Loomio
Mon 20 Feb 2017

What we can plant and what we wish to apply to the crop. Discussions up to Nov 2017

GH
Grahame Hunter Public Seen by 721

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There is a reading list here - posted by Abi Glencross.

The background to the first decision has been carefully described by John Cherry in his first post, and which appears directly after the posting guidelines.

GH

Grahame Hunter Mon 20 Feb 2017

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JC

John Cherry Tue 21 Feb 2017

It was lovely to meet all of you who came up here on Sunday and I look forward to getting to know the rest of you over the course of the season, either in person or via loomio.

We talked a bit on Sunday about what to plant on your behalf. I'll try to put some flesh on those suggestions. The three crops on offer are:

1) Spring Wheat, a variety called Mulika (which we happen to have in the shed), which when grown conventionally should yield 2 to 3 tonnes grain/acre (5 to 7.5t /hectare). On the farm last year we spent about £170/ha on fertilisers and sprays and it just about made 5t/ha yield as the spring was dry and cold (and a host of other farmr excuses that I won't bore you with in case you worry you've invested in a dud). It tends to produce high protein (14%) milling grain and consequently is sought after by the millers and sells at a good premium to 'feed' wheat. We're hoping for £150/t for last years crop.

2) Spelt. You probably know more about this than I do; we planted our first field of spelt last autumn and we're very pleased with how it looks. Most spelt is grown organically in the UK, but as more people demand it, one or two mills are now buying non-organic spelt, so we'll be able to sell it. I'll talk about organic a bit later. I really have no idea how spring sown spelt will yield or behave, but it will certainly be interesting. The costs should be lower than Mulika, the yield certainly will be,but the price should be much higher.

3) Spring Oats. Oats are pleasingly robust compared to wheat and more competitive against weeds and diseases (on the whole). They are thus cheaper to grow, but should yield much as spring wheat. If we hit the human consumption standard, which is to an extent weather dependant, they will make porridge for someone and money for us. But a lot of farmers seem to be growing them now, so the market could crash...my oat dealer says this is unlikely. We're moving last years oats now at £134/t.

The next decision is whether you want to plant a companion crop in with your cereal. This is uncharted territory for us, though we have grown peaola before (oil seed rape and peas) with mixed results and we've grown various unintended companions with cereals (weeds). This is an enormous and very exciting subject which I can't begin to summarise here. Really keen people can look up my friend Andy Howard's recent Nuffield Scholarship Report, which goes into it in some depth (96 pages iirr). I think it is the future of farming. Or one of the things anyway...

The last decision that needs to be made now is: how 'organic' do you want to be? As Richard the agronomist pointed out on Sunday, if we were properly organic here, we would have built up the fertility in preparation to the growing of wheat or spelt, ie we've have had a legume or herbal ley in the ground the year before. The field we have chosen had a crop of wheat in last year and now has a cover crop of oats and blackgrass, so there won't be a huge amount of natural fertility available to grow a crop without some additional omph. As we aren't bound by organic rules, we can put a bit of nitrogen fertiliser on and this might well mean we have to add fungicide and straw shortener (especially if we go for spelt, which gets to 6 foot high without artificial fertiliser). Again this is a massive subject, which I'm not going to elaborate on here, but trust to the wisdom of the crowd.

In short we can grow the crop without inputs, but we won't get much back and what little we get won't be sellable as organic as we are not registered. It will be cheap and interesting for all that. The reason we need to know now is: if you think we should use at least some inputs, we'll probably add some fertiliser at seeding time to get the plants off to a flying start.

Abi Aspen has provided a reading list for those who want to delve further into all these options.

A

Abi-Aspen Wed 22 Feb 2017

Hi team!

I'm Abi Aspen, one of the resident scientists who loves to research the bejabbers out of everything :)

Please find below the reading list we've pulled together. I've tried to make it balanced in terms of papers, articles, reputable, maybe not so reputable, organic favoured, conventional favoured. But please be aware we always carry a bit of bias, and encourage you to have a dig around to see what you can find too :)

If anyone can't access any of the documents please just let me know as I believe I have access to some others do not.

Happy reading! And if anyone wants a bit more in depth, or a point in the right direction I'm more than happy to help. Just drop me a line :)

Grainy love

Abi Aspen

MS

Matthew Shribman Fri 24 Feb 2017

Purely on the basis of deliciousness, my vote would be for oats. But that's just to get the discussion going.

When you talk about fertilisers John, is there a choice between industrial NPKs and animal muck? Apart from understanding the chemistry, I'm completely ignorant about this kind of thing.

JC

John Cherry Mon 27 Feb 2017

In answer to your question about 'artificial' fertilisers and farmyard manure, we haven't got a big supply of well-rotted FYM/compost to apply and even if we had, we'd have a job to apply as much N with FYM as we might need to get a decent conventional yield.

MS

Matthew Shribman Mon 27 Feb 2017

Thanks John, great answer.

CL

Christine Lewis Sat 25 Feb 2017

Thinking about the grains - I will want to vote for something I can make bread with so for me it's between Mulika and Spelt. Mulika looks a good grain from what I can see but we need to take advantage of the added value from @ourfield and the shared risk - John would probably grow this anyway. Spelt looks good from the growing interest in it and we could demonstrate growing non-organic Spelt. The shared risk and collaborative decision making down the line may be the part that is important and we have additional innovative marketing from anything that comes out of this project whatever the outcome - so still not there with my voting choice but I am sure whatever we choose will be fine.

AG

Averil Glencross Sat 25 Feb 2017

My apologises for not being at the first meeting but have every intention to be at the next. Look forward to meeting you all I must admit I am leaning towards the Spelt. John's point about not knowing about the yield makes me want to find out. I think it would be interesting.

TA

Tony Allan Sat 25 Feb 2017

Tony Allan
I am finding using multiple sites - Ourfield and Loomio - very frustrating indeed. One can go round and round and then not be able to find one's way back to the page where there is some information needed in order to make a contribution on the decision. I also have not fathomed how

I am not clear whether we are using the field with black grass - and as I say I cannot find my way back to the place where JohnC set out the position. I judge it would be interesting to use the field with black grass as part of the 'experiment'..

My preferences
Approach - experimental and learning to be prioritised over profit(?)
Crop - Spelt, possibly in combination with a legume.

Many thanks John and the team at the farm.

GH

Grahame Hunter Sun 26 Feb 2017

You have said you find switching between multiple site time-consuming. I sympathise.

The intention is to use Loomio Group threads, especially this one to the exclusion of any other sites. I am not checking the Our Field web site, and I don't think John Cherry is either.

So, if you want to exchange information with the others, this is the definitely place.

Remember, these are public threads anyone can look at, but only the paid-up members can contribute and vote.

TA

Tony Allan Sun 26 Feb 2017

Many thanks for your sympathetic reply. One does not like revealing one's on-line limitations. I appreciate your leadership on how to communicate if it makes communication easy.

QUESTION FOR JOHN CHERRY
I would also like to ask John Cherry whether there are significant additional transaction costs in 1. SEPARATING the outputs from a combined crop strategy, 2. MARKETING spelt and legumes compared with marketing spring wheat.

JC

John Cherry Mon 27 Feb 2017

There will be a modest extra cost in separating legume seeds from a cereal crop, but I'd hope the extra value of the bonus crop would more than pay for the hassle. We have the technology to do this on farm, we pass a lot of our crops over the sieves to clean them up before selling anyway. I don't know how easily the spelt or legumes will be to market, but I don't think it will be too difficult as long as the quality is there. I suspect by harvest time there will be a disorderly queue of buyers jostling with each other to get their hands on what we've grown!

CA

Catherine Arend Sat 25 Feb 2017

I would like us to grow spelt and lentils but am also interested in mulika. How expensive are the mulika seeds?
You can buy spelt flour easily and it sells at over twice the price of regular bread flour. I couldn't find any 'mulika' wheat for sale for bakers, the name isn't used as it is for spelt. So it might be a market opportunity: 'Mulika, the new spelt!'
I wonder what lentils can be grown on 'our field'? It would be great to offer British lentils.

JC

John Cherry Mon 27 Feb 2017

Sorry, I didn't explain what Mulika is very clearly. It is an ordinary spring sown wheat variety, one of a dozen or so commercial varieties that farmers will sow this spring. It happens to produce good quality grain that the commercial millers like, so is easily sold.

TT

Tessa Tricks Sun 26 Feb 2017

Hi, wonderful to meet so many of you last week. I look forward to meeting the rest of you in due course & via Loomio. 


Before getting on to the crops I wanted to share my thoughts on the trade off between making a profit and experimentation which was highlighted last Sunday. 

For me, a key reason for joining the collective was to learn more about the reality of farming and the challenges faced. Likewise I feel that OurField's model holds a deal of potential to make farming a more appealing career through reduced financial risk for the farmer. I would like the results of Our Field Weston to encourage others to do the same. Therefore I think it's quite important that we don't all end up at a huge loss. I feel that being able to say that we broke even, along with the other benefits of the co-op would be enough to encourage others to see OurField as as viable model with appeal for investors and farmers.

Like many of you, I'm keen to experiment with the crops and see what we can achieve without masses of chemical inputs, but am cautious of us taking on too much and think we should seek a middle ground. As Abby stressed last week, the process of FOW was much more complex than she anticipated. My heart is with companion cropping with a legume but I feel this might be best as an endeavour for a hypothetical year 2. - Should John or another farmer take us back. 

This leads to my vote for oats or spelt. I’ve seen spelt cropping up everywhere over the last few years (forgive the pun) and if there is a miller that we could use, I’m hopeful that we could find a buyer. As Christine says we should have the added value of ‘OurField’ on our side. I also heard rumours that there were some bakeries interested? In short, I would like others to see OurField as a successful, replicable model and for our crop to help transition the field so that the next crop would need less chemical inputs.

Thanks to John and family for having us!

TF

Tamsyn Forsyth Sun 26 Feb 2017

Hello! We just read Tessa's post and we just wanted to say that we are very much in agreement with the points she raises around ensuring a degree of success to make the project an attractive model for future uptake.

With regards to what to grow, our initial thinking is a preference for spelt, potentially with a companion crop as increasing diversity appeals to us. It would be great to be able to take this project through to completion, ergo marketing and selling the final outputs ourselves vs. selling to a wholesaler. Thoughts?

NR

Niki Reynolds Mon 27 Feb 2017

Hello,
After a lot of consideration I would like to suggest growing spelt with a companion crop of lentils..

EC

Emerson Csorba Mon 27 Feb 2017

Hi All!

This is a fascinating discussion, and I concur with those that advocate for a middle-ground here: I do think that financial viability should be an important criterion in our decision-making. Moreover, I agree that our collective work through #OurField can serve as a valuable source of information for 'future farmers,' and that this is an important consideration in our decision-making -- though with a small addition that future farmers will only be successful if they can live profitably through their farm work. My vote as it stands is for spelt, though I'm open to considering a small companion crop along with this.

CL

Christine Lewis Mon 27 Feb 2017

Would like to suggest we could consider splitting the field into half with one half with a companion crop and one half without if not too much labour. I also think a good injection of fertiliser at seeding time seems very sensible, why make it harder. Also just to check that I remember from the discussions that sieving companion crops did not easily make them okay for human consumption - the grain would be but the companion crop would be for animal feed due to sieving mechanisms. Great to have this discussion here - I agree with Tessa on the wider debate but feel excited to give a companion crop a chance - hence the 50% option. We cannot though fail or others will never follow.

AR

Abby Rose Tue 28 Feb 2017

I feel very undecided and that there are good reasons to choose all three. Really enjoyed reading all the thoughts from the group so far. Re-iterating the thoughts of others in the group - I think it's important that profit plays some bearing in our decision as John has the largest stake in the field - so he has the most to lose financially...I feel we must acknowledge that farming is a livelihood. On the other hand what's exciting is we are sharing that financial risk so we can be a bit experimental. So I feel we are in a strong position for our decisions to be driven by effect on planet and profit. I am very excited about John's suggestion of companion crops and although it is somewhat unchartered territory in the UK - My understanding from John is that he thinks there is little to lose financially . Quick questions @johncherry - Is that correct? And if yes are there any benefits to the soil/earth of a companion crop? If we use a companion crop - as there are two crops, would you ordinarily apply more chemical inputs?

JC

John Cherry Tue 28 Feb 2017

In answer to Tamsyn and Abby's questions about companion crops...we don't really know. In theory, companions are better for the soil and planet. Monocultures very rarely occur in the wild, so we are asking to problems if we try and grow them in our fields. All the evidence suggests that pest, weed and disease problems are reduced where suitable companions are grown, which should mean less need for chemical intervention. However, there will be a certain amount of guesswork when it comes to working out what are suitable companions.

The easiest one (for all these crops) would probably be to sow an under-storey of white clover, which would suppress weeds and add a little bit of N, but it wouldn't be harvestable. It's a cost for an uncertain benefit. Otherwise, for wheat or spelt, some faba beans sound like the best option; they would add diversity and a bit of N and each crop would get some benefit of disease and weed suppression. But these benefits only really apply if we go for no extra N after the seed-bed application, ie a quasi-organic approach. Similarly the lentils work best if they are the main crop and oats are sown at 15 to 25% of their normal seed-rate and are effectively a trellis for the lentils to grow up. Lentils are pulses so have to be grown without N fertiliser, hardly anyone grows them in the UK, whether that's inertia or for good agronomic reasons, I don't know. Oats and lentil seed are a similar size and weight so are tricky to separate. The separation doesn't hurt either seed necessarily, but might reduce the value if we can't make a clean job of it.

I'm deliberately making a hash of selling companions to you as there is risk attached, either low/no yield or contaminated crops meaning we don't get paid. As people have pointed out, we're all invested in this and it would be a shame to kill the idea off with a spectacular failure in year one. What I think we'll do anyway (regardless of whatever you vote for in this field) is to plant two or three demonstration companion crops plots in the Groundswell field for delegates to look at during that show at the end of June (Andy Howard is speaking at the show, so he can lead people through the plots). This will satisfy my curiosity and also be something for #ourfield people to look at everytime they come up.

TF

Tamsyn Forsyth Tue 28 Feb 2017

Interesting idea @christinelewis - @johncherry would a 50/50 field split be a feasible option? For example, half the field spelt and half spelt with companion crop? A couple of people have suggested spelt and lentils - I checked my notes and have written that lentils would be a potential companion crop for oats (and this combination has been done successfully in London), but it is hard to separate the crops post harvest; however, I thought that spelt and lentils were not an option as the spelt outgrows and overshadows the lentils so they don't get the light and beans would be the more suitable companion crop for spelt (and wheat)? If we choose the right varieties of spelt and beans they will ripen at the same time and there is less disease potential, potentially resulting in a higher yield than mono cropping. @johncherry what are the pros and cons to the potential different companion crop combinations?

GH

Grahame Hunter Tue 28 Feb 2017

It seems worth remembering that every action on the field has costs, so splitting it immediately doubles the possible number of actions. Further the field itself is just a small part of a larger farm, so presumably the point of making decisions is to make them, not just to say 'lets do a little of everything'? We have to be careful not to turn our horse into a camel.

TF

Tamsyn Forsyth Wed 1 Mar 2017

@grahamehunter I am in agreement, we shouldn't do a little of everything and I suspect that wouldn't align with a desire to succeed with a model that breaks even. I love to explore all options and non-options to understand the reasons for and against before reaching a final decision; thank you for your reply :-)

HG

Harry Greenfield Tue 28 Feb 2017

Hi Everyone
Have really enjoyed reading the discussion so far. I think Tessa said something close to what I had been thinking too. I'm interested in seeing how farming happens on the farm as it would normally run, and to some extent taking a similar set of decisions as John and Richard would without us there. I think that being no-till is already an exciting innovation so ensuring our decisions are broadly in line with what supports the no-till principle seems important to me.

I also agree that I don't want to expose the group to a large amount of risk for the sake of quite extreme experimentation. There is definitely a value in showing that this is replicable - both for farmers and non-farmers.

So I think my preference would probably be for either wheat or spelt without a companion crop (and using inputs as necessary). I'm ready to be persuaded about the companion crops though, but slightly wary of trying something for the first time without consulting closely with someone who has done it before!

I would be really interested in looking at new ways of marketing the crop and I think I remember hearing at the farm that it's worth starting to think about that as soon as we can. I quite like the idea of an "OurField" branded product at the end of it!

SJ

Steven Jacobs Wed 1 Mar 2017

Hi,

Great discussion, really good to read.
There is so much to know and I do support John when it comes to the complexity of companion cropping. Andy Howard has written an excellent Nuffield report on the subject - The potential for companion cropping and intercropping on UK arable farms. And their are a great many places for further information on Green Manures, which are crops that can add benefit to the soil, this one is quite thorough and is recommended in Andy's report - http://www.organicresearchcentre.com/manage/authincludes/article_uploads/iota/technical-leaflets/green-manures-species-selection.pdf.
Field beans make a sensible choice from what I'm looking at in this discussion so far as they are relatively straightforward to grow alongside cereal crops and have a marketable value.
Oats or the mulika wheat for the maiincrop seems sensible. I'm not a farmer and most of the farmers I work with are organic and not min-till, though some are reduced tillage. So, I don't know how a green manure would work for John in terms of then not ploughing back in.

GH

Grahame Hunter Wed 1 Mar 2017

@nikitagulhane Hi, Niki You were the first to propose a combination of spelt and lentils together - after reading the several other posts since, and some relevant links, is there anything you would like to add to or vary your suggestion?

DK

Daniel Kindred Thu 2 Mar 2017

Hi All, apologies for coming late to #OurField. I'm a farmer's son and a crop researcher with the company ADAS, and I also took part in Field of Wheat (though afraid I never made it to any of the meetings). We run the Yield Enhancement Network (www.yen.adas.co.uk) which involves a yield competition and works with most of the major agri-businesses ... so i come from the conventional intensive agriculture end of spectrum, and by & large I'm prepared to defend intensive agriculture from a sustainability perspective (mainly because it enables land sparing see- http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v6/n5/abs/nclimate2910.html). However, I recognise that continued improvements in productivity and sustainability require consideration of the full food, farm and soil ecosystem, and that all farmers researchers & advisors have much to learn from each other whatever system they come from.

Regarding the decision here, spring wheat or oats grown more or less conventionally would both be a pretty safe bet. However, they don't necessarily play to the advantages brought by the collective in #ourfield. I know very little about spelt, but if we are sure we have a market, the price is high enough and we are confident we'll be able to harvest at least some yield (2-3 t/ha?) with a saleable quality then i feel it may be worth the risk. I wouldn't advocate companion cropping at this stage, especially not with lentils that no-one in the UK knows how to grow alone, let alone with another unfamiliar crop. But would be great to see a strip sown so we know for the future.

@johncherry John, i may have missed it, but please can you say what your soil type is? Do you have any recent soil analysis, ideally with soil organic matter %? Do you ever get soil mineral nitrogen tests done in spring? Out of interest what typical yield of winter wheat would you expect? Can you give the grid reference or latitude/longitude for the field? Sorry for all the questions. We can enter this field into the YEN and get a 'soil health check' analysis from NRM, and i should also be able to get satellite imagery through the season.

GH

Grahame Hunter Thu 2 Mar 2017

This is to introduce the first vote

_ Once upon a time a Farmer and his Agronomist were discussing what to plant, and how it should be treated, and the advantages of companion crops on their farm with their equipment in a particular field._

_ They soon realised that in their circumstances if there were to be companion cropping there was a __ big risk__ of the quality of both crops being diminished, the separate yields lower, and with a high likelihood that the end product would end up as animal feed._

This is where we are at Weston now. For this reason _the first decision to be made is whether the Group _

  • wants to be more adventurous, more experimental, whilst knowing the resultant crops would be of poorer quality, harder to separate and most likely end up at least in large part as animal fodder.
    or

  • wants to aim for the highest quality crop which would definitely end up as food for humans, including the possibility of making bread flour.

So here is the first binary choice:

Does the group wish to be experimental?

(= adventurous with companion cropping, but with the likely harvest being poorer, and most probably used for animal food,)

or

Does the Group instead want to aim for a high quality single crop (mono-culture)?

(= safer, and with the intention this will definitely be for people to eat?)

__ It is only yes or no – so read these statements carefully __

  • Vote __ YES __ to support an adventure into a multi-crop, perhaps with poorer outcomes.
  • Vote __ No__ to avoid companion cropping and go for best quality single crop, intended for the human food chain – including baking quality.
GH

Grahame Hunter started a proposal Thu 2 Mar 2017

Do we want to be adventurous, with companion cropping? Closed Mon 6 Mar 2017

Outcome
by Grahame Hunter Tue 25 Apr 2017

By a clear majority of voting members, OUrField Weston will cultivate a main and a companion crop.

Starting on 09 March there will now be a proposal for all members to choose one of three combinations, using a multi-choice method of voting.

John has started a conversation in the main thread on the options. Make your voices heard there.

Also see the alternative "admin" and "off topic" threads, if there are things you wish to raise, NOT related to the chioce of crop.

Grahame

Vote YES to support a more adventurous and experimental approach but which realistically will most likely result in poorer yields and a crop suitable for animal feed

Vote NO to reject the companion crop, but to then select the most interesting mono-culture crop for a high quality harvest for humans to eat.

Results
Agree - 14
Abstain - 14
Disagree - 14
Block - 14
23 people have voted (54%)
NR

Niki Reynolds
Agree
Thu 2 Mar 2017

DK

Daniel Kindred
Disagree
Thu 2 Mar 2017

AG

Averil Glencross
Agree
Fri 3 Mar 2017

I like the more adventures idea. I am involved for the experimental side rather then the financial return.

WA

Wendy Alcock
Disagree
Fri 3 Mar 2017

As I posted in the main thread - I vote no as I am swaying between spelt or wheat/beans and spelt seems to be the most popular option at the moment, John plans to try a companion crop anyway and my hope that we end up with human quality food.

MS

Matthew Shribman
Disagree
Fri 3 Mar 2017

KS

Karl Schneider
Agree
Fri 3 Mar 2017

Companion cropping helps to protect the long-term health of the soil, so I vote yes.

D

Darren
Agree
Fri 3 Mar 2017

I'm interested in the thinking behind the risk of the crop having to go for animal feed and could change my mind. If we are finding an outlet ourselves rather than selling onto commodity markets, we may be able to overcome downside of lower yields.

E

Edna
Agree
Sat 4 Mar 2017

I think we should go organic as possible and experiment. Companion planting sounds the right thing to reduce chemicals.

CL

Christine Lewis
Disagree
Sat 4 Mar 2017

I think we should start this crop with a very strong foundation building on what John and Richard know works and make our changes, innovative input and risk taking once we know we have a crop that has had the best possible start.

AS

Alexandra Sexton
Agree
Sat 4 Mar 2017

I'm excited for a more experimental approach, and also thinking long term if the project (hopefully) goes beyond 1 year then companion cropping will invest in the soil for future harvests where human food could possibly be grown with very low inputs

AL

Alfred Lawrie
Disagree
Sat 4 Mar 2017

Seems shame to end up with animal feed. Want to see if we can successfully grow something like spelt for human consumption in a manner that others could replicate.

CA

Catherine Arend
Agree
Sat 4 Mar 2017

Time to experiment with the possibility of companion crops. I would like to know more about harvesting two crops at once. How do you separate them? Sifting I suppose?

TF

Tamsyn Forsyth
Agree
Sat 4 Mar 2017

SF

Sinead Fenton
Disagree
Sat 4 Mar 2017

AL

Annie Landless
Agree
Sat 4 Mar 2017

I think this project is all about exploration and experimentation for us and John. Having discussed it with Dad we are keen on seeing what a companion crop might bring the collective!

VLD

Veronica Lopes da Silva
Disagree
Sun 5 Mar 2017

#OurField can be a viable and attractive model for a farmer's risk to be shared, that others may follow if 'successful'. I vote to grow spelt for human consumption, to keep an eye on John's experimentation + hopefully experiment more in the future

HG

Harry Greenfield
Disagree
Sun 5 Mar 2017

SJ

Steven Jacobs
Agree
Sun 5 Mar 2017

MDV

Matteo De Vos
Disagree
Sun 5 Mar 2017

Since I'm leaning towards spelt, I think it would be best to avoid (for now) the added uncertainty and risks that companion crops may bring. This helps ensure that OurField becomes a viable model with a high quality product for human consumption.

TS

Tristram Stuart
Agree
Sun 5 Mar 2017

I've posted my reasoning on the discussion thread: I am for doing it ecologically and determined we find a human consumption market for our crop

AR

Abby Rose
Agree
Sun 5 Mar 2017

I hope we can find some companion crops that aren't as risky as lentils but still good for the soil

S&D

Sebastian & Dan Powell
Agree
Sun 5 Mar 2017

The two of us sharing this vote feel this is the opportunity to be experimental in the hope that the rewards of experimentation will outweigh the risks. So less concern for profits but more for potential longer term benefits of trialling new things.

LB

Lucy Bradley
Agree
Sun 5 Mar 2017

I've shared my thoughts in the main thread. Wow, what a hard first decision.

WA

Wendy Alcock Fri 3 Mar 2017

This vote may be in the wrong order for me as I am swaying between just spelt or wheat with a companion crop of beans (not lentils as it’s too unknown and doesn’t seem a good match for either grain).

I think we should take some risk – and try one newish thing for John – but not try all new ideas at once and make things much more complicated than they already are / need to be. I too would like the project to look successful to others – not wholly financially but also that we have not been afraid to move slightly further away from standard farming practices in the UK. I think either of my options will do this and would be happy with both.

Some of you may be interested in a little experiment I have carried out. Post visiting the farm I hunted out some spelt flour to make some spelt bread for the first time. I found Dove’s wholewheat organic easily at Sainsbury’s (£2/1kg) but had to go to Waitrose for white, where they had Waitrose own non organic (£2/1kg) and Sharpham Park organic (£3.50/1kg).

I made a 100% white, 100% wholemeal and 50/50 (this is the taste I prefer when I use wheat). I found the white to be a bit dull tasting, the 50/50 to be ok and the wholemeal to be really tasty (more than wheat and with a softer structure to the loaf). The 100% wholemeal spelt loaf therefore appeals to me from a nutritional point of view as I can move away from my previous 50/50 wheat. @nikireynolds @tamsynforsyth as nutritionists you may have some useful info to share on the differences?

I have a few questions that would help me (and maybe others) decide between my own two options.

@johncherry You have said that lentils would need to be the main crop with oats at only 15 to 25%. Do you know a rough ratio needed for wheat:beans?

@romymiller I have seen that Gails makes some spelt loaves sold through Waitrose and maybe sometimes directly Have you had much feedback from your customers about the bread? Was it popular or hard to sell?

My vote:

In order to keep things moving and make a vote on this proposal though I have said no – this is based on John’s suggestion he will try companion cropping elsewhere on the farm anyway, from looking at overall views spelt seems to be the most popular option at the moment (probably myself included) and my hope that we end up with human quality food (ideally that can be used for bread).

TF

Tamsyn Forsyth Sat 4 Mar 2017

@wendyalcock as far as my knowledge on spelt goes, the wholegrain flour contains a higher proportion of protein than the white (note that spelt flour generally has a higher protein content than other types of grain flour such as wheat), and it also contains a greater portion of dietary fibre (crucial for gastrointestinal health and digestion). The white spelt flour has some nutritional advantages over the wholegrain flour, primarily being lower in calories and having a lower gluten level. As with protein, spelt flour generally is lower in gluten levels than many other types of grain. Hope that helps :-) If anyone else knows any more / different please shout!

GH

Grahame Hunter Sun 5 Mar 2017

@wendyalcock I am interested in the spelt bread discussion - but as my remarks are really nothing to do with the main subject, I am going to set up a new "random" topic, and comment there..

D

Darren Fri 3 Mar 2017

As I mention in my introduction I'm really interested in people growing their own food together & would be very happy if we grew something that all (or most) of us ended up using as food. To me this would be a very successful outcome. I understand this will take extra work (figuring out processing and/or marketing) rather than just selling onto the commodity markets - but I'm up for putting efforts into that.

With this in mind I think oats would be a great choice as most people dont bake their own bread. I eat lots of porridge, oat cakes (I've never made them, but have a friend who does and they are quick, easy and crumbly delicious) and even sometimes use oat groats as a respectable alternative to brown rice. So I've been doing a fair bit of research on growing oats.

At the farm @harryboglione wondered about the possibility of using naked oats, which are interesting as they are much easier to process for food. They also dont need to be heat treated, so, if you were so inclined could sometimes be sprouted (for higher nutritional value & greater variety of uses).

I'm also very into soily stuff and intrigued by the possibility & effects of cover crops, although it would be sad if what we grew could not be used for human food. I got excited about the idea of lentils & oats (thinking of eating a dahl curry with oat groats - a meal from the field), but If I'm understanding correctly separating will be difficult and could potentially lead to the crop having to go for animal feed.

I wonder about the possibility of using a field pea instead as a companion for oats, as the larger size would surely make separation easier?

I'm much less interested in making a financial profit (or breaking even) - although of course it would be good if we could.

I wonder, if you really tried, if you could eat £150 or even £200 (retail price) worth of oats in a year??? ;-)

SF

Sinead Fenton Sat 4 Mar 2017

Very interesting reading through so far. I'm in two very different minds about the direction and hopefully writing it all down will lead me to an answer! I really like the idea of companion cropping but I think for me, I'd like to see this as more of a long term project that sets a framework and baseline to encourage the uptake of this model.

I think taking an element of risk and learning within this project is vital, otherwise, what do we share to others once we reach the end of our first season. For me I think the first year (I'm hoping for more...) is a great means of a proof of concept, that collaboration and community investment can prove to be an "ecomonic" and sustainable model for the future of farming, especially in light of the challenges we're going to face over the coming years with policy upheavel and what the future of farming in the UK is currently looking like. So in that respect, I see this as an opportunity to show that other means of farming are viable, and in so, think an element of calculated risk that proves this concept works with the notion of this model potentially being a long-term one seems wise.

I think especially in terms of some of the points John has raised about the separation/processing and the trails they are doing too - I think we could take this time as an opportunity to take a calculated risk that has more opportunity than threat and then research and plan toward a companion cropping method for future rounds. I think if we were to do the latter now it could be rushed as it seems like we won't have the time or knowledge yet to really fully know how we can maximise what we're doing and how to shape it.

So, in longwinded terms, perhaps parking companion cropping this time and seeking a strong foundation through something that's still ultimately an unknown, because it hasn't been done here, but has a lower risk associated with it. So spelt for me.

VLD

Veronica Lopes da Silva Sun 5 Mar 2017

This is a difficult decision, so I would like to make the reasons behind my vote as clear as possible.

In an ideal world, with the benefits of sharing the risk with forty people, I would be in favour of growing food in a way that is least damaging to our environment. For example, I would love to be growing organically. This however only feels viable if we were thinking long term and had time to prepare the soil, and if we had the field for over three years so that we could actually sell organically for it to make sense financially. So while I know what I stand for, I feel that voting in line with that isn't necessarily always an option for me (but happy to consider spraying less than the amounts usually sprayed)

Similarly, in an ideal world I would be in favour of experimenting with companion crops as an alternative to mono cultures. While I am attracted by the potential benefits to the soil and potential for weed suppression, I am put off by the dangers of ending up with a crop that can't be sold for human consumption. I am, however, delighted that John will experiment regardless of our decision here, and perhaps it would be good to observe that experimentation closely and let that influence #ourfields to come (here and elsewhere hopefully!) Given John's willingness to experiment, I'm feeling less inclined to experiment with companion cropping on our particular field until we have a bit more experience with it.

While there is so much that has brought me here - more than anything I would love to be a part of a movement that challenges a farming system that disrespects and undervalues the land and those who grow our food. I would like for our experience to encourage others to connect to their food and food growers and present a viable model for the farmer's usual or expected risk to be shared. So while in my own food growing at a smaller scale I would perhaps decide differently and jump straight into experimentation... on this scale, and with the opportunity we have here to be at the beginning of something, I am currently leaning towards growing high quality spelt, keeping an eye on John's experimentation, and learning as much as I can as well as keeping my fingers crossed that we have more years ahead to experiment as we gain more experience and knowledge!

It's a hard decision but I hope this clarifies where I stand at this point on our journey - even though I do feel that I am swaying between options inside me still!

SJ

Steven Jacobs Sun 5 Mar 2017

I'm finding this simple approach to decision-making a challenge, but I can go with it. Is a good test of my ability to stand back from my inner control freak.

The challenging bit is that I don't know what John has in terms of equipment when it comes to drilling and then maintaining the crop, harvesting and storage and how any crop or crops would fit within his whole farm system. Apologies that I didn't make it to the first farm visit, I would have if I could.
So, considering that I don't have all of that information I'm in favour of companion cropping because of soil care while still producing what I'd like to think are acceptable yields and reasonable quality of a crop or crops.
Crop choice? Oats and beans would seem appropriate but I would be swayed also by drilling and harvest dates. I'd suggest that they'd need to differ between the two crops or John will struggle to successfully manage all that he has to do with this one field let alone across the rest of his farm. A companion cropping system can be relatively straightforward, but it needs planning. The economics of oats and beans is that they are appropriate to both human and animal consumption so depending on quality the markets are potentially available but again this would perhaps be best planned ahead of harvest. So, to investigate buyers and specifications quite early on, I would suggest.
And I'd like to see this as a step on a path rather than an end in itself. By which I mean I'm happy to accept a series of challenges to overcome as long as we learn along the way. We can learn by only applying what John would normally. For some of this group that might suit. And I can go with that if that is what people would prefer. I'd like to be more adventurous. But I work in the food and farming sector and I'm also here to learn how people who are not my usual circle see and feel about food production. My vote will be to agree with being adventurous. And what will be the next step? Do we have a list of steps? Sorry, have looked but not seeing that on here.

TS

Tristram Stuart Sun 5 Mar 2017

If there's a poorer harvest that results from doing a more ecologically friendly approach, are we sure this means it would have to go to livestock feed? My understanding is that the grading system for wheat determines that bread wheat has to have the desired 11+% gluten content; if a harvest fails to meat this specification its only market in the UK now is either biscuit flour (which is limited), or for the most part livestock feed. However, it was not always the case that we are leavened bread in the UK, and it is leavened bread only that requires the high gluten content (for structure etc). Are we able to decide that farming this crop in an ecologically optimal way is an absolute requirement, and that whatever the harvest is we will find a way of making sure it ends up being consumed directly by humans in a delicious and nutritious way. Flat breads, gruels and porridges, pancakes, dumplings, puddings - all of these traditional peasant dishes did not require (or have the luxury of imagining) the kind of high protein bread we expect now... For this reason I vote for the livestock feed crop but with the hope and dedication to making sure it does me end up with livestock but with humans. Please forgive me if I have misunderstood one of the parameters of our operation (eg realistically how will we market our "substandard" crop for human consumption!)

GH

Grahame Hunter Sun 5 Mar 2017

At a meeting this morning of the ourField organisers, it was agreed to extend voting until midnight __ tonight __ and all members of the group are urged to read the many interesting comments and _ please cast a vote. _

TA

Tony Allan Sun 5 Mar 2017

Tony Allan
I have tried - but failed to have recorded - a YES vote - for Spelt with companion crop (legume).

The vote would have been made VERY VERY easy if John were to be sowing another field to Spelt.

At our local Tufnell Park (NW5) artisan baker this morning we bought some Spelt bread and a Spelt 'croissant'. They are both very good to eat indeed.

AR

Abby Rose Sun 5 Mar 2017

Finding this decision really hard. I do not want to compromise the crop for the sake of experimentation - I really want to aim for a quality end product that provides great quality food. However, I'm really excited by the possibility for a companion crop to be nurturing the soil, sharing minerals and water, increasing biodiversity all whilst growing our 'cash crop'. I know there are safer companion crops like clover, so although I wouldn't vote to grow lentils, I really hope we can choose a less risky companion crop. So I'm hoping that we can experiment a little but at the same time not take a massive risk :)

LB

Lucy Bradley Sun 5 Mar 2017

I have also found this a really difficult decision because there are compelling reasons for and against both options. I've been swaying between agree and disagree.

In light of the various risks that have been outlined, and that John is also planting companion crops on the Groundswell project, for me one of the key attractions of this option is that it would enable us to minimise inputs. However, I'm not clear by how much as it seems that we would still need some, especially if we want human consumption grade.

This issue of human grade consumption seems really important, but would we only be able to achieve that with a lot of inputs? This also seems a shame if one of the ideas of our field was to spread the risk of trying something new.

I guess I'm also trying to work out on which side of the fence is my middle ground I'm most comfortable with:

Either mono cropping with fewer inputs than would usually be applied, and likely have a grain people can eat... I like the idea of spelt for the reasons others have also pointed out.

or

Experiment a little with companion cropping but not take massive risk (as Abby just said in her comment) in terms of having a good crop, and continuing this as a viable farming model in the future. There are still so many unknowns, but it's come to the crunch time so I think I'm going to have to go with this option.

JC

John Cherry Mon 6 Mar 2017

OK, we seem to have got a result from a turnout of just over 50%...you want a bit of adventure.

This makes the next choice, which we need to get on with, a matter of what to grow and, by extension, how to grow it.I've been mulling over the companion choices and talking to people who've had a go and these are my suggestions:

1) Spring wheat (var. Mulika) grown with a crop of beans. These should ripen at the same time and complement each other fairly well and be relatively easy to separate post harvest.

2) Spelt and an under-story of legumes, probably a mix along the lines of white clover, alsike clover, yellow trefoil and black medic. These will grow much lower than the spelt (which can reach 6 foot apparently) and provide a tiny bit of nitrogen without competing too much. I've no idea how it will work...

3) Oats and an under-story as well. Or oats and beans, but I think the oats will be fit too soon, before the beans are ready.

Adding legumes means we are going to be restricted with how much nitrogen we can use and that might mean we get a thin crop. As it is a cereal crop with legume companion, we could argue the point a bit and give it a decent starter dose of N and see what happens. The options I've chosen should, I hope, not compromise the quality of any grain produced, I had been fretting that growing a bean with the spelt was going to be very tricky at harvest and result in a delay which might involve harvest rain spoiling the grain. This way we'll be cutting above the legume layer and not having un-sievable seeds in the harvested grain (the clovers and trefoil seeds that make it into the combine can be removed easily and possibly used for next years cover, as long as there aren't too many weed seeds in as well...).

There's a lot of 'mights' and 'maybes' in there I'm afraid, but I suppose that is what having an adventure is all about.

DK

Daniel Kindred Wed 8 Mar 2017

John, if we are growing a legume companion crop I'm not sure it makes sense to apply any N fertiliser - this negates the benefit of the legume as it will likely replace any N fixation... and i'm not sure of the legality of applying N to legume assuming you are in an NVZ? However, i agree it could give both crops a good start if soil N levels are low - can you say what the soil type is and what level of soil N you'd expect?

I don't think the spring wheat & beans option will stack up for us - I've seen wheat-beans intercrops grown at Reading Uni and in various EU research projects - past results show the beans alone won't provide enough N to give sufficiently high protein content for the wheat ... and if we apply a decent dose of N fertiliser it really defeats the point of the legume companion crop in the first place, as the beans won't then nodulate and fix N themselves.

I therefore feel that oats or spelt would be a better bet as have much lower fertiliser N requirement and we could grow without any N fertiliser and hopefully still have passable quality. Agree that oats will mature before beans, and too big a risk from lodging, brackling, sprouting, rotting etc of the oats if have to wait for the beans to come fit before harvesting - could be a disaster. An understory of clover, vetch, lucerne could work well, especially if you can keep it going til next season and derive some further value from it. So question then is which of oats and spelt is likely to do best in this situation and which has the greatest marketing opportunity. Given that spelt would be low yielding in any case, and price should be higher i think spelt may be the best option. It also gives the best opportunity to create a good marketing story around the product, especially if members of the collective have good ideas on how we could sell the spelt grain or flour innovatively, rather than as a commodity. Whilst we can't label it as organic, we could claim it to be 'ecologically grown' or similar.

Interested to hear others views.

CL

Christine Lewis Wed 8 Mar 2017

With the group having made the choice for companion crops and accepting this probably means the outcome ends up as animal feed I thought the next decision would be easier but I am very far away from knowing which option I will support. I value everyone's contributions to the discussions though and know we will get there! My initial thoughts were that because the output will probably be for animal feed maybe Spelt was wrong as it is developing as specialised bread making, then I thought what a strange thought that was - good protein is needed for all food chains. Now I think all options are going to be interesting in their own way. I do think an initial boost of nitrogen to give a good start may be helpful so that we can reduce additives later. Looking forward to the next set of options. Would be good to know in advance the timelines so I can make sure I don't miss any deadlines.

AR

Abby Rose Thu 9 Mar 2017

@christinelewis in terms of timelines I think that the next proposal will be started this evening and the vote will close Sunday night at midnight.

JC

John Cherry Wed 8 Mar 2017

Just to be clear, the options I've outlined above should all result in decent human-consumption quality grain. It's just that with the latter two, we will probably only harvest the cereal half of the partnership to avoid spoilt grain. The first one, wheat and beans, should be separable post harvest and both crops perfectly edible, though not many people in the UK eat the Faba beans we grow (the best are exported to N Africa for human food, the rest animal feed). Marketing oportunity there...we've got a few tonnes in the shed from last year (grown as a monoculture) if anyone wants to work on recipes...

A

Abi-Aspen Thu 9 Mar 2017

Hi everyone,

Just posting some of the reading list for 'choosing the crop' in the main thread so opening the word doc doesn't seem as daunting.

Happy browsing, and good luck!

Abi Aspen

SPELT

Northern Grain Growers
All about spelt!
http://northerngraingrowers.org/wp-content/uploads/SPELT.pdf

OATS

SARE (sustainable agriculture research and education): OATS
All about oats!
www.sare.org

WHEAT

Senova - Mulika Spring Wheat
http://www.senova.uk.com/#/mulika

Farming Forum thread on Mulika (2013)
https://thefarmingforum.co.uk/index.php?threads/mulika-spring-wheat.13492/

GRAINS

The Real Bread Campaign
Amazing guide to all things bread!
www.sustainweb.org

NO-TILL

Conservation tillage ‘no-till’ (2006)
https://web.archive.org/web/20080620032531/http:/www.monsanto.com/biotech-gmo/asp/topic.asp?id=ConservationTillage#mid

Groundswell Agriculture No-till conference and movement
http://www.groundswellag.com/
Event overview: https://youtu.be/LjLyuJr0W2Q

INTERCROPPING

Andrew Howard (2016). The potential for companion cropping and intercropping on UK arable farms
The potential for companion cropping and intercropping utilization on UK arable farms and to understand the benefits and limitations of such systems.
http://nuffieldinternational.org/rep_pdf/1474016405Andrew-Howard-report-2015.pdf

University of Manitoba. Intercropping with Organic Spring Wheat (2005)
Experiments and results
http://www.umanitoba.ca/outreach/naturalagriculture/articles/wheatintercrop.html

Oxford Real Farming Conference 2017. Companion cropping PODCAST
http://orfc.org.uk/companion-cropping/

SF

Sinead Fenton Thu 9 Mar 2017

This is amazing! Thank you Abi!

AR

Abby Rose Thu 9 Mar 2017

Here is also a really nice article about one farmer in the UK, Ian Wilkinson, who has been growing companion crops for a while: http://www.agricology.co.uk/companion-crops-are-farmer%E2%80%99s-friend
if you would rather listen then there is also a recording of the talk with Ian Wilkinson and Andy Howard sharing their stories and ideas at Oxford Real Farming Conference a few months ago: http://orfc.org.uk/companion-cropping/
(just saw Abi posted that link above as well! :) )
@johncherry have you ever been in touch with Ian? It would be great to hear his thoughts as well!

JC

John Cherry Thu 9 Mar 2017

@danielkindred Sorry, I never answered your first questions from 5 days ago, so here goes: Soil type...glacial discharge mix, really a chalky boulder clay overlying chalk, but we get thinner patches and heavier bits. Soil tests, the last one we did for this field was 2011 and it was a conventional Mg/P/K/pH test which showed that everything was index 1 to 3, pH 7 to 7.5. Unfortunately no SOM %age, but actually most SOM tests are unreliable and, although we haven't put any P, K or Mg on most fields since 2011, our indices are creeping up as the soil biology flourishes and extracts more mineral from the clay.
Typical winter wheat yield...7.5 tonne/ha (average, rather than typical). Grid ref, RPA sheets O/S sheet TL2529 field 2256 if that means anything to you.
I agree with your points about applying N to legumes being a waste of N and legume both, but there is evidence that a dose early on can give the legume a good start before it forms its relationship with the N-fixing rhizobia on the roots. Too much and the rhizobia won't bother. As for the legality, it's a grey area, we are growing a cereal crop, the legumes are companions. We are giving the cereal an N boost. I'd love to drop N altogether, but it might be a painfully thin harvest, especially as this was wheat last year, so soil N levels likely to be low.
In answer to your other question about soil N testing, we do sometimes do this and levels are higher than you might expect. Can't now find any paperwork which would tell me what that actually is...you'll just have to believe me...

DK

Daniel Kindred Thu 9 Mar 2017

Thanks John, If I can get a soil analysis and sorted and paid for are you OK to take a sample from #OurField? Would be good to have estimate of SOM% so get an idea of likely mineralisation.
Agree starter N worth considering. Also agree naked oats are another viable option.

JC

John Cherry Thu 9 Mar 2017

We'd be delighted. Who will do the test out of interest?

JC

John Cherry Thu 9 Mar 2017

@abiaspen Just while I think of it...the link you posted above wrt Conservation Agriculture is very much the Monsanto line. They have taken over a chunk of the (North and South) American CA acres with their GM glyphosate resistant crops. It works ok for a year or two, but cracks in the system are appearing where farmers neglect two of the three the important strands of CA: constant soil cover and diversity. The third strand, minimal disturbance of the soil is more easily met by the GM growers. This hijacking by Monsanto hasn't done the CA movement many favours, but hey...
Sorry, this is probably off-topic. Whoops.

JC

John Cherry Thu 9 Mar 2017

To mix things up a bit more, I've been thinking about @harryboglione 's idea of growing naked oats. We've not grown them before and people who have, give mixed reviews. But I think they are worth offering to you as a fourth option. They are allegedly good aggressive growers and swamp weeds to an extent, but yield 25% less (when salesmen tell me that, I realise it means half, in my experience) than normal 'husked' oats. But they sell for twice as much and, as Harry says, they are much in demand from people who mind what they eat.

D

Darren Fri 10 Mar 2017

Ive been thinking it would be good to get an idea of what we might do with any produce as I feel such information will help guide us in our choice of crop.

I see a lot of interest in spelt, I'm quite excited by the idea of naked oats and have been doing a bit of research.

If we are to decide by Sunday we have very little time to explore potential buyers, which I find slightly discomforting.

I guess Gails Bakery may be interested? (@romymiller ?) But maybe only in wheat or spelt?

I wondered about the three big wholefood co-operatives Infinity (Brighton), Essential (Bristol) and Suma (Leeds - IIRC). They're likely to be interested in the Our Field project/story, as it is really a novel co-operative initiative, and in turn stocking our produce.

The volumes we are likely to have, I imagine, will be in the region of what they may be able to handle?

I'll try and call them tomorrow.

Anyone else got any ideas?

D

Darren Fri 10 Mar 2017

Ive made a stab at starting a collaborative spreadsheet so that we can get an idea of the financial implications of our crop choice.

There are quite a few boxes empty and I've maybe made some wrong assumptions or misunderstood some stuff.

I've used data from this thread and from the discussions we had on the Our Field site visit. If you didnt make it to the visit I think everything should be in the youtube video that was circulated after the event - I made brief notes of the figures etc. https://board.net/p/OurFieldVisit

The editable spreadsheet is at https://ethercalc.org/OurField some of the cells have notes - just put your cursor over them.

Ideally we would have a few more of the missing values completed before we make the decision. Possibly some things I've added there arent relevant and some more things could be added.

Ethercalc is like a GooogleDoc spreadsheet, if you know what that means, if you dont it means the text is saved as you type and anyone viewing should be able to see it appear live. There is no need to save after any edit. If you do a load of editing it may be wise to save it to a spreadsheet on your computer (select all the cells and then copy and paste into your spreadsheet program)

If you want to look at an uneditable version (print version?) you can go to https://ethercalc.org/OurField/form - but then you cant point and read notes or edit.

DK

Daniel Kindred Sat 18 Mar 2017

Darren, All. I've added to the spreadsheet. Figures are just guesses off top of my head so need to be improved. Guessed yields with the companion crops and guessed prices. Not sure about seed costs, nor input costs, rent or John's operations costs.
You can play with the prices, costs and yields with this - don't take my figures as being accurate. I currently have with wheat & beans giving best return, but I doubt we would make milling quality without N fertiliser so price likely to be ~£20/t lower.
My vote is for spelt if a reasonable yield and price can realistically be achieved.

D

Darren Fri 10 Mar 2017

I rang around the wholefood wholesale coops and didnt have much luck. The bulk buyers at both Infinity and Suma are not working today but will be back on Monday & Essential Trading wouldnt put me through by phone, but gave me an email address of their head of purchasing.

I also tried Doves Farm to check what interest they would have for things other than Spelt, but everyone there who would be able to help is away at a trade fair in Glasgow till Wednesday.

I'd like to propose delaying this decision for a bit if possible (if that's not happening already?)

I wonder about the energy people within the Our Field group have to take on work organising sales, processing or marketing. There have been some mentions of interest in this sides of things and I'm happy to get involved. To me it feels like this would have good potential to make the project more viable / successful / interesting. Not sure exactly how that would work - maybe we need to open a new thread that can be joined by people who are interested in getting involved in that kind of stuff?

TT

Tessa Tricks Sun 19 Mar 2017

Hi Darren, thanks for taking the time to put together a spread sheet and make some initial calls. It might be worth us getting in touch with Sharpham Park re spelt. I'd be interested to join the potential marketing thread/ team & try and support. Although I'll be upfront in saying that I have zero experience.

GH

Grahame Hunter Fri 10 Mar 2017

As facilitator I am persuaded by Darren's @darren4 argument that it could be interesting to gauge the possible market for the end product; and that if others in the group have time and energy to put to this research, they should have longer than the days until Sunday.

The choice of crop is probably the single most important decision the group makes, and since there is now a rising interest in the matter, _ we should hold off the vote to allow more voices to be heard, and with more evidence. _

There will be a deadline by which John needs to research the availability of seed, and he needs sufficient lead time to place the order in good time for Spring planting - but for now let us assume the deadline __ will be held back at least 7 days.__

If anyone wishes to comment on this decision to delay the vote - please do so on the admin thread, not here and for that reason I will copy this message there.

SJ

Steven Jacobs Sat 11 Mar 2017

I've just lost a long and detailed comment somehow. So, I'm going to be more brief now. Brevity is probably a better way to go.

Bakeries will source flour from a mill who get the wheat mainly from a grain merchant.
Large bakeries will demand a minimum of 13% protein in their flour.
The UK climate prohibits such levels without the use of a lot of nitrogen and normally this is using artificial nitrogen.
Who would be your local mill and or grain merchant @johncherry ?

Smaller bakeries, especially those using sourdough with longer proving of their doughs, might be interested, Ben at E5 in London Fields can also mill his own grain. I'm in contact with Ben and can ask if he's interested. His demand is mainly organic but I can ask. He will want to know quantities.

Essential, Infinity and Suma will not use much raw grain, though they will take some but normally through an existing supplier and at a certain specification.
I'm in contact with these businesses fairly regularly so let me know if you get stuck finding the right person @darren4

Modern cereal breeding has resulted in higher yield but other qualities have lost out. There are ways forward however. From sourdough to cross composite populations and even naked barley.
Here are links -

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2008/apr/16/recipes.foodanddrink

http://www.organicresearchcentre.com/?go=Research%20and%20development&page=Plant%20breeding

https://andyhowardnuffield15.wordpress.com/2015/12/08/dr-martin-wolfe-wakelyns-agroforestry-suffolk-england-7th-december-2015/

https://mobile.twitter.com/naked_barley

D

Darren Sat 11 Mar 2017

Its occurred to me that I may have made a slightly dubious assumption with regards to yields - if I understand correctly a companion crop is likely to reduce yield of the 'main' crop so wheat yield would be down if grown with faba beans? (faba are broad beans with small beans). I think possibly in the other cases theres likely to be less of an impact as the companion will be smaller/less light competitive?

@stevenjacobs you appear to be mostly talking about wheat/spelt - the expected quantity should be somewhere around 25 -55 tonnes - although these figures may need some adjustment when considering companions.

I might have said before - I'm really interested in the oat option.

SJ

Steven Jacobs Sun 12 Mar 2017

Thanks @darren4 & I too favour oats ideally, however the processing of oats is specialised and we may struggle to get an oat mill that will take our relatively small volume, but I'd take guidance from @johncherry on this, I don't know his local markets or even what he may know of further afield..?
We could consider approaching European Oat Millers? They have an oat milling facility in Bedford.

CL

Christine Lewis Sat 11 Mar 2017

I welcome the opportunity to spend more time thinking about the end product and what an Our Field product could be marketed as - what the values are and how to position this. From the ourfieldproject.org website we have already captured some of this: Living the farmer's journey, reinventing farm economics & sharing farmer risk, but I think we would need to do more. We also have the problem with ourfield.org (parks in Costa Rica) and ourfield.com (footballing app). So we could focus on the product meeting values of either an ourfieldproject (OFP) benchmark or establishing a community supported agriculture (CSA) benchmark - see more about CSA's here: https://communitysupportedagriculture.org.uk/what-is-csa/

Hopefully others know much more about this than me. A bit of a brain dump on a possible benchmark, meeting OFP:
* sharing farmers' risks: allowing a more innovative approach
* collaborative decision making: in depth consideration and general consensus
* focus on sustainability: to ensure better and longer term outcomes
* natural production mechanisms: reducing additives
* building on long term soil viability: focusing on healthy soil
* resisting large scale commercial pressure: not being driven solely by commercial price or yield

As far as outlets go:
* Wheat: bread making
* Spelt: artisan bread making
* Oats: wholefood shops
* Naked oats: specialised wholefood and artisan outlets
I buy special flours from bakery bits http://www.bakerybits.co.uk/bakery-ingredients/flour.html
Also to point out the Scotland the bread standard and assurance system for certifying grain see http://www.scotlandthebread.org/growing-and-research/ and they are also bulking up Scottish heritage grains.

JC

John Cherry Sun 12 Mar 2017

Many thanks @darren4 and @stevenjacobs for your foresight and work on production costs and marketing. What we normally do, once we've established that there basically is a market for a product, is grow it and see what we end up with in the shed. We can then test it for protein/gluten or whatever and sell it on that basis, when we know how much we've got. We sell most of what we grow through a farmer's co-op here in the village, they have a good relationship with local mills, though a lot of these are grinding animal feed as much as anything. We are moving oats at the moment into European Oat Millers. I suspect, Steven, that you're right and that they'd be a bit sniffy about taking an odd lorry-load and treating it specially, but it's worth the ask. Anyone want to buy a little mill and grind and bag what we grow?

Meanwhile I'll get some prices of seed etc and try to fill in Darren's spread sheet, but I know from experience that, come harvest, the figures might well be out by a large percentage...

JT

James Tickell Sun 12 Mar 2017

I like the idea of growing something for people to eat, rather than animals, and in particular, it would be a shame to end up feeding animals destined for being eaten. Would be nice if the Our Field brand (however that turns out) was identified with quality food for those who do care about the ethical sourcing of what they eat, as well as the environmental and health related issues. I looks like others have a far better grasp on the technical issues than me!

HB

Harry Boglione Mon 13 Mar 2017

Hi Every one. I tend to agree with Johns approach to marketing a corp. As there are so many variables in producing a crop that it is relay hard to have any idea of quality or quantity. Especially when we are going to be experimenting.

What i do think is worth considering is weather or not we would like to do some value adding processing to a % of the crop or not. If we process some of our crop it gives us the opportunity to make a higher profit off the processed crop by direct marketing it to relaters and consumers. This will require more work tho but i think could be done well with such a divers group of us. Or alternatively we could just process some for the groups use which could save every one some money. If we where to Grow naked oats we could role them for porridge or muesli. In order to do this We just need a role mill which are very easy to come by. Alternatively if we grew another grain we could get some milled into flower.

AL

Annie Landless Sat 18 Mar 2017

We have a roll mill at home :) I also really like the idea of naked oats. We have been looking into growing them at home too.

WA

Wendy Alcock Wed 15 Mar 2017

Thanks for the spreadsheet (and thinking behind it) @darren4 - I do love a good spreadsheet :)

As I have more of an interest in flour - wheat is now my preference as we are companion planting - I have emailed a few local and/or potentially community minded mills I am already aware of to test the water and see if they might want to work with us on the project. There seem to be many more we could contact once we know for sure what we are growing and rough quantities.

So far I have contacted:
http://www.brixtonwindmill.org
http://www.wrightsflour.co.uk
http://www.nationalmillsweekend.co.uk/pages_wind/wicken.htm
http://www.wessexmill.co.uk - this one has already called me back to say they only take grain from within 40 miles of the mill (we are outside of that) and 1 lorry (I guessed our quantity to be around 30 tonnes based on Darren's ss) would be too small for them to process. Emily was very nice (and offered to give a tour if I or anyone wanted to look around the mill) but she suggested we look for a very small local mill or we would likely end up with our grain mixed with others to ensure it meets quality standards.

Added since original post:
https://claybrookewatermill.co.uk
http://talgarthmill.com

I shall update this post if I hear back from the others but it seems a bit catch 22 without much info to offer people.

I have not given any though as to what we might do with any sell-able companion crop. Although this may only be beans (in what % of the output?) as I think the under-story suggestions from John are not crop giving plants.

Wendy

CL

Christine Lewis Wed 15 Mar 2017

Wendy - a great idea to contact some mills. There is a small water mill close to me, I haven't been there yet but use their flour which is very good - maybe you could email them in a similar way. Their email is info@claybrookewatermill.co.uk and their website is www.claybrookewatermill.co.uk - otherwise I can do it.

WA

Wendy Alcock Wed 15 Mar 2017

Thanks Christine - I've sent an email to them. It would be good to try direct contact with the mills used by John's farmers coop too, if you know who they are John?

JC

John Cherry Wed 15 Mar 2017

I'll find out

AL

Annie Landless Sat 18 Mar 2017

Hi Wendy, hope you're well! I have been looking at this mill too: http://talgarthmill.com/Milling/milling

They supply Golden Valley Food Assembly with flour and all the milling is done by volunteers.

It sounds like an amazing community organisation, I've been meaning I contact them, just had a very busy few weeks!

I am still quite undecided, I'm swaying to spelt but also very interested in naked oats but worried there is more risk attached.

CL

Christine Lewis Sat 18 Mar 2017

Hi Annie - I am walking in Brecon for a week in early May which is close by and could certainly visit Talgarth Mill if it helps. We should know what we are doing by then.

GH

Grahame Hunter Thu 16 Mar 2017

Just a heads up on voting..john and I will identify the choices which now seem appropriate based on the group's comments and interests. This round of voting will start later today and my suggestion is that __ the voting will end on Sunday 19th March at midnight. __ Comments to this, in the admin thread please.

GH

Grahame Hunter started a proposal Thu 16 Mar 2017

and the crop will be Wheat and beans as a companion? Closed Mon 20 Mar 2017

Outcome
by Grahame Hunter Tue 25 Apr 2017

This was our second vote, and the number taking part edged up slightly - from 23 to 24 voters.

It must be quite re-assuring for John that there are a further 17 members of Our Group who did not vote, but who are presumably happy whatever we grow.

Of those who minded, and voted, __ a clear majority have elected for Spelt with a companion planting. __
The precise wording of _ the winning proposal is .. _

Spelt with a companion under-story which will not be harvested, but which will be a weed suppressant, soil building companion to the Spelt.

In the next days John will be considering the best options for the field and season to support the main crop , no doubt too with Richard Harding the agronomist. He will post further information about what they choose as the final companion planting mixture.

This is a complicated 4 way proposal _ within a voting system which is forcedly binary, _ so please read these choices very carefully..

  • Vote _YES _ for __ WHEAT, with beans as a companion crop. __ Both these crops will be harvested, and available to sell.

  • Vote __ NO __ to reject wheat and beans in favour of __ SPELT with a companion under-story __ which will not be harvested, but will be a weed suppressant, soil building companion to the Spelt.

  • Vote __ ABSTAIN __ to reject wheat, beans and spelt in favour of __ regular HUSKED OATS with a companion under-story __ which will not be harvested, but will be a weed suppressant, soil building companion to the Oats

  • Vote __ BLOCK __ to reject wheat, spelt and ordinary oats in favour of __ NAKED OATS with a companion under-story __ which will not be harvested, but will be a weed suppressant, soil building companion the Oats.

_ if this is not clear, __ ask a question on the admin thread, __where the voting mechanism of this set of choices can be discussed. _

_ The merits of the different crops should be discussed on this main thread. _

Results
Agree - 9
Abstain - 9
Disagree - 9
Block - 9
24 people have voted (57%)