Loomio
Fri 9 Feb 2018

Farming methods and the ethos of OurField Weston

GH
Grahame Hunter Public Seen by 55
GH

Grahame Hunter Fri 9 Feb 2018

@stevenjacobs Over to you here, Steve..

SJ

Steven Jacobs Sat 10 Feb 2018

Thanks, yes I'm writing it now. I hope to get it posted here this weekend. Scribble Scribble smiley bespectacled face.

GH

Grahame Hunter Tue 13 Feb 2018

Steve Jacobs writes

Good morning.

Here is a sort of rough intro to farming methodology. Its really just a way to introduce the topic, and the context. A starter for ten and then hopefully will help stimulate discussion.

We can approach food production as a way to get calories and nutrients or as a way to enhance and enrich our lives and the landscape we live within or a myriad of ways in between.

We can see food production as a part of the whole, the whole being, the whole existence, the entire life cycle. Things grow, they die, then the dead feeds new life and so it goes. This starts with microorganisms and as far as we know it never ends. Things eat things then die and are, in turn, eaten. Energy is cycled again, and again. Transformative processes cycling and evolving.

How to grow food is one part of the story. And a complex one too. Then there’s harvesting, transport, storage, processing, preparing, packaging, retailing and all along the way is the grading and sorting and regrading. And there’s the cooking, baking, brewing, preserving, and of course there is the consumption and in time there is the decomposition and the composting.

Farming practices are intrinsically linked with all of this. And all of this is intrinsically linked to and from farming. Before the turning of a single sod of earth, before a seed is purchased it can be helpful to properly consider the details of how the resulting crop is going to grow, be harvested and so on, then there’s market availability, market demand, logistics and so it goes.

Tillage refers to the preparation and maintenance of the ground. Tillage covers everything from deep mouldboard ploughing to light harrowing. All the tools have their specialist function, some are multifunctional. Ploughing is a way to reduce weed burden and by changing soil particle size and relationship to a more homogeneous state the aim is to improve the condition of the ground to aid food production.

Reducing tillage helps to ameliorate some of the negative effects that result from using the plough. Soil disturbance is not all bad, but there is, as always, a balance to be struck.

No tillage is a method with a number of different versions but in essence it involves sowing the seed directly into the ground through the layer of previous plant material that must now be dead. This approach has its challenges. How to ensure the plant matter of the preceding crop is dead and doesn’t regrow to compete with the new food crop and how to ensure seed is delivered carefully and successfully into the soil.

Also available for farmers are other tools and techniques. Crop rotation is a topic all of its own. Inputs such as manures, minerals, artificial and natural fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides. These range from animal waste to beetle banks to potash to soft soap, to ammonium nitrate to glyphosate and so on. Then there’s mono-cropping, multi-cropping, inter-cropping. Agroforestry is becoming better known now with people starting to look in increasing detail at ways to better work with crops and with trees.

It is fair to say that all approaches to food production have positives and negatives.

A big question also is how food production practices and the resulting food operates also within the wider food paradigm. Do we grow tomatoes under glass or import from southern Spain? Do we have the equipment and the knowledge to grow and roll our own oats, considering that oats need heat treatment to stabilise the natural enzyme or the fat in the oat will turn rancid very quickly once rolled. Can we de-hull the spelt, or do we have a de-huller within reach?

A lot of things to consider.

A good starting point, as we have done, is to find a friendly and experienced grower. John is on his own journey and we are a part of that and the of our journey.

I’ve not here yet gone into any detail on soils and soil borne organisms, plant soil and organism relationships, the benefits of encouraging biodiversity, permacultural techniques including edge design, zoning and multifunctional elements. And there is so much more. Lets discuss what we each of us has come across or are curious about.

I’m very happy to discuss all of the above. In great detail.

Cheers, Steven

GH

Grahame Hunter Tue 13 Feb 2018

Tony Allen replies

Dear Steven Very many thanks for starting the discussion. You have very usefully identified the huge scope of the topic. The literature is (too ) rich. We are after all engaging with society's oldest industry and its oldest 'market' system. Unfortunately it turns out that there are some 'failed' markets because the political imperative is to provide under priced food for (some) under paid people. Putting the food system in place has involved many experiments that worked spectacularly well and many that did not. We have a food system that has locked in many bad practices that are currently held in place by corporate interests that are hard to contend with. A number of them are on the farm but most are in the political economy of the food system and its supply chains.

A very important feature of the OurField Weston project is that it has become part of a global farmer led initiative that is bringing back practices that are consistent with sustainable ecosystems and human health. The other major virtue of the project is the link that has been created between a farmer and some food consumers. I could provide a analytical structure that would help in the discussion of farming and food supply chain issues. And I could also suggest some key publications. However, as an author of chapters and articles on the subject I am very aware that people are too busy to read much.

Grahame, could we start a segment of our Loomio pages entitled something such as - Sustainable farming and the food system. Those who want to contribute on this topic could do so and those who don't, need not open the string. Tony

GH

Grahame Hunter Tue 13 Feb 2018

Lets keep it in this thread; I can change the name if it proves inaccurate for what is being discussed. g

SJ

Steven Jacobs Sun 18 Feb 2018

Thank you @johnanthonyallan and yes I agree there is a rising tide that we are a part of and the links from farmer or producer to the consumer or 'citizen consumer' or just ‘people’ (as in people who are not paid by the food industry) are key points. And critical to the growth of good food is a better understanding among us all what each of us has as sets of challenges and opportunities.

And your work, Tony, on water is one very good way to look look at how the strings run through the whole system. Another string that runs through it all can include soils.

I think that the myth of specialisation must be exploded. It is not an efficient way to proceed. Specialisation is inefficient. It is wasteful to fragmentise like is currently the practice in large scale food systems. The benefit is short term and restricted to a few who have an amount of financial independence. The rest of us end up with a seriously restricted set of choices. A choice editing not of our own design. And of course the impact on environmental resources that results from ‘specialisation’ and its inherent disconnecting approach is terrible and causes much misery.

By uncoupling food from this is how commodification is justified, but of course only in economic terms as outlined above.

And its a busy and complex story. By its very existence OurField challenges this model. And offers an alternative.

So, yes, I think an analytical discussion on these topics would be good for us here. Not sure how to break it all down. Do you have thoughts on this? Start with soil? Or with nutrition? Or…?

Happy to have your thoughts on this and very happy to speak with you about these things whenever convenient. In case is of use to you my email address - steven@ofgorganic.org

Cheers,
Steven

TA

Tony Allan Sun 18 Feb 2018

Dear Steven

Farming methods and the ethos of OurField Weston

Thank you Syeven for your comments.

The great thing about being associated with farming is that it is can only be interdisciplinary with farmers providing productive services and ecosystem services and nutritional services. They also need to make a livelihood. The [failed] market in which they operate in the UK and similar economies have prices that only cover about 70% of the costs of production. We are only at the beginning of having a system that pays farmers for stewardship services of water, soil, biodiversity, the atmosphere and animal welfare. The nutritional services are also not captured.

My entry point is water. I recognise that it is only one of the inputs that farmers manage. In practice farmers, food consumers and legislators are all unaware of the high proportion of our water consumption that is managed by farmers. They manage about 92% of it. Only about 8% of the water consumed by society is domestic and industrial water.

How do we help put in place a food system that:

1 Provides food production services that sustainably manage the ecosystems on which they depend?

2 That provides farmers - land owners, tenants and farm labour - with sustainable livelihoods?

The food system and ethics
Food production is the first of three parts of the system. The second is food commodity trading, processing, manufacturing, and [super]marketing. The third is food consumption. The members of the OurFieldWeston2 activity are part of the system as food consumers making food choices and wasting - or not - food. John and a few others are food producers. It would be useful to have a better sense of those who make inputs to the system beyond the farm gate.

My contention is that society and the environment pays a price for our food system that delivers under priced food to under paid people. For politicians it is an imperative to do have affordable food on the shelves. The system is, however, proving to be very bad for Natures' ecosystems and for human health. It is also bad for animal welfare and many under paid people that work on farms.

Many thanks for your email. Mine is ta1@soas.ac.uk. It would be good to speak. I am based in north-west London. Where are you based?

Best

TonyA

LB

Lucy Bradley Fri 13 Apr 2018

Hello all,

Thanks for the discussion about what to plant. I found it really interesting and it raised several areas for me to think more about over the coming months/season.

I’d like to understand more about the soil and it's condition in OurField. The type of soil a variety is suited to keeps cropping up as I read, so some more info on this would be very helpful. @abbyrose how did the soil tests go? Do you have any results in yet that you could share :)

I’ve seen heritage/landrace grains mentioned by a few other people too in the discussion about what to plant (perhaps @bench). I’m also interested in this idea although I don’t know a great deal about this. Generally speaking there seem to be interesting benefits of these - don’t require fertiliser/ herbicides/ are hardier /better flavour/nutrition…

This then feed in to me thinking about the connection between the ‘treatments’ we expose the field to and how this is likely to impact on the market for our crop. Using heritage grain as an example, is the market looking for organic? I can't find the thread, but someone already advised having a market in mind before deciding the crop, which makes a lot of sense, and this should help steer the conversation about what inputs are viable.

Terminating weeds - it was interesting to read about the different options for removing unwanted plants in the field and that there are non-chemical options. Thanks for the lo-down @johncherry and @stevenjacobs additional info & links to crimping videos

@grahamehunter is it possible to keep the 'What shall we plant' thread open so we can continue to share research and ideas for the 2018 autumn crop?

AR

Abby Rose Sun 15 Apr 2018

Lucy thanks for all your thoughts! Unfortunately we didn't get round to doing OurField that day as we started on some other fields. But I do intend to go back in the next few weekends and help John do the OurField soil tests. They are pretty easy to do so if any of you wanted to come along we could do them together. I will have to check with @johncherry to see when is a good time for us to help him with this.

LB

Lucy Bradley Mon 16 Apr 2018

Hey @abbyrose thanks for the update. I’d be very happy to come help with the soil tests so hope to be available on the date that’s decided :)

JC

John Cherry Fri 13 Apr 2018

Golly, what a lot of catching up to do...
Grahame has rightly closed the thread about deciding what to grow, but @johnanthonyallan had posted a lot of questions for us on that thread, so I'll answer here, which seems more appropriate anyway.

Tony started off on weeds. Traditionally controlled by cultivation...simple hoeing will work if you get a dry spell afterwards so the roots can't access water. Total inversion ploughing, like digging a garden, turns the top layer of soil upside down thus smothering the weeds that were growing on the surface. This requires very accurate ploughing, as any weed which can see daylight will make a break for it. It also has the side-effect of scattering any weed seeds that were on the surface, through the soil profile. This means they may germinate at unexpected times. Thus seeds buried deep last year may be brought up by the plough and pop up when the new crop is planted. One of the theories of no-till is that seeds are left on the surface where the vast majority perish or get eaten, before getting a chance to germinate. Perversely we are now finding as our soil gets healthier that weed seeds are being buried by our enormous earthworms throwing worm-casts up, burying the seed and creating a perfect germinating environment for them. So it's not all straightforward...

Pastures are associated with healthy soils and shoe-horning a grazed ley (typically a four year long grass/legume pasture) into a seven or eight year rotation is a typical way organic farmers maintain their soil fertility. However there are good pastures and better ones, but we'll save that for another day.

Unhealthy soils will indeed have many fewer worms and creatures even lower in the food chain, in them; soil livestock is a very good and easy way of quickly gauging soil health. A high yielding crop will be grown in healthy soil with minimal competition. Strangely though, not all weeds are that competitive with the crop. The more we find out about plant to plant associations, the less the old Darwinian 'survival of the fittest' dogma makes sense...again, one for another day.

Conservation Agriculture (CA), or what we call no-till, has three basic tenets: minimal disturbance of the soil; total covering of the soil (by living plants or plant debris) and diversity. The first tends to mean merely carving a slot in the soil and dropping seed into it and then covering it over. Preferably leaving the slot at least partially covered by bits of straw or clover groundcover, or whatever. The diversity means having a good crop rotation, this prevents build up of disease, feeds different microbes in the soil (as different plants will form different associations with fungi in particular)...the ideal is to grow lots of different things at once (like the pasture, or our proposed multi-species cover crop) or, as mentioned above, selected weeds or even companion crops which can be harvested simultaneously and separated post harvest (like beans and wheat).

CA if done correctly will improve water (rain) infiltration, but isn't 100% effective on weed control...in theory, once you get rid of the surface weed seed bank, then your troubles are over. Nature isn't that soft...if you try growing monocultures, she'll add a bit of diversity. I'm hoping that if we grow a diverse mix, she won't bother adding more. Time will tell if I'm the soft one.

Which brings us to herbicides...there are lots of different herbicides that farmers use, depending on what they are growing, or hoping to grow. Some will kill grass weeds in broadleaved crops, some will act on broadleaved weeds in grain crops and a lot will kill grass weeds in grain crops. The problem grain farmers have created for themselves is that, through a variety of reasons mostly to do with lazy farming, they've allowed blackgrass to breed itself into immunity to nearly all herbicides on the market. Glyphosate kills all grasses and broadleaves, although where farmers have over-used it (like in Roundup-Ready GM crops around the world...luckily we aren't allowed GM here), immunity to glyphosate has appeared in several different species. Not blackgrass yet.

Because it kills everything, it is extremely handy for no-till farmers to clean the stubble before planting their crops and so give the crops a cracking start. I appreciate that there are concerns about glyphosate's effects on soil flora and fauna, but I honestly think that there should be much more concern about the damage tillage does to our soil, in terms of Carbon dioxide release, soil erosion, soil destruction, nitrate and phosphate release to rivers etc. Just because something has been done for thousands of years, it doesn't mean that there isn't a better way of doing it. All previous civilisations have degraded, if not destroyed, their soils before they themselves collapsed. It is not a coincidence.

Anyway, that's probably enough for now
John

JC

John Cherry Fri 13 Apr 2018

Oh, and thanks @lucybradley1 for your message. Funnily enough Richard the agronomist suggested, when I said I expected the collective would rather not use glyphosate as a burn-down before we plant our covers, that we allow the blackgrass, brome and volunteer spelt which is growing in the field at the moment to grow on a bit and then be grazed off as they come to flower. This should kill them. The problem will be that we'll lose half the summer in terms of bulking up the covers and gaining maximum benefit. It also may not work. I've asked a few farmers who blew raspberries at the suggestion. Another little decision that is looming. I'll do more research.
John

LB

Lucy Bradley Mon 16 Apr 2018

Thanks for this @johncherry and, like Abby said, taking the time to share your experience and research.
I have a couple of other questions relating to the cover that your reply prompted.
The first being when do we need to plant the cover out by? And then, what sort of timeframe do you start seeing the cover having an impact, and ideally how long would the cover stay in place?

JC

John Cherry Wed 18 Apr 2018

@lucybradley1 Really, the sooner the better in terms of getting maximum biomass growth, which is where we'll get the benefit from. In reality, as long as the cover is established by the time of the summer solstice so it can make good use of the long summer days, then we should be fine. A lot depends on rain and how we clear the weeds that are there now. We need to focus on getting a good start for next years wheat crop, which will want going in in mid to late September

TA

Tony Allan Sat 14 Apr 2018

Dear John

Your comments are as always a very good page turning read. The information content is extraordinary.

Very many thanks.

TonyA

AR

Abby Rose Sun 15 Apr 2018

Thanks @johncherry for filling us in on all the different possibilities. It's great to hear more about conservation agriculture and I guess it makes sense that ploughing in many ways is just as destructive as glyphosate as they are both killing much of what is in the top layer of the soil, and above it. Do you go out and spray glyphosate yourself? and if so do you never worry for your own health when doing that? or the health of other large predators on the farm?

I guess a key concern for me would be that we need to find the balance - between ideology and the reality of growing a profitable crop. I am all for taking risks but I also think we need to balance it with ensuring some successes along the way otherwise it will be difficult to keep momentum up both with the collective but also I hope it's not demoralising for John too! So @johncherry please do keep posting your thoughts here, and those of Richard. It really is super helpful to help us weigh up the risks that are worth taking and those that aren't. Plus learning so much all the time, thank you for taking the time to share!

JC

John Cherry Wed 18 Apr 2018

I used to spray the roundup myself, but now I lack the suitable qualifications (you need a fistful of paperwork before you're allowed to drive a sprayer now). To be honest, I'm far more worried about artificial fertiliser rather than most sprays, in terms of soil health and sustainable farming. There is a widespread panic about tiny amounts of chemicals in food or water and then people slap weird chemicals all over their bodies to make them smell different. I don't understand it....

AR

Abby Rose Sun 15 Apr 2018

@oliverrubinstein I know you have worked quite a bit in organics. What are your thoughts on conservation agriculture and using glyphosate vs tilling? How would you think to terminate a cover crop in this instance?

OR

Oliver Rubinstein Mon 16 Apr 2018

Yep, it's a tough one. I've kind of come full circle in terms of my thinking about the use of chemicals like glyphosate. When I first starting working on an organic farm I was shocked about how much ploughing went on, to keep weeds under control. Not only does this release carbon from the soil as organic matter is oxidised - as well as damaging earthworms and other biota - there's the tractor fuel useage to think about too. On the other hand though, you're not using chemcials.

Living in Cambridgeshire, you see huge clouds of topsoil being blown off during the winter and also washed off during heavy rain, so for me, anything we can do to limit soil disturbance is a good thing. If there was a mechanical (or animal) way of getting rid of weeds or a cover crop I'd be in favour of that I think. John Pawsey in Suffolk does some amazing things in terms of profitable mechanical and animal (sheep) weed control on his organic farm in Suffolk, so it might be worth looking at that.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYagENcSuAQ

OR

Oliver Rubinstein Mon 16 Apr 2018

Basically, growing organic cereal crops is hard (especially if you want to do no-till). Hence why the area of organic arable in the UK is so tiny yet the demand for organic produce keeps growing and growing.

GH

Grahame Hunter Mon 30 Apr 2018

Questions from a member

_Tony Allen has written.. _

I hope this comment appears on the Farming Methods and the Ethos of OurField
Questions for John
1 How is OurField at the end of what has been mainly a wet and very cold April? Certainly it is cold this Saturday morning.
Would it be possible to have some photos of the cover crop and the weeds?
2 Can we expect that the field can be grazed?
3 I did ask earlier whether any of the 'weeds' would be grazed if you do manage to install the equipment needed to manage the grazing?
If you have time - thank you. Tony Allan

JC

John Cherry Mon 7 May 2018

Apologies for going quiet. It all got a bit hectic and then we left the country for a week. Anyway, a quick update:

We were hoping to give you the option of attempting to stunt/kill the weeds by grazing this spring, before drilling our summer cover crop. Alas, spring sprung before we were ready and we took the view that the weeds were too close to seeding to allow this risky venture so we round-uped the field. The dose we used was enough to knock all the grass weeds, but left the clover growing. We then drilled the cover crop last Saturday (5th May).

The thinking was that we hadn't had a chance to set up the fencing or install water, so grazing wasn't going to be an option before drilling. We will get on with this now we are coming to the end of the frenetic spring planting season. The seeds have gone into moisture, so we'll have to see what happens next. I'll post up exactly what is in the mix when I find the list, but there might be a chance for foraging in it for food later in the year if you get there before the cattle. There's maize, millet, buckwheat, rye, turnips, vetch and all sorts gone in.

Again, apologies for lack of consultation
John

HG

Harry Greenfield Thu 10 May 2018

Thanks for the update John, and good to hear that the crop is in the ground. I've just caught up on everything here after a long stretch and sorry to have missed some great discussions!

One thing I wanted to ask @johncherry was what you do on the farm to encourage wildlife? Are you in any agri-environment schemes or do you have any other areas of dedicated habitat near to ourfield? Would this be something we could consider for the future for example giving over part of the field to seed mixes for wild birds or pollinators?

JC

John Cherry Tue 15 May 2018

Sorry for being a bit slow answering your questions Harry.
We are in ELS/HLS on the farm but these schemes run out in July this year. We are looking to sign up for a new Stewardship agreement starting in the new year. We could put a patch of bird seed/pollinator mix in ourfield if the collective are keen.

Our basic philosophy is to make the whole farm wildlife friendly rather than just having narrow strips around the edges of fields as the only places where nature can survive...this is admittedly a work in progress, but it is very pleasing how many amber and red list bird species seem to be thriving here, despite our not specifically encouraging them with paid for features. For instance the place is awash with sky larks; we used to solemnly leave 'sky lark nesting patches' in our crops (ie bare patches) but now they just seem to like they way we farm and are nesting in every field.

TA

Tony Allan Thu 17 May 2018

Dear John and all
Very many thanks for the comments on weed treatment, cover crop drilling and wildlife policy and outcomes. Somehow I missed these posting until this morning.
I posted some ideas yesterday for summer and autumn activities and as they have not appeared I was looking for them. I found your messages but my posting seems to have disappeared which is a pity. I shall check again.
Briefly I was proposing a members farm visit on a Saturday or Sunday in July or August and an autumn evening meeting in London. Best Tony [Allan]

JC

John Cherry Wed 6 Jun 2018

Quick update...not good news I'm afraid. We planted the cover crop in what I thought were good conditions, but slugs have ravaged the seedlings and it looks like we'll have to re-drill. I hate using slug pellets, but I don't think there's any point not applying them this time. We'll use ferric phosphate which I think are ok in organic systems. Please holler if unhappy....
John

GH

Grahame Hunter Tue 12 Jun 2018

well, 'not good news' is perhaps part of the experience of farming, which is why we are all here..

RB

Rosy Benson Sat 30 Jun 2018

Gosh where to start! It has been a brilliant two days spent at Groundswell on the Cherry’s Farm. Highlights included meeting the Cherrys, Janaki (Bee), Oliver, Abby, Annie and John from the group but also so many interesting conversations with farmers and organisations. It was heartening to see so many farmers looking to reduce their inputs or even just contemplating it and hear their experiences, successes and challenges of those that were fully transitioning and taking on regenerative agriculture practices. First of all to the farmer it makes financial sense to go no-till which ultimately means its more likely to be adopted, there are multiple benefits such as it saving time, it allows the soil to regenerate, building humus and the micro flora but the list is endless. The message was that in the UK we have to change the way the vast majority are farming, we can no longer go on the way we are, the soils are depleted the agrochemical bill is high and the crops are getting further away from being food for human consumption.

There was a good focus on nutrition, value of good practice and bringing respect back to the farmers role. I now have even more respect for the myriad of skills required to make so many decisions short and long-term, made especially difficult with the many unknowns of where Brexit may lead to. I was there representing e5 as a Baker and really to try to answer all the questions I have about what the kind of system I want to be supporting, articulating this to the students that come to e5 to learn and the customers, and I am aware the impact such a forward thinking bakery can have in the wider bakery community. What makes great flavour, nutritious bread? I know it ultimately means supporting the best farming practices, the two are clearly linked. Still a lot to learn, more farmers to hear from and understanding the complexities of this broken food system.

In the Agricology tent there was a small gathering to introduce the UK Grain Lab, an umbrella organisation that will have an event in early November linking farmers millers and bakers together, here’s a patchy film of that intro meeting at Groundswell: https://www.facebook.com/Agricology1/videos/628433270852857/?hc_ref=ARTWiCREby2oTVMygQJT5a8AHWICD5B37WjZG25c_lVvfKVBKNxMuyKpI-Hs4Xjd6N4 Abby mentions some of the challenges of access to processing of small volumes etc.

John gave a presentation on no-till at Weston Park Farms, the OurField project was also mentioned, we were introduced as the “enthusiastic Londoners” (I’m actually from Cheshire John! but no worries) who were “having a go on some fields” the audience of farmers audibly chuckled at the prospect of allowing such a project to happen on their land, its pretty unique to be given this opportunity so thank you everyone, especially John that’s helped get us this far! hmm so yeah, probably a little bit of bridge building needed between our perceived loud/urban/dealistic views and those plough loving traditional farmers! The attitude we are up against just makes me want the project to succeed more!

Janaki and I took a break from all the learning and walked over to OurField to have a look. We should all go there! its a short walk from the farm buildings down a dip, up through a wood along a bridleway and out into the field. As what John said, the cover crop hasn’t taken, theres are patches of the mix, see pictures; phacelia, vetch etc looking lovely but the vast proportion is near bare ground, which in this heat a worry…Quick observations were patches of certain weeds such as thistle, but mainly only lightly covered soil quite exposed in some areas.

My thoughts are that I’m wary of taking heavy machinery over the land loads of times but maybe this isn’t too much of a problem (I by accident stumbled upon a part of a talk on tire pressure…these farmers do love their big machines!) but keeping soil bare is like having an open wound and preventing it from healing. Over time exposed earth degrades as moisture is lost and nutrients washed away. Exposed soil combined with heavy machinery is a recipe for disaster as compacted soil encourages even more run-off. The size of field is huge (perhaps small compared to many farms), this might be too radical suggestion but could we adopt some agroforestry methods here?! Thinking of the long term resilience of this land we could be building soils put simply by growing grains in strips between productive trees…Some more observations from John Cherry on aspect, weather conditions, soil type etc might be useful to know first. Theres an Agricology organised event on the 16th July if anyones interested? https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/uk-agroforestry-network-meeting-livestock-and-arable-tickets-46357886687

I’m all for getting the herd on but at the moment there’s hardly anything there to eat! maybe feeding them hay on the field if thats an option John? would at least get them to deposit some of the good stuff! build some nutrition before possibly drilling in a winter wheat - its all for us to decide! Secondly the finding a Low input variety of wheat… the hunt could begin to find a grain worth planting in Autumn if people are keen? Abby Glencross mentioned she might have access to some interesting grain and we could under sowing or combine crops here’s a report talking through some ideas https://www.agricology.co.uk/resources/potential-companion-cropping-and-intercropping-uk-arable-farms. The move away from monoculture to diverse crop mixtures is what I’m keen to try as the diversity creates so many beneficial connections. I’m off to the National Organic Combinable Crops Conference on Tuesday.http://ofgorganic.org/nocc-18-3-july-2018-shropshire/ Kim from Small Food Bakery is making flatbreads from a selection of varieties from what I understand is grown in an organic but tilled system, it will be interesting to taste and learn more about that. The challenge of doing no-till it still the use of glyphosphate which means it cannot be licensed Organic I think (personally I wouldn’t want my bread with even a trace of pesticide I know this is a real challenge to work out how best to go forward. (the license for Glyphosphate ends in 4 years, though this may change ) its an area I need to read up on.

Very keen to visit OurField again with the group or even meet earlier in London if thats easier? I’d love to see everyone face to face so we can move forward together, having met just a few of you this last week I feel so much more enthusiastic about it! I’m happy to vote for someone to be in a paid role to organise a couple of events. I can ask Ben my boss if we could use the e5 bakehouse in London Fields one evening when its closed, would weekends be best? We’d need to open the bar up to help pay for the space but it could be nice to eat some good bread cheese whilst we chat. Sure if you pass me over some of last years dehulled Spelt grain I can use the mini mill and whip us up some tinned spelt for the evening so we can all taste it together? Happy to do that.

So sorry for such a long rambling message (making up for my lack of activity so far!).

AR

Abby Rose Sat 30 Jun 2018

Wow I somehow missed all the updates from the field, thanks for all your updates @johncherry . Thanks for your post and thoughts @rosybenson - very interesting and yes agreed it was a real pleasure seeing some of the OurField members at Groundswell and so glad you and Bee went and saw the field and took photos. Very curious to hear what you think @johncherry about any possibility of putting hay out in the field so we can graze it anyways just for a day or two to get some cow action happening!? or do they not appreciate that when they have plenty of green food elsewhere...?

AR

Abby Rose Sat 30 Jun 2018

Also I guess we do need to start thinking now about what we are going to plant next year if we want to try and source any type of heritage grain - what do you think @johncherry ?

NH

Nicola Hughes Sun 1 Jul 2018

Thanks @rosybenson - this is great. I'd be up for a visit or a London meet

TA

Tony Allan Sun 1 Jul 2018

Dear Rosy
Groundswell 2018
It was very good to meet you on Thursday at Groundswell with Bee. Thank you for all the comment in your message. You show that there is no better way to enable one to get up to speed on Conservation Agriculture [CA] than to attend the two day Groundswell event.
Informing the OurField investors is not the main purpose of the event but it is a privilege to attend and meet so many farmers from across the world - committed to CA . They all have skin in the game.
John and Paul and the family have an extraordinary international network. They also command a very significant place in the UK farming community. The result is the vibrant and progressive annual Groundswell event at Weston..
I was very interested in the sessions that were designed to look at the scientific and political economy contexts in which the adoption, or not, of CA takes place. CA is a disruptive approach to arable food production. It disrupts the majority of the farming community who plough and use a lot of chemicals. It also contradicts the policies which public policy has embraced for decades. It especially disrupts the corporates who want to sell big ploughs, big tractors and tonnes of chemicals, pesticides and herbicides. The science community does not help because science aligns with those who provide the research funds - namely the corporates and the research councils. There are no big corporate players in CA and there are no university courses and little interest in CA in the universities.
The farmer led movement at Groundswell is very important indeed.
Best Tony (Allan)

SJ

Steven Jacobs Sun 1 Jul 2018

Thanks for that update @rosybenson
I agree, the event at @johncherry’s last week was brilliant. It is so good to see so many farmers looking closely at how they can farm better, and to consider soil health and not only going for yield.

The reduced cost of using less inputs is a motivator but the context includes the falling price of food over the last few decades which leads to and stems from food being treated as a commodity to be traded like any other. Like books and mobile telephones, like cars and clothes. It does mean some food items are cheaper. But the impact on farm businesses has been as dramatic as the impact on our soils.
The farm business survey conducted annually shows the trend over the years has been to bigger farms and less farmers. Efficiency is the watchword and the language is all about ‘driving down costs’. Very little discussion on quality other than food safety.

And it’s in the context of all this that we’ve started putting the UK Grain Lab concept together. More detail on this as time goes on but essentially this is a collaborative project with me from OF&G and Ed Dickin of Harper Adams University and commercial partners including Small Food Bakery and Hodmedods and the farmer collective, Organic Arable.

The event on Tuesday you kindly refer to, National Organic Combinable Crops, will bring Grain Lab partners together with others in the low-input regenerative farming and food community To literally break bread together, from the fields of the host farm.

What makes great flavour and nutritious bread and where do the raw ingredients come from and how were they produced?

TA

Tony Allan Mon 2 Jul 2018

Dear Steven
Very many thanks for your comments. Your point about food prices is important. Food prices have been falling for 200 years after centuries of rising price trend. [See attachment 2] They fell mainly as a consequence of new technologies. But they have not reflected the full costs of farmer production and stewardship services or the costs of degrading the natural resources of water, biodiversity and the atmosphere. A recent prediction of OECD [attachment 1] is that food prices will continue to fall. So things will not get easier on the farm budget front unless there is a change in public policy. OECD economists, and economists in general, predicted a new normal of higher and volatile food prices in their comments in the 2011-2015 period when there was a commodities price spike. But they seem to have accepted the evidence that constant international food prices have - since 2014 - resumed their long term trend of falling by 1% per year.

Best Tony (Allan)

JC

John Cherry Tue 3 Jul 2018

Thanks for all these messages and suggestions and I'm sorry @rosybenson for describing you all as enthusiastic Londoners which could easily be seen as a term of abuse.

I am very embarrassed by condition of the field, but in this dry spell, there is nothing we can do to improve things. We've got some more seed standing by to reseed the covers as soon as there is any rain to allow it to chit, but it's best off in the shed at the moment. We could feed hay on the field, but all our hay is full of grass seeds so we might be creating a bit of a weed problem for next years crop. I'd rather wait and see what happens, weather wise. We can look at the pitiful covers as an old fashioned fallow as in the old three course rotation...

But @abbyrose is right, we want to decide as soon as possible what we want to grow next year, so that we can lay our hands on some seed and be sure to get it established at the ideal time. Many thanks to @johnanthonyallan for outlining how hopeless the farmers position is too, I'm currently in Spain relaxing and trying to work out a sensible way to fix the broken food system (which is why I'm not at NOCC @stevenjacobs ...hope it goes well); growing non-commodity crops seems the best starting point! More decisions needed...

AR

Abby Rose Wed 4 Jul 2018

Also just to say I do love @rosybensons idea of planting trees in OurField and turning it into an agroforestry operation similar to Stephen Briggs. You could still use the same machines etc, but would have rows of trees every 24m or so...would that ever be a possibility @johncherry ? Hmmm hadn't thought about grass seeds causing a weed problem. I am meeting Abi G in a few weeks to discuss what grain she has available. Another option also is to try growing the WakelynsORC population that @rosybenson @stevenjacobs and I saw yesterday at NOCC. It's not a heritage grain, but a hugely diverse polyculture of genetics of modern wheat varieties, and therefore much more resilient than a monoculture grain. It also adapts over time to your location. However the over-riding message yesterday and as @oliverrubinstein pointed out, we need to find a buyer and plant something that we have basically already sold. Would be good to chat to Hodmedods again and see what's possible there!

AR

Abby Rose Wed 4 Jul 2018

Also just thinking we should probably start a new thread to begin to discuss what to plant this Autumn so everyone can easily get involved and see the conversation!

SJ

Steven Jacobs Wed 4 Jul 2018

Thank you, @johnanthonyallan

I agree new technologies had and still have a role but from my perspective the driver for falling food prices was commercial interest. That's a large area to discuss and maybe not for here right now but the commodification of food is a problem. Its a problem for our health and our economy. When people seem happy with the high price of 'mineral' water and the low price of milk we can see that retailers use certain products to engage with our wallets.
But we can engage with our motivations though we do need to recognise that need. Seems to me that people saying some food items, such as organic, are too much money doesn't square with the amount spent elsewhere on things like gadgets and fashion, on broadband and entertainment. And food commodification is a dead-end street. Using the world's resources to supply food, half of which goes in the bin at one point or another, is wasteful. And yet it is profitable for certain businesses, and disastrous for others. And all the while farmers and food buyers, people like us, lose out.

Yes @abbyrose
I agree that @oliverrubinstein is right about the value of finding a buyer before committing to a crop. That would be a good move, certainly best to do before harvest.
But the markets available for grain are 'commodity' or ‘other'. In the ‘other' bracket we need something that gives our produce an edge, a marketable story. OurField as a project is a good start. And so are grain qualities such as flavour.
My experience is mainly to do with organic. I know that some businesses are expanding, like Hodmedods with these concepts of provenance, quality, flavour. Being organic helps find such markets. But until we have more organic land in the UK then we can look at reduced inputs and other agro-ecological factors. As @johncherry is doing.

Thanks @johncherry

The event, which was yesterday, went so well I’m really pleased though feeling a little tired this morning.
But even after 11 years of doing this I am still be blown away by the overwhelming positivity from our guests. We get over 200 folk coming, just over half are farmers, mostly organic but not all, and this year we went the extra mile with the most excellent team from the Small Food Bakery led by the wonderful Kimberley Bell doing all the catering. We had tasters in the form of little biscuits in the field alongside the trail crops. The idea was as one farmer commented, genius.

TA

Tony Allan Thu 5 Jul 2018

Dear Steve Jacobs
Your comments on postings by myself, Abby and John Cherry were very interesting indeed. My point is that we need to understand the food system and food prices. You very usefully highlight the power of the corporates to exploit the lack of vigilance of consumers. And you note that consumers, and others, waste food and the costly inputs and the costly impacts of food production. Consumers - including the members of the OurField collective - need to recognise that we must give politicians the political space to take a sustainable approach to providing sustainable, effectively priced food to properly paid people. For the past two hundred years or more the imperative has been to provide (a lot of) under priced food to (a lot of) under paid people. Best Tony (Allan)

H

Harriet Fri 20 Jul 2018

Hi all, I hope that I am writing in the correct thread. I just came across a recent report by PAN on alternatives to herbicides, focusing on alternatives to glyphosate, that I thought could be useful in the ongoing discussions: https://www.pan-europe.info/press-releases/2018/07/new-report-alternatives-glyphosate. I also attended a presentation by the head of agro-ecology europe, who said that he was at first sceptical about the possibility of no-tillage agriculture without herbicides, but they have tried it on several farms and it works.

My preference would be to try out these kind of things - also on the topic of the ethos of OurField, it is surely part of the strength of this model that we can try out new techniques that are aimed at sustainability, that a single farmer could find too risky?

OR

Oliver Rubinstein Mon 23 Jul 2018

Totally agree. I'm sure no-till without glyphosate could become a viable option, it just needs more experimentation, to work out how to best implement it in the UK. Our Field is the ideal context to try things like this out.

GH

Grahame Hunter Sun 5 Aug 2018

Yes, perhaps ourfield is the ideal context to experiment with untried solutions..however you may need to ensure that all the members agree, as we are now in our second year when the likely return is going to be low. I think it is reasonable for the members to expect a profitable year in 2019 (I am not a member, but I raise the idea..)

TA

Tony Allan Sat 21 Jul 2018

Dear Harriet
Very many thanks for drawing this VERY INFORMATIVE and interesting report. I have asked JohnC, Richard Harding (the agronomist who advises John) and AmirK to comment if they have time. Best TonyA

JC

John Cherry Sat 28 Jul 2018

Thanks @harriet13 for a very interesting report. There's lots of good ideas in there, some of which involve machinery which we don't (yet) have and which might not work on our soils. But I love the concept of finding new/old ways to deal with weeds, not least living with them in a biodiverse crop mix.
Will give this some thought.
John

AR

Abby Rose Tue 31 Jul 2018

THanks for sharing @harriet13 would love to experiment with some of these ideas on OurField!!!

RB

Rosy Benson Mon 20 Aug 2018

Thanks for putting this report up Harriet. Lots of food for thought. I sent it to a farmer friend to ask his thoughts as he does allot of regenerative farming practices and is transitioning to low input methods. Below are his comments which I think are interesting and worth sharing here:

Some things I liked or agreed with or have experience of directly on farm:

Hooked on ag-chem, treadmill

Non-target impacts

Resistance: e.g. blackgrass

Impact on human health: Certainly the idea that we are dessicating crops using glyphosate is something the industry could quite quickly move away from without too much trouble.

What is a weed? Great question, have you read “weeds: the story of outlaw plants” by Richard Mabey. So much more than plants in the wrong place.

Pretty much the whole of section 7.1 “Preventative and cultural weed management” exceptional.

Some things I’m probably more cautious about:

Impact on ecosystem functions and soil:

I think there are a lot of sound management decisions which could be positively implemented that would have great (er) impacts on soil and ecosystem function than a more negative focus on the potentially detrimental effects of glyphosate. Habitat creation in buffer strips, cover cropping, inter-cropping, use of organic fertiliser (compost etc.) all have massive benefits for earthworms, soil microorganisms, plant resilience, pollinators & other beneficial. Moreover my implementation of these measures hasn’t increased my use of glyphosate, but it has certainly been key tool in their implementation within my system. There is a danger that a ban on glyphos would actually inhibit a roll out of these priniples in my opinion.

Good physical, mechanical, biological or ecological practice should be the foundation of any farming system. The problem for many of us farmers is that it is the accumulation of sound decisions over a number of years that builds a really resilient system which is less dependent on ag-chem. Weaning ourselves off artificial inputs is a difficult and long term process. I have had to focus on high value – low volume model to speed up this process. While we are hooked on ‘cheap food’ it is difficult to re-imagine broad-acre changes to farming systems IMO.

In general what I think I object to is this obsession with glyphosate. It is problematic for several reasons. But mainly it misses the point that by positively focusing on farming systems (accumulation of sound social, mechanical and biological decisions) we can hugely benefit ecological systems, and perhaps even less use of glyphosate. I’m not sure a focus on banning glyphosate will do anything to change the system positively, we will probably just end up using something else less bad and put up even higher defences around the next active ingredient.

I didn’t start by saying: I want to farm organically. I started by saying I want to create a rewarding, regenerative system focusing on soil up. And now I am doing a host of things listed in this handbook: lucerne is shifting my weed burden away from annual (arable) species, cover crops are boosting my soil ecosystem, pollen & nectar mixes on my least fertile arable areas, herbal (‘weedy’) leys because they are drought tolerant and more nutritious for my pigs, heritage varieties that can exploit my enhanced soil ecosystem better so eventually I can use less ag-chem inputs.

I wonder if I would have bothered with these ideas if I was told to implement them as ‘alternatives to glyphosate’.

K

Keesje Tue 28 Aug 2018

Hi all, I'm finally catching up after months of silence due to issues being able to get onto Loomio. Please ignore my comments if they are untimely. Much of the conversation has been about alternatives to glyphosate but as far as I can see the option put forward and so far voted yes to by the majority to have a wheat crop with a pretreatment of glyphosate before drilling so I'm just wondering about the connection between the two? I was also wondering about wheat after spelt and a ley. Would a completely different crop not be better from a rotation point of view? Really interested and supportive of the ideas of agroforestry but realise that requires a longer term commitment than just year on year from us all and from the farm and also not sure what that would mean subsidy wise - both now and post Brexit? One of the previous comments was on the size of the field - is there any room for dividing up the field even for just one season, to plant two or even three different crops. One of these could be a wheat crop for the financial benefit. One could possibly be in discussion with Hodmedods if they are looking for specific crops as they have the means to process and market certain products? Again apologies if I am making suggestions that have already been discussed or are no longer relevant.
Keesje

WA

Wendy Alcock Wed 29 Aug 2018

Hi @keesje . You asked some good questions which have come up before but that's not a reason not to ask them again :)

I think we've all asked your question about glyphosate (if not out loud then in our heads) and if you go to the start of this thread @johncherry did a really good post about how he farms at Weston (5 months ago / Fri 13 April) which you might find useful (or maybe this link will work https://www.loomio.org/d/OPhYk7gV/farming-methods-and-the-ethos-of-ourfield-weston/9).

We considered splitting the field into different experiments last year but I think it would have ended up complicating things even more, if not for all of us then maybe just for John and all of the other fields he needs to manage. Please do say if I'm wrong on that though John.

Ideally we would get into the position where we can plan a few years crops so that the rotation and experiment side of things are covered but coordination has been hard for 40/60 people for one year, never mind several! Maybe one for our wonderful new coordination team once the current batch of tasks is out of the way.

GH

Grahame Hunter Wed 29 Aug 2018

glyphosate

@wendy @keesje @christinelewis1 @abbyrose I m wondering if there would be appetite for a thread just dedicated to the matter of glyphosate use in the no till environment; and especially to gather in one place several links and references for those like me who wish to read more..if it is banned, and if there is no viable alternative, I understand that no -till in the UK is dead in the water.

As an interested outsider looking on, I would be excited if after a profitable year, the group wished in the future to experiment with glyphosate-free no-till farming at Weston and so to try out some of the risky alternatives (risky not for health, but for the danger of severely reduced crops due to weed-swamping or clogged harvesters).
But I would also like to know more about it: much has been written in these threads, so my thought is that it may be useful for members and public viewers to find links and references in one place on this important topic.
If so, perhaps we could depute (even perhaps pay an honorarium to?) one knowledgeable person with an academic bent, to gather and present a resource list with comments.

CL

Christine Lewis Wed 29 Aug 2018

Grahame I think it would be a valuable thread - there is a lot to understand and debate

WA

Wendy Alcock Wed 29 Aug 2018

I agree. I'm about to head into a debate with my local council about its use on our streets so more info would be good.

OR

Oliver Rubinstein Thu 30 Aug 2018

Me too. For me it would be really good to go through the possible alternatives to glyphosate to better understand why no-till farming would be challenging without it.

CL

Christine Lewis Tue 28 Aug 2018

Thanks @keesje and your comments are all very relevant, especially now people are deciding how to vote. Do let us know if you have any more issues with Loomio, we know Loomio can be challenging at times. These decisions are always difficult. I voted yes because we really need to stabilise the 2017 funding which will run out before the 2019 crop provides a return on investment - we need to find a way to sell the 2017 Spelt. In 2017 we voted for Spelt because we wanted something different but didn't realise we hadn't worked out where to sell it. Hoping to eventually be able to consider a longer term view on something more interesting but need to make sure we have the finances to do so.

TA

Tony Allan Fri 31 Aug 2018

I discussion on glyphosate would be very useful. There are many angles. I have spoken with the Monsanto manager a few times and I was interested to learn from him that that Railtrack and agencies responsible for roadside management were major users of the herbicide. Tony

OR

Oliver Rubinstein Mon 3 Sep 2018

Info on the field itself

Could we start a thread with some basic information on the field itself - such as size, soil type, cropping history and recent yields? I think this would be of great help when considering future options and it would be good to have all this in one place. @johncherry any info you could provide, would be much appreciated. I'm guessing this information might be already on Loomio somewhere, but I can't find it.

TA

Tony Allan Tue 4 Sep 2018

Thank you Oliver. What you suggest is very helpful. We have a short report on a soil survey carried out in May 2017 by David Dent of UEA. It is very technical and not easily digested by the non-scientist. I asked John if we could post a reader friendly summary of the report. If he gives permission I shall get it posted on Loomio. Best Tony

JC

John Cherry Wed 5 Sep 2018

@johnanthonyallan Please post

TA

Tony Allan Wed 5 Sep 2018

Dear John
Thank you for approving that David Dent's 2017 soil survey report on OurField can be posted. I shall discuss with David with view to editing it to make the report accessible to the non-specialist and the new version will be posted next week. I shall be meeting David next Monday. Best