the autumn and then come May I'd crimp it and set the squashes/pumpkins into the dead (we'd hope) rye which would act as a mulch and carpet for the gourds to grow on without becoming contaminated with soil. So that's another side-track...

Lentils are a possibility, but I know nothing about them and I've been told to expect crop failure. Happy to give it a go if you are...

@harryboglione was suggesting hemp as possible break. Harvesting the seed is something that I don't think anyone has managed with any success in the UK. We've grown it before for the fibre and it grows like a weed (no surprises there). Unfortunately it looks fantastic but never really repays the work that goes into it. If anyone has a decorticator and wants to weave some scratchy homespun trousers, then this is the crop for you. Hemp fibre is fantastic stuff, but I think the guys making the money aren't the farmers. It's also good for hiding your illegal cannabis crop in, but you might not be able to renew your Home Office licence the next year. However, when the idiots in charge finally legalise it, we'd be a step ahead of the competition in knowing how it grows...

My final suggestion is to grow a summer cover crop. This sounds a bit bonkers, as it'll cost you for seed, but you won't get a harvest. But we'd have a fantastic cheap wheat crop next year. If we could graze the cover, we'd get some income back and possibly an even better wheat from all the poo. This is something I'm looking at on one or two of our fields that don't look like they are going to grow much of a spring crop. A good cover will pulse energy and carbon into the soil, opening up root channels deep in the subsoil, foraging nutrients and bringing them to the surface. We could terminate the crop with a crimper and drill wheat through (as suggested with the squashes above) or graze it, which would involve fencing and water provision (neither of which need be too expensive). This all appeals to me as I think it will all be an important component of organic no-till, which at the moment is nothing more than a happy pipe-dream, but could be a transformative regenerative form of agriculture in the UK. They have managed to create a form of it at the Rodale Institiute in the USA and also Gabe Brown in N Dakota is getting near it, but with a completely different climate. We need to work out a UK way...

Sorry, that wasn't at all brief. Have a think and get back to us...

John

TA

Tony Allan Sat 24 Mar 2018

Dear John
Thank you for all the information and for the comments on the options. I would be happy with the best possible cover crop to establish the soil health for next AND FUTURE YEARS. It would be good to keep a close accounting watch on the bottom line impact of the grazing by livestock.
Could you say something in general about the soil health of OurField. Best Tony

JC

John Cherry Sat 24 Mar 2018

Hi Tony, thanks for your comment.
I think the soil is quite healthy, but as it happens Abby is coming up with Neils Corfield on Monday to show me how to use her Sectormentor soil app and we'll be testing #ourfield amongst other fields so will report back then. John

AR

Abby Rose Sat 24 Mar 2018

Amazing thank you @johncherry !! Brilliant start laying out all the options! I am excited by many of those options...I'm wondering why do you favour the cover crop and grazing option over planting rye and then squash? With Rye and squash would we still be able to plant a winter wheat or grain of some sort in October? And why would you do rye and then squash and not just let the left over spelt and clover act as the cover before planting the squash?
Also sorry one more question - do you now have a crimper? Is it possible to use the animals to graze down the clover and spelt left overs (or rye) before planting the squash?

Also for any new (and existing) members - realise there is lots of 'farming jargon' going on such as crimping, no-till, cover crop and talk of terminating crops then direct drilling etc. There are a few co-investors who do know more about farming including other farmers, so please do ask questions however simple they seem. Someone in the collective will be able to answer or if not then John certainly can!

JC

John Cherry Sat 24 Mar 2018

Hi Abby, good questions. Really to get a clean spring squash bed we'd have planted rye in the autumn as it gets away very quick in the spring and hits maturity very early. Crimping works best when you squash the crop at anthesis, ie when the flower bud opens. This shocks the plant such that it dies, if you do it too soon there's a good chance it'll grow again from the base. This would likely happen if we grazed it early too. The trouble with trying it with our volunteer spelt is that there is probably too much weed grass in the field that will hit anthesis, or even seed, before the spelt is ready. But it might work, we can take a view on Monday...

We don't have a crimper, but I think I can lay my hands on one if necessary.
John

TA

Tony Allan Sun 25 Mar 2018

Dear John

Thank you for getting back.

I am looking forward to catching up with Abby. The app looks interesting on the website.

Best

TonyA

CL

Christine Lewis Sun 25 Mar 2018

Thanks John and hello to all our new people. Quick question to @johncherry - could we graze on the field over the summer and then put in an Autumn crop instead of a Spring crop. Would this give the field the break it needs and offer any other benefits?

JC

John Cherry Sun 25 Mar 2018

I'm sorry that it all sounds a bit gloomy money-wise this year, especially the idea of a summer cover crop. Spring crops like linseed or beans will give some income, but not very much and the harvest will be quite late, meaning we don't get the best chance of getting a good autumn planting of whatever wheat we might want to put in this back end. By suggesting the summer cover, I was taking a long-term view and looking to great riches in autumn 2019 with a bountiful wheat harvest then. The whole point of this idea was growing a fertility building/weed suppressing crop for this year to give an excellent start to next years cash-builder (as @christinelewis1 suggests - we want to plant an autumn crop in 2018).
But nothing is guaranteed in farming. It's very much up to the Collective. You decide what we do...
John

GH

Grahame Hunter Mon 26 Mar 2018

How to cope with a loss this year

Some of John's crop suggestions do imply spending money in this year to build soil fertility, perhaps to recoup that with a grain crop in 2019
We do also have a few extra members - and the costs of having a break-crop would be low - therefore, if any newly joined members wish to change their minds within the next 14 days I can arrange a refund of the entire £200 stake to the account it came from. It is not a problem, we will still remain friends! @cliffcooper

A

andrea Fri 6 Apr 2018

As a new investor I don't mind paying for the cover crop, as long as my investment is not diluted by new investors next year who would be getting a free ride. So maybe there should be an investment cycle which starts from the unproductive period. Anyone who comes after that, has to contribute for the accrued investments. @cliffcooper

GH

Grahame Hunter Sat 7 Apr 2018

No additional outlay this year. We have plenty of money, and probably for next year too. There is an investment cycle and there will be no new members except on terms agreed by the current membership..

AW

Andy Walker Mon 26 Mar 2018

Hi John,

Thank you for the information.

As a new member who knows nothing about this I think it would be useful if you could just list the options and maybe we could all go away and do a bit of research before we vote? So just a basic list of crops that do well on our soil, or might do well but would be a risk?

At the moment I feel like I don't know enough about it to offer an opinion.

Andy

GH

Grahame Hunter Tue 27 Mar 2018

Hi, Andy
The list will, it is hoped, emerge from this discussion; and be incorporated in the vote later next week.

Members too may care to note, to bring a comment to someone's attention, then you can do this with @name - however, there is a fine line here, the tendency being to direct all questions to John Cherry.

However we have 62 members, many farmers and other colours of cultivator, so it is better if John actually stands back from this debate now, except for very specific questions about the Weston land, and lets members engage as they can.

John Cherry is NOT a member of the farming group, so burdening him with too many questions goes beyond his remit..

@johncherry @gingerbreadbakery

TA

Tony Allan Tue 27 Mar 2018

Dear Grahame, Cliff and Andy

It is very good to have engagement from new members. And thank you Grahame for showing consideration to new members and their expectations.
I welcome further engagement with new and original members.

It would be good to share some background on the new and original members.
Could we share on an email list our:
1 Name
2 Town/village/postcode
3 Reason for engaging in the activity
4 Expertise

It would be very interesting to hear about the visit of Abby to the Weston Farm yesterday.

Best 1 Tony (Allan), 2 London NW5, 3 For the privilege of gaining insights on how consumers can engage with and understand the risks that farmers face in producing nutritious food and in stewarding the ecosystems of soil, water, the atmosphere and biodiversity, 4 An academic focusing on the political economy of food-water and on global and local food supply chains.

GH

Grahame Hunter Tue 27 Mar 2018

Sharing information

There is an issue here, that this is presently a public forum, so anyone - __ literally anyone __ - can see what is posted, and email addresses etc could theoretically be harvested if disclosed on the Forum pages.

It is possible to make the Forum private to the invited members, but some appreciate the "open access" aspect of the OurField project. This could also have some advantages when members wish to discuss what could be commercially sensitive information eg what price we wish to sell out product for!

I propose to let members vote on this matter (open vs closed access) after the first, and more pressing, vote about what to plant.

B

Ben Tue 27 Mar 2018

Hello to all! As a new member, I posted an intro over on the appropriate thread. Here are my initial thoughts on this topic. Buckwheat doesn't seem to have much going for it, crop wise. I am interested in trials at Abbey Farm re suppression of cooch grass, but that doesn't seem to be an issue on ourfield. Does anyone know how organic producers grow beans successfully avoiding bruchid beetle damage (I'm thinking Hodmedods, Martin Wolfe over East Anglian way?) Perhaps at field scale/monoculture its not possible. I'm less keen on the pumpkin idea, as I feel they can be grown easily as part of a polyculture/smaller scale horticultural enterprise as opposed to machine-based arable (which is what we are focusing on here?) As for lentils, I saw Hodmedods (https://hodmedods.co.uk/blogs/news/tagged/lentils) sent some to market in 2015, with advice and help from Wolfe at Wakelyns. I guess maybe it is a tall order to expect @johncherry to learn lentil growing from scratch?! Cover crop - I'd be interested in this. Would it be a herbal ley or just a mustard or something? My understanding is that there isn't much benefit (in terms of carbon sequestration and soil structure) if its not managed/grazed for a minimum of about 4 years. And how would you kill/incorporate in a no-till system - deep rooted species wouldn't die from a crimp/hard graze would they? Nutrient cycling, soil science and fertility building is fascinating isn't it! I've such large gaps in my knowledge. Very excited to have this opportunity to engage with knowledgeable people!

AR

Abby Rose Wed 28 Mar 2018

Lots of great information and ideas thank you! In terms of the positive effect of grazing on a field - I have no science to back this up right now but from people I’ve spoken to and photographic evidence shared at Oxford Real farming Conference this year it seems that mob grazing combined with mixed herb cover crops can have quite rapid effects on the soil really encouraging the soil biology and plant-soil nutrient cycling mechanisms even within one season. I will double check that I understood this correctly and get back to you!!

AR

Abby Rose Wed 28 Mar 2018

As far as I know @johncherry has a herd of few 100 cows that he mob grazes across the farm. They are very beautiful healthy and happy animals! If John were to add OurField as one of the fields in his mob grazing setup then we could probably find some form of agreement for ‘renting’ the pasture from us or something along those lines. It’s something we would have to agree with John.

JC

John Cherry Wed 28 Mar 2018

Sorry, a bit slow to respond about the grazing potential...all the cows got out the other night and we've been a bit busy sorting them out as they are calving at the moment, so trying to re-mother them up has taken longer than we thought. As Abby said though, we have a happy herd of suckler cattle (ie cows and calves running together) who normally graze on permanent pastures but would be thrilled to munch on a multi-species cover crop. We have sown some 4 year herbal leys on other parts of the farm, these are quite expensive seed-wise (hence leaving them down for four years) but they regenerate the soil by dint of being comprised of lots of diverse species all rooting at different depths and forming different associations with our soil micro-flora and fauna and provide nutritious and health giving food to our cattle.

The idea of a multi-species cover crop would be to get a similar, but shorter burst impact on the soil, lasting one summer, and also providing a few days grazing for the mob (assuming we can rig up some suitable fencing and water supply). We could calculate the value of the grazing by working out how many animals of what weight last there for how long. I suspect it won't match a good spring arable crop cash-wise, but the residual fertility and weed suppression for the next year might make it a good bet. There are a lot of 'mights' in this I know...I'll try and get some realistic figures for all the alternatives before we ask you to vote.
John

WA

Wendy Alcock Wed 28 Mar 2018

Hi all and welcome to our new members :-)

Sorry to start with a question to @johncherry but I wondered how the spilt spelt from harvest fared over the winter? If it survived we toyed with the idea of leaving it to grow to see if the full year, as it normally gets, helps to get a better yield. Or maybe it’s done ok but you still think it’s best to remove so there’s not a third year of wheat in the field? Or maybe the weeds in the field are too much of a problem?

Thank you for all the other ideas on your list of suggestions. I won’t comment on them all but these are the areas that stood out for me:

I like the idea of a cover crop and resting/grazing the field over the spring/summer so that we can get an early autumn planting. Our companion clover from last year should help this too, shouldn’t it? Maybe the autumn crop shouldn’t be wheat though, to give the field the break it needs. Might it also be good to try and agree the next couple of years’ plantings now, to aid the rotation process?

I do think we could be successful at trying a single spring crop this year too, maybe rapeseed (I just googled to see it was in the brassica family) or linseed. Oats and barley were discussed options last year. Neither were that popular but that was because a lot of people wanted to try and end up with bread flour. I remember skim reading this report at the time (it’s about organic growing, which we’re not doing (yet!) and it’s old but it helped me to get a grasp of some of the issues and has some good info on soil fertility). I think these options are worth considering again this year.

By chance I opened a packet of buckwheat flour (apparently in the same family as rhubarb) this week, which is recommended for pancakes and pasta. The pancakes were good, the pasta was not, and I’m not sure people eat that many pancakes outside of Shrove Tuesday! The fact it’s a tricky grain to process is not appealing after our struggle to get the hull off the spelt.

I read an article about growing hemp last year but annoyingly I can’t find it now. I do remember it sounding like a bit of a faff though, ie you need a licence and DBS check which could take some time to come through. This article talks about the benefits though so I’m not totally put off the idea.

On the squashes I think Tony's question about the soil health is important as it's an especially hungry crop. Abby’s app may help figure this one out or the cover crop option may help prepare the soil for next year but it’s not my favourite option.

Finally, and sorry for all the links, but this may be useful for new members - at the top of one of our discussion threads from last year Abi posted a reading list. Our polls might also make interesting reading.

Finally, finally, a question for the farmers out there. If we can get away without needing to remove excess crops and weeds with glyphosate like I think we needed to last year would the last year count as the first towards the three needed to apply for organic certification? Or does that need to be done on a farm wide basis?

OR

Oliver Rubinstein Thu 29 Mar 2018

Hi Wendy, organic conversion is normally only two years for arable land, it's three years for fruit orchards etc. You'd need to ensure that no non-organic pesticides, fertilisers and fungicides are used too, which is where it starts to get challenging! Individual fields can be certified as organic, so you don't need to convert the entire farm. Obviously though, you need to take reasonable efforts to avoid cross-contamination.

WA

Wendy Alcock Thu 29 Mar 2018

Thanks for confirming that Oliver. This could be an option for us at some point then.

OR

Oliver Rubinstein Thu 29 Mar 2018

I'd also be in favour of getting livestock on the field. For me, it's a great way of getting some nutrients back into the soil and can be used to reduce weed pressure too. Squashes are very labour intensive to harvest - although they do look amazing in the field - so I'd be inclined to avoid them, as they're more suited to a smaller-scale horticultural environment.

OR

Oliver Rubinstein Thu 29 Mar 2018

One more point from me: All the most successful farmers I've met have followed the golden rule of making sure they have a market for their crops lined up, before any seeds are ever drilled. Do we have a market already lined up for the squash - or the other crops for that matter? This might prove to be a key factor in our decision making.

WA

Wendy Alcock Thu 29 Mar 2018

We have no new markets for any crop yet Oliver - that's down to the group to find/decide. I think there will always be the option to sell to John's local farmers coop but then our crop will probably just get mixed in with everything else and is likely to go to animal feed. It might be best if we decide to grow an easier to sell crop this year as a result. We're still trying to determine the worth of the spelt from last year but I think we will easily find a buyer when we do, as the ourfield project is a good sales pitch :)

CL

Christine Lewis Fri 30 Mar 2018

To add that last year I didn't think at all about what happens outside the farm gate - it would have helped us in our decisions but all part of the learning experience. With an Autumn crop we will have much more time to debate, discuss and consider an optimal route to market. If we end up deciding on grazing with an Autumn crop I hope the decision on what to plant can be made over the summer in slower time. If we end up deciding on a Spring crop it will be part of the choice we need to make next week.

CL

Christine Lewis Fri 30 Mar 2018

Hi Cliff we planted Spelt in the field in 2017 and it is the same field we are using in 2018 - so I am guessing the year before was Wheat as well

AR

Abby Rose Fri 30 Mar 2018

Yes Spelt is a form of wheat as far as I know. I think the type of spelt most commonly grown in the UK is actually mixed with a modern wheat... So John may have been referring to the planting of the spelt under the general 'wheat' term. But we do know that it is definitely the same field!

SJ

Steven Jacobs Sat 31 Mar 2018

Hello,
On the issue regarding organic conversions the time required to move in to organic, the in-conversion period, is around two years though this would depend on what has happened prior and the time can be extended, or in some cases reduced slightly.

Time isn’t the only aspect to consider, however. Organic is a system approach to food production based on nutrient cycling to promote good soil health.
And the cycling to be, wherever possible, as close to if not on the the land itself.

There are aspects where this proximity isn’t the primary requirement . For instance bringing in manure can be beneficial to soil health. But the manure must be within the requirements which include sourcing organic manure or at least is from extensively reared stock that haven’t been fed GM feed.

And for the nutrient flow to be realised it would require the system to have full rotation. This normally would not be feasible on only one field. Though it might depend on the size of the field, the type of soil, the type of cropping. And so on.

KF

Kirsten Foster Sat 31 Mar 2018

I sense John Cherry is most interested/excited about the autumn crop/grazing option and after reading other input I don't have any reason to disagree with that. With my extremely limited knowledge that's the best I can say! The cyclical/soil health aspect of it appeals and the point that it will give us longer to discuss and decide on the next crop, as Christine said, is appealing too. I think I need to do a lot of reading.

SJ

Steven Jacobs Sat 31 Mar 2018

Grazing the cover crop as an option seems to me to hold many clear benefits. What plants go in as the cover crop can be a recipe with a mix of varieties. Different plants have different functions. Clover can fix nitrogen. Buckwheat can bring up or 'mine' phosphorous, though this can depend on exisiting soil conditions and the condition of the rhizosphere (where the roots live). And i was told recently that quinoa 'mines' potash (potassium). But if buckwheat is a tricky crop to grow, and to harvest, quinoa can be doubly so. It hates any form of compaction and it is hard to get a whole field to ripen at once.
But like buckwheat its not a cereal as such, and so can act as a rotational break from the barley or wheat or oat cereal growing cycle.

On looking for reading matter there is an online library at http://orgprints.org/

On roller crimping I made a very short video a few years ago while I was in Italy -
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8SJrAVnzmU

They were researching use of this method in Europe for organic vegetable production. As opposed the the US exepeirnece which seems to all be predominantly with cerals in mind. The crop the Italians were rolling was a cereal, a rye cover crop. It worked well in Italy but worth noting the climate is somewhat differen tto ours here in the UK.

This research has been extended across to other parts of Europe as part of the SoilVeg project. Its in its first phase and I've not seen results yet, and again is worth noting is focusing on vegetable production though often the cover crop is a cereal. A lot of online video available of roller crimping in the US.

TA

Tony Allan Sat 31 Mar 2018

Dear Steven, Cliff, Ben, Kirsten, Cliff, Oliver, and Andy,
Thank you - as new members - for providing some very interesting personal backgrounds and for asking some very useful questions.
Christine has also been asking some very useful questions. She has pointed out that we should be thinking about the coming summer, the coming winter and by implication the summer of 2019 and the winter of 2019/20.
When voting what to do with the field this summer we need to know a number of things:
1 What rotation options are available for the next two years? We need advice from John.

2 What marketing options we need to know about. The biggest lesson we learned last year was that the marketing options exist beyond the farm gate will determine the sale-abiility of any chosen crops and therefore commercial outcomes. If there is expertise amongst the members on marketing we ned to know about it. If there is not then we need to do some research.
Best regards Tony

SJ

Steven Jacobs Sun 1 Apr 2018

Thanks Tony (@johnanthonyallan ) and to @christinelewis @abbyrose @cliffcooper @bench @kirstenfoster @oliverrubinstein @gingerbreadbakery

The marketing question is still to be completely answered for our 2017 crop of spelt. As an update for new members spelt is tricky with the grain needing de-hulling before milling. There are fewer de-hullers than there are mills.

And I feel worth adding now, for those who aren't already aware, oats have a tricky angle to them too which results in them not always being easy to mill.
Oats are commonly heat treated before or during rolling. This stops the fat in them going rancid which it otherwise does very quickly once the oats are rolled. If they aren't heat treated, normally steamed, then they can be kept chilled. Its an option, it somewhat narrows the available market. I love oats. But wouldn’t advise us growing them without taking this detail on board.

Having bakers in the group is great.
I’m working on a new project with a few folk, including the Small Food Bakery in Nottingham. Its called the UK Grain Lab. There is a growing need for grains in Britain that are more appropriate to bakeries that don't want the usual tin loaf.
The challenge is to find the grain varieties that grow well in our climate and make great bread. But you bakers will already know this I’m sure. Especially for you, @rosybenson as Ben at E5 is very aware of this situation and himself is doing good work to address the challenges.

Be good to think now about not just what we grow now, but for the next season as well. Even a rough idea can be helpful.
A fertility break now would be good. Give the soil a rest and encourage life. Though a note of caution, some cereals prefer less fertile soils. Buyers for malting barley will be looking for low protein in the grain which normally comes about as a result of lower fertility than used when producing milling wheat. And I’ve seen heritage wheats do badly when the ground is very fertile. They were bred to search for naturally available nutrient and even organic clover can be a little too rich for these older wheats.

So, this is anything but straightforward, though we can narrow down a few options now and then focus more as we go.
But what do people think?

AR

Abby Rose Wed 4 Apr 2018

Lots of good info and ideas! Here is a great blog post that @annielandless did last year about cover crops, and terminating them and what it all means: http://www.ourfieldproject.org/blog/2017/1/19/t2e6jkrcpal8dw3r6goaw58xa2ezjj definitely worth a read to get up to speed on what this discussion has focused on.
Definitely think that the suggestion of finding a market beforehand is a good one, as is an idea of the future of the field in terms of any planned rotation. If we do go for a cover crop and grazing that would give us more time to get some of those things in place, so I am definitely verging towards this option. I know we have some vegeterians/vegans on here - how would you feel about having animals grazing the land?

HW

Helen Wright Fri 6 Apr 2018

I am a vegan and have been thinking about your question. Obviously I can only speak for myself but I don't object to having animals grazing on the land. Given that people eat beef and dairy products I would rather support systems where the cows are happily grazing on our fields than cooped up somewhere fed on imported grain.

GH

Grahame Hunter Wed 4 Apr 2018

and yes, the field is a little different; last year OurField farmed around a half of a larger field - Spelt and no nitrogen, with a joint crop of clover was planted in the OurField section. Something else, with a different regime went into the rest. (John wold know the anser to that..) This year the OurField cooperative, strengthened by new members such as you, Cliff, have taken on the entire field - so, including what we farmed last year, with an additional area. This will actually be much better this year, as we will have the big field from hedgerow to hedgerow; which can all be sown and harvested and treated together.

GH

Grahame Hunter Wed 4 Apr 2018

animals grazing on the land

there are financial implications to this idea.. the field is not presently fenced securely, and there is no water trough nor any supply on the land. This could be done, but if we are to remain properly independent then these would be capital costs for OurField account, which is a bit inefficient from a tax point of view as we are not VAT registered; whereas if Weston Park Farms pay for fencing and to put water to the field, then strictly they should increase the rent to recover that capital outlay.

These capital costs might be off-set by the value to Weston of the grazing, so there resulting in no extra rent cost to OurField; but it certainly will not be cash-flow positive for OurField in the first year or two as we would have no crop, and no extra revenue from the cattle. On the other hand presumably our field would thereby become fertilised and richer for a putative future gain.

GH

Grahame Hunter Wed 4 Apr 2018

The vote is due

Last year we had a vote which resulted in an unexpected problem - the members voted for Spring Spelt, when there was no seed to be had in the country. (Ours eventually came from Herr Backer in the former East Germany).

So this time, I am going to discuss more carefully with John what is practical and possible on this field, in this season, from all the ideas which have been raised: and hope to get a vote-wording up within the next day.

JC

John Cherry Wed 4 Apr 2018

Just while I think of it, this is what the field looks like now. Someone was asking whether it was an option to do nothing and let the volunteer spelt (ie what grew from dropped seeds of last years crop) grow to maturity and have another spelt harvest. As you can see, the frost trimmed the spelt plants up a bit, but haven't touched the thistles or weed grasses. The clover seems happy enough, but there isn't a huge amount of it. Whatever we do this year, we are going to need to get rid of these weeds before they seed all over the place. In a no-till situation, that normally means a spray of some sort. Just to warn you all...
John

GH

Grahame Hunter started a poll Wed 4 Apr 2018

What shall we put in the field this year Closed Sun 8 Apr 2018

Outcome
by Grahame Hunter Tue 10 Apr 2018

The clear majority of those voting chose the cover crop as a break with a possibility of grazing. John Cherry's recent comment suggests this was a good result.. he wrote
"This year farmers are tearing their hair out as it has done little else but rain for the last couple of months and most people haven't turned a wheel. The forecast is grim for the rest of this week too. So I'm happy with the vote to grow a low cost, fertility building, weed suppressing multi-species cover, we can take our time to let the ground warm up before planting. We will be growing the same thing on the field next door, which should make thing easier for grazing if that turns into a possibility."

I am providing a range of options not all of which are likely to yield profit this year, and which John and others can comment on alongside the voting which will end in 3 days.
Basically
option 1 may result in a profit at the expense of soil fertility in future years
option 2 could build up the soil for a bumper crop in 2019
option 3 might have good results if members wished to engage in finding markets, but is uncertain,
option 4 is a variant of 2, but with a chance of some income to cover costs..

0 - A commercial grain crop - Wheat or Oats
16 - Cover crop, partly edible, perhaps cropped by cattle
1 - Pumpkins, buckwheat or other irregular cash crop
8 - Spring beans
TA

Tony Allan Thu 5 Apr 2018

Cover crop, partly edible, perhaps cropped by cattle
SF

Sinead Fenton Thu 5 Apr 2018

Spring beans
OR

Oliver Rubinstein Thu 5 Apr 2018

Spring beans
WA

Wendy Alcock Thu 5 Apr 2018

Cover crop, partly edible, perhaps cropped by cattle
A

andrea Fri 6 Apr 2018

Cover crop, partly edible, perhaps cropped by cattle
CL

Christine Lewis Fri 6 Apr 2018

Cover crop, partly edible, perhaps cropped by cattle

Seems the right thing this year - we need more time to decide the crop and how to manage and market it. I also prefer to pay more rent to cover additional costs of grazing.

HW

Helen Wright Fri 6 Apr 2018

Cover crop, partly edible, perhaps cropped by cattle
AW

Andy Walker Sat 7 Apr 2018

Cover crop, partly edible, perhaps cropped by cattle
AW

Andy Walker Sat 7 Apr 2018

Spring beans
TT

Tessa Tricks Sat 7 Apr 2018

Spring beans
CG

Cat Gregory Sat 7 Apr 2018

Cover crop, partly edible, perhaps cropped by cattle
D

Darren Sun 8 Apr 2018

D

Darren Sun 8 Apr 2018

Spring beans

I'm interesting in growing something I could eat so, considering the way the vote is moving beans get my vote - hopefully improve the soil + a marketable crop

here

D

Darren Sun 8 Apr 2018

Spring beans

Interesting in growing something I could eat so, considering the votes so far beans get my vote - hopefully improve the soil + a marketable crop

Beans info here

NH

Nicola Hughes Sun 8 Apr 2018

Spring beans
B

Ben Sun 8 Apr 2018

Cover crop, partly edible, perhaps cropped by cattle

Intrigued to see how this option plays out...

SJ

Steven Jacobs Sun 8 Apr 2018

Cover crop, partly edible, perhaps cropped by cattle

This option gives our field a very good opportunity for nutrient and energy cycling from the crops and the livestock.

LB

Lucy Bradley Sun 8 Apr 2018

Cover crop, partly edible, perhaps cropped by cattle
KF

Kirsten Foster Sun 8 Apr 2018

Cover crop, partly edible, perhaps cropped by cattle

Mainly because it gives time to do more research /discuss next 'cash' crop!

AR

Abby Rose Sun 8 Apr 2018

Cover crop, partly edible, perhaps cropped by cattle

Hard to decide between this and spring beans, but feel like this option gives us a little more time and I'm excited to have animals on the field!

NG

Nikita Gulhane Sun 8 Apr 2018

Cover crop, partly edible, perhaps cropped by cattle
AL

Annie Landless Sun 8 Apr 2018

Cover crop, partly edible, perhaps cropped by cattle
H

Harriet Sun 8 Apr 2018

Cover crop, partly edible, perhaps cropped by cattle

Hi all, thanks for all the info. In M. Pollan's the Omnivore's Dilemma he details a lot about grazing and how to make sure that the grass/pasture crop is grazed in a way that is best for the soil. So I would be for some research on such methods.

NR

Niki Reynolds Sun 8 Apr 2018

Spring beans

It will be nice to have something to eat!

SC

Shena Cooper Sun 8 Apr 2018

Spring beans
A

Anna Öhrling Sun 8 Apr 2018

Cover crop, partly edible, perhaps cropped by cattle
MDV

Matteo De Vos Sun 8 Apr 2018

MDV

Matteo De Vos Sun 8 Apr 2018

Cover crop, partly edible, perhaps cropped by cattle
K

Keesje Sun 8 Apr 2018

Pumpkins, buckwheat or other irregular cash crop
TA

Tony Allan Thu 5 Apr 2018

Dear John,
Thank you John for the additional information on weeds. My vote was for option 2 so I accept that a spray may be necessary. ALSO - would the grazing have a positive impact on weeds. I presume thistles are inedible. What about the rest?

Dear Grahame
Thank you Grahame for the information on additional infrastructure costs if Option 2 is adopted. The additional infrastructure investment looks sensible. Very many thanks for keeping abreast of the tax and other implications. Best Tony

B

Ben Thu 5 Apr 2018

Well it's all very complicated isn't it! It really brings home how important 2,3,4 year plans and rotations are, still able to be adapted and flexible as circumstances change. I was moving towards getting a summer cover crop on and some grazing which I see as a good way to feed the soil through the plants and cycling from the animals. But looking ahead to the following year's crop, I'm looking at heritage and landraces, and maybe them not needing too much fertility - or malting barley which it seems needs a lower protein content. Having just read The Death of Grass (I'm sure some of you must have read it?) I find myself wanting to experiment if at all possible with non-commercial and more diverse grains that are more able to compete and withstand various pest and weed pressures. Whether there's a market for 'stranger' grain varieties that are also not organic certified, I wouldn't know...more thinking to be done before the vote!

TA

Tony Allan Fri 6 Apr 2018

Dear Ben Very many thanks for contributing to the discussion. The issue of rotation options should be discussed. It would be good to have a paragraph from JOHN with additional comments from RICHARD HARDING [agronomist]. It would help us - the less informed. The other issue your raise - the marketability of "diverse grains" - is also very important. Comments from those who have knowledge would greatly help.Tony

CG

Cat Gregory Fri 6 Apr 2018

I would like to echo @johnanthonyallan 's question about grazing and weeds. Would we definitely need to spray the field to get rid of the weeds or would grazing be sufficient (if the animals can eat the weeds- I feel like maybe they can't). I guess this is a question for @johncherry ? Without wanting to be controversial- can I ask how everyone feels about spray? Personally I don't like the sound of it but defer to the farmers on here if anyone wouldn't mind going into it.

B

Ben Fri 6 Apr 2018

As with all '-cides' I am not keen on a herbicide being used to kill/prepare the ground for a new crop. But, I joined the group in part to better understand why they're used and to learn if there are any ways around it. For instance, if post-spelt harvest last autumn the field had been planted with a frost-hardy cover crop, would we get away with roller crimping this spring and direct seeding whatever we decide to grow? I'd be interested in being pointed toward the compelling argument favouring no tillage over herbicides (I know there are pluses and minuses of both but to see them argued succinctly somewhere would be great! It might be somewhere on the site already but I can't seem to find it). Getting a lot from everyone's posts, thanks a lot!

AW

Andy Walker Sat 7 Apr 2018

Can somebody please clarify whether the group will be asked for additional outlay this year? Is that normal? And what is the process next year? Do we pay to be members again or does our subscription get covered by any profits?

GH

Grahame Hunter Sat 7 Apr 2018

Hi Andy in brief, the money you paid is not a subscription but a one-time investment that may grow or diminish with farming gain and costs. There is very little likelihood of members being asked to contribute more unless the members themselves have approved expenses that would exceed the money in the pool to meet them. This could occur for example if members decided to pay for a researcher or to make capital expenses, but in the normal expectation of farming costs we are adequately funded through to harvest 2019. One of my roles is to give advance warning if this could change - and so for example my short note about fencing for grazed cattle.

JC

John Cherry Sat 7 Apr 2018

Golly, where to start? So many questions...

Fencing shouldn't be too expensive if we do it, we'll just need a single strand high-tensile wire with electricity running through it and a handful of posts to keep it off the ground. The farm will cover most of it I imagine as it's for our benefit as well. The group definitely won't have to contribute more than they already have...none of the options require massive costs.

We haven't tried the grazed summer cover crop option before, so I really don't know how it will work. But I'm pretty sure we'll end up with a lot of chomped off but still alive plants which will need bonking on the head before we establish a lovely wheat crop this autumn (if we go down this line). On this farm, we've taken the line that a single dose of herbicide to clean the stubble is far more preferable to any sort of cultivation. This is hard to summarise in a few sentences, but suffice to say it is all about soil health.

Healthy soil is a fantastically complex eco-system comprising billions of bacteria, fungi, protozoa and higher creatures all interacting and eating each other, and, crucially, interacting with the plants. Any form of cultivation, or tillage, is catastrophic to this tiny rain forest. Ploughing won't kill all these little creatures, much as not everyone in Damascus has been killed by the war there...it's just not an ideal environment to thrive in. We're seven years into our no-till experiment and the soils are improving all the while.

We are always looking for ways of avoiding '-cides' as they will inevitably have some effect on our little underground friends. The evidence appears to suggest that this effect is far less destructive than tillage. In return we get better rainfall infiltration, carbon sequestration (in the form of humus, the basis of soil fertility), no (or at least minimal) soil erosion and much reduced costs in terms of tractor hours, diesel and wearing metal (ploughshares etc). I honestly believe that if Sir Albert Howard (the de facto founder of the organic movement) was alive today, he'd be much more excited about no-till than organic farming. Not least because it has the potential to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and park it back in the soil, where an awful lot of it came from. It has been calculated that 2/3rds of the excess CO2 in the atmosphere originated in the soil (as opposed to fossil fuels which get all the blame); over millenia of cultivation worldwide the soils humus has been oxidised and this spare CO2 is now our undoing. We can stick it back in the ground where it'll do nothing but good.

That's why we like no-till. There's much more to this, but I'll stop now. I will add that although this cover might add fertility, because we won't (I hope) be cultivating in the autumn, then most of this fertility won't be released, as one of the side effects of humus destruction is the release of fertility. Thus we won't have to worry about there being too much nourishment for a heritage wheat or whatever, the wheat will have to seek it out for itself...

John

B

Ben Sun 8 Apr 2018

Thanks for your extensive and reasoned response John, much appreciated!

D

Darren Sun 8 Apr 2018

I've some friends that grow hemp on a farm near Reading, they grow a few different varieties- the main one has been developed for seed production, which during the time they have grown has yielded between 100kg - 500kg of seed per acre.

The application for a licence to grow takes a few weeks and it's quite possible that we'd not get it in time for this years planing.

As I'm always keen to grow something that I could eat myself and given the way the voting is currently heading I'm voting for spring beans - to improve the soil, while giving us a usable and marketable food crop.

SJ

Steven Jacobs Sun 8 Apr 2018

8 April 2018

I’ve gone for grazed cover crop. This option gives our field a very good opportunity for nutrient and energy cycling from the crops and the livestock.

One issue this will present in the autumn is how to cope with the cover crop in the field when we will want to plant a cereal crop. Perhaps we can discuss how to handle the cover crop in great length later in the year.

For now I will write that I’m in sympathy with no till, I understand the need to preserve soil, all it’s life and all it’s structure. But I have strong reservations about the use of herbicides.
It’s a big subject and I’ve read a lot of research papers, looked at a lot of soils and ploughs and spoken with a lot of people.
Deep ploughing without rotational planning clearly has a strongly negative effect on soils. But I’m not convinced that herbicides, both the active ingredients and the adjuvants used in combination, are entirely benign. The effects on arbuscular mycorrhizal fungae and invertebrates of both ploughing and herbicides are extensive and complex and need to be carefully understood also in the context of the farm situation.
John’s farm is under a successful system of management that is truly remarkable and that our field is within.

J

Janaki Sun 8 Apr 2018

Hello all, I'm new and a bit late but lucky that the poll registers what I would have voted. My experience with agronomy is nearly zero, so I will be in observational mode till I find my footing amidst these great discussions. I'll post more about myself over on the intro thread. Regards, Janaki

TA

Tony Allan Mon 9 Apr 2018

Dear John and Grahame
Very many thanks for your comments.
Thank you Grahame for pointing out that the members could initiate investment and the payment for research services. We need to generate evidence for ourselves but we especially need evidence to inform others that what we have done has improved soil health and water management.
Thank you John for the important information on soil health and weeds. It would be good to have even more.
The poll outcome is interesting. Those of us who voted last year at this time for what turned out to be a high risk option have for the most part decided on a low risk strategy.
I agree strongly with Kirsten, Harriet and Christine that we should be thinking NOW about what we plan for September 2018 and for 2019. Much will depend on the weeds, about which we need a deeper discussion. Tony

JC

John Cherry Mon 9 Apr 2018

For those of you who voted 'bean', I'm sorry you were outnumbered, but as it happens it is now getting very late in the year...traditionally bean growers like to have them in by early March. This year farmers are tearing their hair out as it has done little else but rain for the last couple of months and most people haven't turned a wheel. The forecast is grim for the rest of this week too. So I'm happy with the vote to grow a low cost, fertility building, weed suppressing multi-species cover, we can take our time to let the ground warm up before planting. We will be growing the same thing on the field next door, which should make thing easier for grazing if that turns into a possibility.

We still have some beans in the shed from last year if anyone wants to do some experimental cooking with them. AbiAspen made some hummous last year, which was interesting...

I'm sorry, too, for failing to give you all some budget figures for the various options. The truth is that I didn't dare...my figures would have had to have so much latitude to be effectively meaningless. Partly because it is getting late for some crops and partly because options like buckwheat and gourds are riddled with unknowns. Your guess is probably as good as mine
John

TA

Tony Allan Tue 10 Apr 2018

Dear John
Very many thanks for your additional comments on this cold and very wet spring and on weed suppression. One of the main things most of us learned last year is the challenges of weed suppression. It would be good if you could give us some of your hard won wisdom on weeds. I learned the following - ONE weeds can be suppressed by ploughing and additional soil disturbance but the price paid is high in terms of soil loss and especially in serious damage to soil health. TWO Pastures are associated with the development of healthy soils. THREE Unhealthy soils have lost their worms, micro-organisms and soil bacteria. FOUR High yielding crop production can be achieved if the crop can be sown into a weed free soil in circumstances, and at a time, so that the crop can successfully outcompete the weeds. FIVE Conservation Agriculture (CA) involves three practices - no-till, cover cropping and soil health promoting rotations. SIX CA very significantly enhances water infiltration and it is a very good weed suppression system but it is not perfect in the latter. SEVEN The controversial herbicide glyphosate has been over-applied on conventional farms for the past three or more decades and there is a crisis as black grass and other weeds have adapted and they can wreck harvests. Conventional farmers apply the herbicide throughout the year and even spray prior to harvest. The EU almost banned glyphosate last year but it has been licensed for a few more years. CA farmers do not want the ban because they need to give a crop help with a a herbicide application just before sowing so that the crop can establish itself and then suppress weeds. SEVEN The threat to human health from the over application of glyphosate is not present in the low volume use by CA farmers. CA farmers are very angry that the bad practices of conventional chemical farming might prevent all farmers from using small volumes of glyphosate. THIS YEAR You mentioned that OurField has weeds as well as a very useful cover crop. What should be done? JOHN AND RICHARD PLEASE BRING US UP TO DATE AND CORRECT ANY ERRORS IN THE ABOVE SUMMARY. Tony