Loomio
Mon 27 Aug 2018

2019 Crop; the debate what to plant and when.

GH
Grahame Hunter Public Seen by 50

This thread is to discuss the types of crop which could be grown, and whether to sow an Autumn or a Spring crop. General comments about the ethos of OurField has its own active thread - this thread should be focussed on specific ideas about crops for harvesting in 2019

GH

Grahame Hunter Mon 27 Aug 2018

two stage vote

There have been many exciting suggestions for the next crop; but I would like first to focus members attention in a first-stage vote on whether they would be interested in growing a purely commercial crop, within the Conservation Agriculture system of Weston, or a more experimental crop as yet undefined (but could include heritage grains, other pulses or legumes, Spelt again etc).
John Cherry has decided to grow Crusoe wheat on the main fields at Weston under a no-till regime. This would offer the safest approach, and especially would give the 2017 members the surest chance to recoup some of the past 2 years farming losses.
This "commercial crop" option is not entirely regressive - for by strengthening the cash resources of the depleted 2017 members, it could leave the cooperative in a stronger financial position to pursue a more experimental approach later. I leave it to other members to spell out the arguments for and against.

GH

Grahame Hunter started a proposal Mon 27 Aug 2018

Lets be commercial! Closed Sun 2 Sep 2018

Outcome
by Grahame Hunter Mon 3 Sep 2018

The proposal to grow a commercial wheat crop was rejected.

This was a very successful vote because the outcome was clear; it is a strong no to following the traditional path of farming.

I was especially struck by Wahome's comment; he pointed out " A convenient choice now doesn't organically flow into an enlightened one later".

A few of the comments I quote below show the dilemma members found themselves in:-

"I am persuaded by the comments from other "agree" voters that stability and observation of field/soil/yield conditions this year would help us have freedom to be more experimental in future years."

"I joined this project to learn and support John Cherry to try something different."

"I worry that taking a commercial stance may well limit our choices and necessitate growing a crop that needs lots of spraying."

"Until we understand how to sell effectively beyond the farm gate we need to consider very carefully."

"good farming is a mix of building beauty, ecology and profitability. I joined this project to iterate on all three together..."

As a result of this vote, the organising team will very soon put up a vote on crops for the Cooperative to consider whilst not following a purely commercial regime. It many ways the result of the first round is exciting because it demonstrated that the group has appetite and commitment to do something which may not be the safe choice but could be special..

Voting Yes is to wish the Cooperative to grow a purely commercial Autumn wheat crop within the Conservation Agriculture no-till system prevailing at Weston.
Voting No is to wish to do something more adventurous or more experimental.

If the consensus is "NO, Lets NOT be commercial!" , there will be a follow up vote VERY SOON on the precise nature of a putatively more adventurous, more risky,more experimental crop.

If the consensus is "YES, Lets be commercial!", then the crop will most likely be be Crusoe wheat, direct drilled in September, into the cover crop which will likely be terminated with a light application of glyphosate; in a similar regime to what John Cherry is doing elsewhere at Weston.

Agree - 13
Abstain - 0
Disagree - 20
Block - 0
33 people have voted (55%)
TA

Tony Allan
Agree
Mon 27 Aug 2018

CL

Christine Lewis
Agree
Tue 28 Aug 2018

Voting yes to go commercial because we haven't yet sold the Spelt and really need some stability

HW

Helen Wright
Disagree
Tue 28 Aug 2018

KS

Karl Schneider
Agree
Tue 28 Aug 2018

OR

Oliver Rubinstein
Agree
Tue 28 Aug 2018

Although I would be keen to explore the potential to develop a unique #OurField product, the practical realities of this are challenging (and costly) so it seems like a good idea to go with a more conventional crop, to make sure we have some money in the bank to continue growing in 2019. We can hopefully get involved in John's crop management decisions for the wheat, so it will still be a fascinating insight and a chance for collective engagement.

K

Keesje
Disagree
Tue 28 Aug 2018

I'd like to do something different.

DK

Daniel Kindred
Agree
Tue 28 Aug 2018

W

wahome
Disagree
Tue 28 Aug 2018

KF

Kirsten Foster
Agree
Tue 28 Aug 2018

A

Anna Öhrling
Agree
Wed 29 Aug 2018

I'm voting Agree for two reasons. First it would be great to understand whether the cover crop has increased soil fertility by growing a wheat crop. Second it would be good to have commercial stability this year to allow more experimentation in the years to come.

WA

Wendy Alcock
Agree
Wed 29 Aug 2018

Tough choice. I really would like to try a heritage crop but realise this is probably not the best year for it.

KD

Kath Dalmeny
Agree
Wed 29 Aug 2018

I am persuaded by the comments from other "agree" voters that stability and observation of field/soil/yield conditions this year would help us have freedom to be more experimental in future years.

RB

Rosy Benson
Disagree
Wed 29 Aug 2018

NR

Niki Reynolds
Disagree
Wed 29 Aug 2018

W

wahome
Disagree
Thu 30 Aug 2018

[Note from clause 5 of founding team's "manifesto of being and working together"] Greater vision - we reject traditional ideas of success and endeavour to remind ourselves of the greater good and vision of a just, sustainable and ecological future that fuels our work together

W

wahome
Disagree
Thu 30 Aug 2018

[Note from clause 5 of founding team's "manifesto of being and working together"] Greater vision - we reject traditional ideas of success and endeavour to remind ourselves of the greater good and vision of a just, sustainable and ecological future that fuels our work together [end note] Key action words for me: "work together". Otherwise, the ideal is unattainable, which would then call into question the reason for being.

W

wahome
Disagree
Thu 30 Aug 2018

[Note from clause 5 of founding team's "manifesto of being and working together"] Greater vision - we reject traditional ideas of success and endeavour to remind ourselves of the greater good and vision of a just, sustainable and ecological future that fuels our work together [end note] Key action words for me: "work together". Otherwise, the ideal is unattainable, which would call into question the reason for being. A convenient choice now doesn't organically flow into an enlightened one later.

SJ

Steven Jacobs
Agree
Thu 30 Aug 2018

I’d like us to have the freedom to experiment further and to support our host farmer and his farming system. This will, hopefully, give us some financial security where currently we are running on empty.
& we’d gain a greater group knowledge of agronomy to then discuss and implement development projects as part of OurField over time.
Cheers,
Steven

OH

Olly H-S
Agree
Fri 31 Aug 2018

NH

Nicola Hughes
Disagree
Fri 31 Aug 2018

AW

Andy Walker
Disagree
Fri 31 Aug 2018

CG

Cat Gregory
Agree
Fri 31 Aug 2018

I do want to be more experimental and adventurous but I think it's important to recognise the lessons learnt by the 2017 investors and also accept that we're on a journey and it's a process that cannot happen overnight. We need to think long-term so with that in mind I am willing to agree to go on a more commercial route this year in order to move into more adventurous territory in the future...

TF

Tamsyn Forsyth
Disagree
Sat 1 Sep 2018

I am voting to not be commercial as I entered this with the understanding that, as a collective, we were removing an element of risk for John in order to enable more experimental decisions to be made.

CB

Claudia Burlotti
Disagree
Sat 1 Sep 2018

Hello! I feel a bit uncertain expressing my opinion here because I don’t have enough knowledge in farming but here it is:
If I was a proper farmer I would probably go for the crusoe wheat and for a much secure income. I have strong feelings towards heritage grains though because that’s what the world needs the most and if we can experiment with it and also fail and learn also that would be useful bunch of informations for us and others.

CL

Christine Lewis
Disagree
Sat 1 Sep 2018

I find I have changed my mind today after reading people's views and thinking about why I wanted a safer option (because we haven't sold the Spelt). I realise as a 2017 member I will need to cover more costs but can't dismiss why I joined in 2017 and why 2018 members have joined us.

H

Harriet
Disagree
Sat 1 Sep 2018

I am happy to grow a commercial crop, but would like to test some of the herbicide-free no till methods for removing the cover crop, as demonstrated by agro-ecology europe on their farms

LB

Lucy Bradley
Disagree
Sat 1 Sep 2018

SD

Shyam Desai
Disagree
Sun 2 Sep 2018

HG

Harry Greenfield
Agree
Sun 2 Sep 2018

SF

Sinead Fenton
Disagree
Sun 2 Sep 2018

SF

Sinead Fenton
Disagree
Sun 2 Sep 2018

I agree with Harriet. I'm happy to grow something commercial so we have the funds to experiment and be more adventurous next year - this will give us more time to really research and plan perhaps with a look beyong 2019 too, instead of being what can feel quite reactional and not giving good thought into what "experimental and adventurous" looks like.
Where I currently disagree is the role of herbicides and whether we can explore an option free of this?

NG

Nikita Gulhane
Agree
Sun 2 Sep 2018

AR

Abby Rose
Disagree
Sun 2 Sep 2018

already commented below!

CA

Catherine Arend
Disagree
Sun 2 Sep 2018

TT

Tessa Tricks
Disagree
Sun 2 Sep 2018

SC

Shena Cooper
Disagree
Sun 2 Sep 2018

I can not agree with using glyphosate.

B

Ben
Disagree
Sun 2 Sep 2018

D

Darren
Disagree
Sun 2 Sep 2018

I joined OurField for the adventure and like the idea of doing more experimental farming. I think we do have to be mindful of our financial situation but feel as we have a significant majority willing to take this route we can work out a way to keep the project financed.

TA

Tony Allan Mon 27 Aug 2018

Dear Grahame
There is another reason for growing a wheat crop the same as, or similar to, a wheat that has been grown before on OurField. We would get some indication of whether soil fertility has been enhanced by the cover cropping and other management of the past 12 months. Best Tony

CL

Christine Lewis Tue 28 Aug 2018

While it is really tempting to want to go down the route of more adventurous, risky, adventurous - the 2017 Spelt crop has taught me how much I do not know about the decisions needed for success. I think we need some financial stability for the 2017 members in order to be able to consider a longer term plan. So I think a safer crop while we learn more is very sensible. I am also keen to learn more about the benefits of using the Conservation Agriculture system on Weston.

RB

Rosy Benson Wed 29 Aug 2018

I joined this project to learn and support John Cherry to try something different. From what I’ve heard the modern varieties are the limitation; they are short, uncompetitive and have inadequate rooting, moreover they are genetically susceptible to disease above and below ground. So in response to the member of the group who is worried about jumping on the ‘next food trend’: If ‘heritage grains’ and Population wheats become a trend, welcome aboard.  Because they fit a regenerative farming system perfectly.  They are relics of a time when products from a can or bag weren’t available.  And if you we find ones that suit OurField, they can be more competitive against weeds, physically & genetically resilient to pathogens, and have a far higher capacity for associations with soil biology & nutrient scavenging ability.  So if we want to see what we have lost with modern wheats I’d suggest planting a population wheat alongside a modern wheat, give them the same treatment, and see what happens. I also put forward that we need to plan longer term for improving the soils health; sort a rotation, use compost, grow cover crops, obsess about organic matter and basically listen to the science, doing things when you should and not when you shouldn’t, being patient, being flexible, look at crop nutrition & immune systems, biostimulants, rooting etc. etc. etc. This doesn’t have to be more complicated an option, we can get hold of the seed we just need the momentum from the group.

GH

Grahame Hunter Wed 29 Aug 2018

I completely agree with you, Rosy: I was the foolish one who spoke imprudently of heritage grains as 'the next food trend' and I regret doing so. You will be happy to learn I am not a member of the OurField group.

OR

Oliver Rubinstein Thu 30 Aug 2018

If the growth in artisan bakeries across the UK is anything to go by, heritage wheat and an increased interest in moving away from high-input varieties are hopefully part of a longer-term trend.

GH

Grahame Hunter Wed 29 Aug 2018

what does "commercial" mean?

John thinks that if there was available seed for a heritage wheat population that he thought was suitable for Weston, and that he was sure could be sold into the usual commercial wheat market, then this could be an option still within the "Yes, Lets be Commercial" choice.

D

Darren Fri 31 Aug 2018

I feel a bit conflicted about the upcoming decision. I understand that money is running out for 2017 members and we need to replenish reserves, and we still have yet to get any clarity as to when or where the remainder of last years spelt will be sold.

I however worry that taking a commercial stance may well limit our choices and necessitate growing a crop that needs lots of spraying. I particularly worry about fungicides, which a commercial winter wheat crop may well need a lot of. I can imagine that the soil fungi population is likely to have suffered severely over the years through many commercial wheat plantings, and their associated fungicide applications, as well as from the regular tillage in years before Westons moved to no-till. I think it would be a pity to damage, what may be, a reestablishing fungi population - something thats vital to healthy soils but commonly very depleted in arable fields.

GH

Grahame Hunter Sat 1 Sep 2018

I think this is a really important point Darren; and I will track John down and hope he has time to answer your and Tony Allens' questions, before the vote deadline tomorrow night. Perhaps, yes, the word commercial is too loaded.@johnanthonyallan

TA

Tony Allan Sat 1 Sep 2018

It is unfortunate that the invitation to vote went out with head-line Let's Go Commercial.

One of the stupidest things I ever did was to vote to sow spelt in 2017. The outcome has taught us nothing except that producing it has left us with MANY still unresolved problems problems. Until we understand how to sell effectively beyond the farm gate we need to consider very carefully.
As WE DO NOY HAVE MARKETING CAPACITY we need to know what John Cherry can sell. He did grow a heritage wheat and some spelt this past season. But he has not shared how selling these grains has gone.
I am strongly with Darren that regaining soil health should be our main priority. The past twelve months devoted to cover cropping proves our commitment to improving soil health. Unfortunately we could not gain any notional income from mob grazing because it was not possible to manage the installation or operation of the equipment.
Improving soil health is a complex topic. Soil microbiology science is moving fast. There are affordable monitoring systems that have transformed what is is possible to know about soil fauna, soil micro systems and especially soil fungi and soil bacteria.
I have supported a pro bono soil survey of OurField which showed that there is much more to do to improve significantly the soil health of OurField.
Darren's point about a winter sown modern wheat being a risk to the improvement of soil health is important. I would like to hear from John Cherry and Richard (agronomist adviser to Weston Farm) which grain crop and cover crop rotation would produce a soil improving and MARKETABLE
outcome. In theory leaving the cover crop in place and planting a crop in the spring could be a logical approach.
The problem we are facing in making a decision reflects the fact that we have not been able to put in place a multi
-season rotation strategy informed by the potentail of mob-grazing. We are also facing the problem of not having a research capacity.
SOIL HEALTH AND WHY WE NEED TO PROMOTE IT.

I very strongly recommend that you look at the video on The Soil Carbon Sponge by Walter Jehne - an Australian soil microbiologist who also understand the atmospher and climate change. It is a long video - 2 hours - but it is life transforming. John Cherry somehow found the time to view it and is very impressed indeed. Hit https:youtube

GH

Grahame Hunter Sat 1 Sep 2018

Here is that video: If short of time, I strongly suggest you skip to minute 15 into the video, to avoid 15 minutes of pre-amble and mic testing.. Walter Jehne

TA

Tony Allan Sat 1 Sep 2018

Apologies - the message I just sent locked up as I was finalising it and I had not proof read it and there are some typos. I intended to show Richard Harding's full name.

TA

Tony Allan Sat 1 Sep 2018

Thanks Grahame. If you can reach John it would be much appreciated. Tony

JC

John Cherry Sun 2 Sep 2018

I have ordered 4 tonnes of Wakelyn's Population wheat (subject to it passing the seed borne disease tests) for us to plant on the farm. I've also got half a tonne of einkorn to plant for AbiAspen who reckons she'll have a big market for the grain. We have a big pile of spelt also, which I'm hopeful we'll get a decent price for one day.
I say all this because the line between commercial and heritage is hazy, not fixed, it's hard to pin down. We're experimenting with population wheats because we think we'' be able to grow good grains cheaper than Crusoe and so make more money. Obviously the fact that we'll be using less pesticide (herbi- and fungi-) appeals from the soil health point of view as well.
On that, to answer @darren4 's point about the effect of fungicides on mycorrhizal fungi (AMF), it seems that most fungicides have limited effects on underground fungi. either because they are specifically designed to hit mildew or whatever on the leaf or because they are physically unable to get to the mycorrhizae. Some however do, we try to avoid these. There is some debate about the effect of glyphosate on these precious subterranean workers...we had an expert from Hertfordshire University round last week who wants to sample some fields for Glomus (a species of AMF), he looked startled when I asked him what effect glyphosate might have on them. He thought none, beyond the fact that we were taking living roots from the rhizosphere and thus they'd have nothing to pinch sugar from. The worst enemy of AMF is cultivated soil, which physically breaks the mycelia and dries them out.

Sorry, all a long way of saying being commercial can mean growing a heritage or population wheat. If you want to go down the population route, we should have some seed available on farm. This is as saleable as Crusoe and hopefully won't just go into the industrial food system! The problem with the spelt at the moment remains the dehulling, it appears that there aren't that many people who can do this. If it were dehulled we'd have no trouble selling it.

AR

Abby Rose Sun 2 Sep 2018

OK I am feeling very confused about what is commercial and what is not! And I do feel this vote if too black and white which is coming through in the comments.
If being commercial means we can still grow a heritage or population wheat, with the possibility of it growing without adding nitrogen and fungicides then I'm in!! I truly believe there will be potential to sell heritage grain and interesting that @johncherry even thinks that the modern population may well be more commercial to sell into the general grain market due to reduced inputs. From what I have learnt so far good farming is a mix of building beauty, ecology and profitability. I joined this project to iterate on all three together...so whilst I don't want to be driven purely by commercial gain, I definitely think this should be important to us. @grahamehunter I am going to vote non-commercial on the basis that I don't think our decision should be driven purely by commerical needs but I do also think that one of the learnings from last year was that we need to secure a market to sell into...and I think heritage grains has a huge potential to work in this way! I am reaching out to different places in London - new pizza places and cafes selling heritage grain products seem to open every week!

TA

Tony Allan Tue 4 Sep 2018

Thank you Abby for your comments. You capture the position very well indeed. I am finding the voting process awkward. It seems to bring outcomes for which we are unprepared in terms of farming practice and marketing. It is NOT an approach which I would adopt if the outcome of voting was to impact my personal health . Tony

D

Darren Tue 4 Sep 2018

Now we have voted for an experimental approach, the organising team are working on options to be put to a vote.

Wondering if anyone has any interesting ideas for something that we could plant soon?

I'm thinking - unusual crops, or stuff we could grown together, or any other interesting ideas?

SC

Shena Cooper Tue 4 Sep 2018

Hi Darren, I have sort of lost touch with what the cover crop wad and how well it had grown....perhaps we should introduce animals to the field to eat the cover crop and then think about planting some fruit trees and bushes for next year leaving a good sized middle area for a winter crop....or try planting now for an early spring crop...

D

Darren Tue 4 Sep 2018

Hello Shena,

Grahame has suggested that the idea of growing trees isnt really within the scope of OurField. It would be very expensive to pay for the plants and planting, also require a fair bit of work to arrange. We would also have to wait a few years before we'd see any crops. If we grew any fruit theres the problem of who will do the picking, handling and plant care. Currently that would all appear well beyond our capacity to organise.

Weston farm has all the workers, equipment, facilities and expertise to grow, crop, handle and store - grain, oil seed and pulses

There are also cows on the farm, but presently OurField isnt set up for grazing. We'd need fencing and a water supply - which would take some funds. I'm not sure how suitable what we have in the field is for them to eat, I guess it probably would not bring us in much money. However it may be worth doing for a fertility gain, if @johncherry thinks they would like to eat it all and is able to arrange their visit. I've attached, what I think is the latest photo available of the field which was taken 18th July. I think because of the very dry weather there will not of been much growth since , and it may all be looking a bit more brown.

SC

Shena Cooper Wed 5 Sep 2018

Thanks Darren and John for that update....I am beginning to understand a bit more about the possibilities. I really want The Field to be environmentally positive and sustainable. I hope to meet you both on 30th.

JC

John Cherry Wed 5 Sep 2018

Thanks Darren. The cover has grown a bit since then, the odd maize and sunflower plant is sticking up. We are trying to get a fence up around the field, in between other jobs, and we're hoping to graze the cover down to make a bit of fertility and to make it easier to establish the next crop, whatever that might be...

TA

Tony Allan Thu 6 Sep 2018

Many thanks John for letting us know that you are fencing the field with a view to grazing the cover crop.
Is there any chance that you could let us know what experience you have gained from growing and marketing spelt and heritage grain in 2017-2018? Best Tony

RB

Rosy Benson Sat 8 Sep 2018

Great news the cover crop is to be grazed.

I’ve been working hard to sort out the possibility (if we vote for it) of planting Millers Choice (MC). A heritage winter wheat population developed by Andy Forbes of Brockwell Bake. He’s given me the price of £500-600 a tonne. And suggested we’d need about 1.4-1.8 tonnes for 28 acres. Planting time is early October so if we were to go with this option we’d need to get on soon. A long description of its development I can send to anyone but in short, these long straw wheats were selected by Andy for milling qualities from a broader heritage winter wheat collection on the basis of ear morphology, favouring the long and lax ear type of the traditional English milling wheat "Red Lammas" landrace as opposed to square cross section compact type ears. This meant a selection of around 2 to 3% of the original population of John Letts, eliminating any Squarehead accessions. To this was then added around 20% Spanish origin heritage wheat for some drought proofing. It has taken 8 years to develop to the point where its of baking and milling quantity. There’s plenty of information on it on the Brockwell Bake website too.

I have used it at e5, we milled 8-9 tonnes of it recently and it was blended with other flours into our “Hackney Wild” which is our freshly stoneground “whitish” heritage sourdough loaf and it made a very good bread.

Obviously there are other factors we must decide on if we go down this route. The treatment of the field pre planting and any decisions throughout its growing period which may affect its marketability to a bakery with a mill such as e5. 28 acres is potentially allot of grain. Ben at e5 has expressed an interest in taking the grain, but it would be under certain conditions; quality at harvest, methods of farming being the two most important factors if it were to be made into bread. I assume if it doesn’t reach milling spec it usually goes into the market for animal feed? (or some other use i.e. in a distillery). Ben is already in the process of getting a delegation so a local organic farmer in Suffolk could grow Millers Choice, so the OurField site would be aswell as. They are using min till, are certified organic, and operate in a holistic way. I have a meeting set with him on Thursday to find out more.

GH

Grahame Hunter Sun 16 Sep 2018

John Cherry and Andy Forbes are now in touch, and John will buy-in whatever seed is available from him. Thanks for your work on this Rosy.

CG

Cat Gregory Sun 16 Sep 2018

This may be a bit premature as we haven't yet agreed on the next step and whether we're planting an Autumn crop, but is there potential to create a heritage/population and spelt mix flour? The Hackney Wild is a blend so I was just wondering if an Our Field blend could be something more marketable? I guess we'd need to do some baking tests once we harvest the next crop (if there is one).
I know there are other options being explored to sell last year's spelt so if those are successful then we wouldn't need to explore this. And maybe a blend doesn't make sense for various reasons I probably haven't considered!

K

Keesje Sat 8 Sep 2018

Hi all, just thinking about next year as I wonder if once this crop is in we need to think about it so we can have the long chat. Obviously a final decision will depend on what happens this year but with questions like markets and how to process the grain already raised as issues this year it may be mindful to think about those for next year to. So the reason I am saying all this is after reading in the latest Wwoofing newsletter that the Gaia foundation is interested in talking to farmers who may be thinking about growing heritage grains. I have no contacts in the foundation but am happy to find out more if it's of interest to everyone else?

GH

Grahame Hunter Sun 16 Sep 2018

I imagine it would be of interest. Can you contact them, as it looks too as if there is a possibility of a heritage grain population being planted? If you could get information before the 30th September meeting that could be helpful, too.

GH

Grahame Hunter started a proposal Thu 13 Sep 2018

We support a heritage wheat or population wheat crop to be grown in the conservation agriculture system used at Weston Closed Sun 23 Sep 2018

Outcome
by Grahame Hunter Mon 24 Sep 2018

19 of 64 members agreed that John Cherry should plant a heritage wheat or population wheat crop on the OurField 15.64 Hectare field.

There were no dissents. On this basis a wheat crop will be sown on the land during October.

The final choice between which of two populations to plant will be taken by those attending the 30th September meeting, which will also be a useful time to discuss the many implications around population crops, glyphosate, soil fertility and grazing between crops.

As well as all the invited members of the co-operative, the agronomist Richard Harding will be there, I will be there, and John Cherry will be there. We hope Andy Forbes who has provided some of the heritage wheat seed can make it too.

You are of course welcome to bring guests especially any friends with specialised and useful knowledge about seeds, baking, distilling or other matters.

There have been many diverse suggestions but after careful discussion it has become apparent that few are viable for this year, although would not be excluded for future years. For ancient grains such as Emmer or Einkorn, we have run out of time to source seed this year, and there are unresolved doubts about the market and whether these need to be hulled.

The choice proposed by voting “YES”, is one which John Cherry believes is likely to lead to good results within the methodology of farming at Weston. The steps will be to..

  • Fence and put water into the field, then graze cattle in a mob rotation to eat as much as possible of the cover crop

  • Spread a pile of manure which John has at Weston, to further add to the fertility of the field

  • Use the least amount of glyphosate which John and Richard Harding believe is necessary to terminate the remaining crop

  • Sow into the residual stubble, without ploughing,
    EITHER
    A Wakelins population wheat described here
    OR
    A heritage wheat population from Andy Forbes (see report from Rosy Benson in this thread).

In order to understand the implications of this, there is some anecdotal evidence that the heritage wheat population could yield around 1/3 the crop of a modern variety, but with far fewer input costs and might obtain up to double the price; so resulting in a similar financial result to a commercial modern wheat..

To avoid running out of time, John and I agreed the expenditure of cooperative funds in order for Weston to purchase 1.5 tonnes of the Heritage Wheat population seed from Andy Forbes: and John Cherry has already purchased Wakelins Population seed so both are possibilities.

John would use what we do not need for OurField on other fields at Weston, and the various costs adjusted correctly by me according to the seed OurField actually uses.

If the eventual result of this poll is “NO” to a grain crop, then John Cherry will take up all the seed purchased, for no cost to the OrField members.

To vote “NO” to the proposal means the field will be left fallow with a cover crop for Autumn, which could include a crop of beans; and the discussions continued for a Spring crop or Autumn crop in 2019.

If the vote is "YES", then I propose that the final decision which of the two populations to plant can be taken at the 30th September meeting by a show of hands of those who attend, after listening to the discussions .

Richard Harding (the agronomist) and John Cherry will be at the 30 September meeting; we hope too Andy Forbes could attend, and that a lively discussion can be held to understand the implication of this choice.

It is hoped that attending the 30th September meeting will therefore help members understand and vote in an informed way on cascading decisions from a “Yes” result, including issues that effect input costs, glyphosate use, risks of lodging from tall wheat, what a "legal" seed is, etc.

I apologise that there is not a broader range of choices, but really we ran out of time to research and understand what these could mean. The idea to plant Spelt again has been discarded as John is still holding his entire 2017 Spelt harvest unsold, (50+ tonnes) with all the the OurField Spelt also unsold.

Agree - 17
Abstain - 0
Disagree - 0
Block - 0
17 people have voted (28%)
SC

Shena Cooper
Agree
Thu 13 Sep 2018

AW

Andy Walker
Agree
Thu 13 Sep 2018

SJ

Steven Jacobs
Agree
Thu 13 Sep 2018

Field fertility & end market needs forethought. Heritage wants low fertility or can lodge, fall over. Wakelyns is mix of moderns. & who will buy the grain?
http://brockwell-bake.org.uk/
http://www.organicresearchcentre.com/?i=articles.php&art_id=783

CL

Christine Lewis
Agree
Thu 13 Sep 2018

KS

Karl Schneider
Agree
Thu 13 Sep 2018

TF

Tamsyn Forsyth
Agree
Fri 14 Sep 2018

OR

Oliver Rubinstein
Agree
Fri 14 Sep 2018

For the simple reason that I'm keen to get a crop into the ground as soon as possible

A

Anna Öhrling
Agree
Sat 15 Sep 2018

CG

Cat Gregory
Agree
Sun 16 Sep 2018

TA

Tony Allan
Agree
Sun 16 Sep 2018

AR

Abby Rose
Agree
Sun 16 Sep 2018

D

Darren
Agree
Sun 16 Sep 2018

K

Keesje
Agree
Mon 17 Sep 2018

Glad to hear of the inclusion of mob grazing - from what I have heard (and we are trying it ourselves) it's very beneficial to the soil.

AL

Annie Landless
Agree
Mon 17 Sep 2018

NR

Niki Reynolds
Agree
Tue 18 Sep 2018

RB

Rosy Benson
Agree
Sun 23 Sep 2018

LB

Lucy Bradley
Agree
Sun 23 Sep 2018

If possible to discuss about trying non chemical alternatives to terminate so we can sell to places like e5 that are looking for organic, maybe our market options will be broader?

RB

Rosy Benson Sat 15 Sep 2018

Hi Cliff here’s some so you can read about Wakelyns; here’s an interview with Kim the Baker of Small Food Bakery describing her experience of using YQ grown in an organic system. http://www.organicresearchcentre.com/?i=articles.php&art_id=973&go=Information%20and%20publications
and a description of what YQ is http://www.organicresearchcentre.com/?i=articles.php&art_id=783&go=Information%20and%20publications

TA

Tony Allan Sun 16 Sep 2018

Dear Rosy
Thank you warmly for your comment and especially for the information in the two urls. EVERYONE MUST READ THE FIRST URL --------
http://www.organicresearchcentre.com/?i=articles.php&art_id=973&go=Information%20and%20publications -------------
The information in this Q&A is very important. It draws attention to THE FOOD SYSTEM. We as consumers are part of the modern/commercial food system except where we have opted for organic food and access locally produced food.
Weston Farm has for the past four of more year been involved in a major commercial and agronomic experiment in the adoption of the CONSERVATION AGRICULTURE approach which involves no till and significantly reduced fertiliser and herbicides.
WE LEARNED FROM WHAT I RECOGNISE AS THE STUPID DECISION TO SOW SPELT IN 2017 - IN WHICH I WAS COMPLICIT - THAT WE NEED TO UNDERSTAND THE SUPPLY CHAIN EVEN MORE THAN THE PRODUCTION OF THE CROP. The url and the associated video make this point very effectively. In my view it is irresponsible to recommend that we grow a crop or devise a rotation without finding out how the approach fits in with the realities of the supply chain. The international food supply chain has EVOLVED TO PRODUCE UNDER PRICED FOOD FOR UNDER PAID PEOPLE. In this system farmers are forced into a weak position because farm gate prices do not reflect the full cost of production or the impacts on the ecosystems of water, atmosphere and biodiversity. If we want to exert useful pressure we need to understand teh food system!!!! Tony (Allan)

TA

Tony Allan Mon 17 Sep 2018

Thank you Grahame for facilitating the vote and for letting us know the result. Further discussion will be needed,

The meeting at the farm could provide an occasion for such discussion. However, at this stage the attendance is not substantial. - currently 13 members plus John, Grahame and Richard from the farm.
IF YOU INTEND TO BE AT THE FARM ON 30th SEPTEMBER PLEASE LET ME ta1@soas.ac.uk and CHRISTINE christine._ lewis@hotmail.com KNOW.
Also could you please look at the DRAFT AGENDA. If you have other topics please let me know. Best Tony (Allan)

OR

Oliver Rubinstein Tue 18 Sep 2018

Cliff I used to work at the Organic Research Centre and am more than happy to answer any questions about the Wakelyns wheat population at the meeting on the 30th.

RB

Rosy Benson Sun 23 Sep 2018

To get back to you all about the meeting I had with Ben (owner of e5, and my boss) about the possibility of buying any of our future Millers Choice or YQ harvest from OurField. We buy cleaned grain direct from farmers to then stonemill fresh on site, our storage capacity isn’t huge but we take the grain in tonne bags and have the equipment to load the silo in the mill arch. He is really keen to support the OurField project but importantly, and this is something that I agree with, he wouldn’t take any grain that has been grown with the aid of glyphosate (even if it was only to help terminate the cover crop). I know this doesn’t fit into the proposal laid out in the vote description but wonder whether we could vote on that or discuss this further? I also echo what Steven mentioned about the risk of the taller Heritage Wheats lodging if the soil is too fertile so perhaps not mucking the field, maybe this isn't a risk we still haven't heard from Tony on the soil tests? thats just my thoughts. I know quite a few of us members would like to eat the crop but would have reservations if it were to be grown in the manner described in the vote description. Ben already has a few options of other farmers growing Millers Choice and YQ in a min-till Organic system but is keen to support the OurField project. He has provisionally said he could take a few tonnes (not the entire harvest) but not using any Fungicides/herbicides or pesticides would be a requirement of any future sale to e5. And therefore I suppose any future marketing of the OurField grain through e5. I hope that makes sense. To lead on from that I have some questions for John Cherry, does Weston Farms have a Seed cleaning setup so we could avoid costly haulage to another site, possible Storage and any ideas of how we could experiment with not using any Ag-Chem at all in a no-till system?

SC

Shena Cooper Mon 24 Sep 2018

I agree with you.

TA

Tony Allan Mon 24 Sep 2018

Dear Rosy
Very many thanks for your very helpful message. This response is brief because people are busy.
1 As our 2017 crop was grown after terminating the cover crop with glyphosate. it cannot be a source for E5.
2 Weeds have been a problem for farmers for thousands of years. Weeds remain an elemental problem. The reason UK CA farmers make a pre-seeding glyphosate application is that in UK conditions, which are often moist, grain crops can be out-competed by weeds. In drier zones, such as those of southern Europe, the weeds can be dislodged by a low till system. The weeds die exposed to the sunshine. In the UK the conditions usually allow the weeds to re-establish.
3 UK CA farmers rage at the chemical farmers who apply glyphosate a number of times a season. Even just before harvest. This detail does not get into the debate which tends to be in terms of abolish v. unlimited use; rather than abolish v. minimal responsible use. Farmers have to juggle a dozen such shifting, often high risk,compromises. Insisting on black and white standards is for the frugal and the privileged and very complicated in our highly politicised food system where under priced food has to available for the under paid. The under paid depend on it. The debate is nevertheless immensely important.
4 On soil quality. I am hesitating about circulating the soil survey data as it is not drafted for the lay person. My interpretation is that the soil of OurField is not highly fertile. It will produce similar yields to other Weston Farm fields. The soil quality is improving but only in the top 10 cm.
5 The above is not authoritative agronomy or soil science.
6 It would be very good if John has time to respond to your questions on seed cleaning, glyphosate use, tillage and weeds. Your message will wonderfully focus the debate next Sunday. WE WOULD VERY MUCH LIKE TO HEAR IF ANYONE ELSE WILL BE COMING TO THE FARM NEXT SUNDAY. Thank you Rosy. Best Tony (Allan).

GH

Grahame Hunter Mon 1 Oct 2018

2018 Autumn sowing

At the meeting yesterday there were some missed messages about Glyphosate use. In particular I think we too need to be aware of Rosie's comment which may be a limiting factor.. She has written (referring to Ben at E5 who has visited Weston
He is really keen to support the OurField project but importantly, and this is something that I agree with, he wouldn’t take any grain that has been grown with the aid of glyphosate (even if it was only to help terminate the cover crop).

Nevertheless, and it may have been lost in history but OurField is linked to the farming system which is being developed at Weston; this is about building soil fertility and weed resistance through conservation agriculture - the main tenets of which are

  • planned and intelligent rotations
  • no tillage and minimum soil disturbance
  • contined cover using cash crops, cover crops etc
  • livestock grazing between crops when possible

Within this system in the early years glyphosate is the preferred method to terminate cover crops. John believes this is less damaging for the soil biology and more environmentally friendly than heavy and repeated cultivation which is the standard method of organic farmers to control weeds.
Furthermore, Richard Harding gave a clear opinion yesterday, which John has endorsed, that on the particular field we looked at we would probably get no crop or a crop so dirty with weeds it would be almost valueless if the weeds and thistles are not terminated shortly after the expensive seed is planted.

RB

Rosy Benson Thu 4 Oct 2018

Ok I’m rewriting this after a week of night baking etc so bear with me!

I’m going to be terribly annoying here and just lay down my thoughts since Sunday’s farm visit. 

I feel very uneasy about the rushed voting out on the field. I do not want to waste this precious and expensive seed that Andy Forbes and Martin Wolfe (the Wakelyns YQ) have developed by planting it at the wrong time for this field and alongside farming decisions I’m not fully on board with. After seeing the field and having time to think about its implications I’m sorry to change my mind but I would not vote to plant a winter sown cereal on it this year, and as the sowing and spraying hasn’t actually happened yet I feel I should say it now before its too late! My vote would be, following discussion with the Agronomist Richard, that we put the OurField site in some kind of cover for a couple of years. Those thistles indicate poor soil and now I know that its only been no-till for 8 years and probably other reasons I don’t think the best farming decision would be to grow cereals now. Unfortunately we effectively voted to NOT have a buyer for at least some of the crop and a potential marketing plan that I’d lined up, therefore with this and now knowing more about the weed situation it impacts on what we do on the land. 

Thank you John Cherry for patiently explaining everything that you do at Weston I completely get that using a small application of glyphosate is necessary to economically grow no-till in this country at the moment and without allot of research and development of other methods (as hinted to by John Cherry and the Agronomist) that’s what will happen elsewhere at Weston. Yes its a million times better that heavy applications of glyphosate or regular deep ploughing, if more farms convert from heavy Ag-Chem use great but I was hoping we could seriously discuss alternatives to spraying on this collectively decided on field when I invested. Research shows Glyphosate and ammonium nitrate damage soil biotic relationships. I’m sorry I do not want to put my name to this vote it in its current form. Thinking ahead I’m struggling to think whether any “branding” exercise when we harvest could persuade consumers, especially in the craft bakery world, we are notoriously fussy about the grain (I think for good reason!). Of course I don’t want to plan to fail and try to produce a crop this coming year if its full of weed seeds, it will reduce the yield, and not help Millers Choice or YQ gain in reputation. Therefore I would want the field decision to focus on reducing the weed burden without the use of chemicals by trying to restore some natural cycles in that soil, a mixed herbal lay from what the Agronomist suggested could really help. Yes that doesn’t sound terribly exciting for OurField but maybe thats better for the soil! Financially it could still bring income if it was grazed at points too.

Talking to Andy yesterday yes he can get us the Millers Choice “unsorted” seed from John Pawsey (1.5 tonnes at £600 a tonne which will need treating with vinegar) but he thought it a pity we weren’t experimenting with ways to sow into the cover crop. Though he did say he is unaware of any UK no-till farm not using glysophate. I get the impression since seeing the thistle situation on the field this option has been discarded. 

 
On a side but very important note I’m unsure whether this group has really had time to work out its aims. The discussion part of the last meeting is really important for the group to go together into decisions it makes. Perhaps our unclear aims are indicated by the small percentage of voters. Is it for us members to learn Conservation Agriculture and go along with exactly that method no matter what? It has been really valuable to learn about CA. Do we need to prioritise a return on out investment within a timeframe? Obviously our decisions carry a certain amount of risk; weather and market. Is it for us to engage with farming decisions and possibly try something a bit experimental? Maybe we need to pay for professional advice early on to make sound decisions? Is producing a crop every year part of the projects success? When should we factor in years off? should we be planning several years ahead to truly make this sustainable? Shouldn’t there be a minimum percentage participation for a vote to go through?

Any thoughts welcome!

CL

Christine Lewis Thu 4 Oct 2018

Rosy - thank you for putting these thoughts down and I am quite sure that others have similar thoughts. @johncherry @grahamehunter do we have options to delay and discuss this in more detail at the E5 meeting planned for Oct/ Nov. This is an important decision time.

OR

Oliver Rubinstein Thu 4 Oct 2018

Thanks for taking the time to write this Rosy. Here's my take on it:
As John said, the planting window for the wheat will shortly be closing, so I'd be concerned at the thought of delaying our decision even more. The use of glyphosate is inherently divisive and I can't see us coming to an agreement as a collective. It's an argument that's been raging for years in the agricultural sector -
I can see both sides of the argument, but the more I learn about soil health, the more strongly I feel that no-till with a low dose of glyphosate is infinitely better than ploughing (which is the only other way to get rid of a cover crop without chemicals). Each time you plough, you're killing soil organisms and exposing the organic matter to oxygen, so are losing the carbon stored in the soil. I really enjoy all the discussion, but we're never going to feel like we're properly informed - people spend 3-4 years at uni studying agriculture and still struggle with these questions!

I agree that it's a shame not to be able to sell to E5 - as what yourself, Ben and the others are doing as a business is amazing. Likewise, I totally get your frustration, given the effort you've put into it. However, I just don't see how we can grow a crop without using glyphosate - given the amount of thistles in the field.

That said, in the USA, farmers will grow rye or mustard as a cover crop, then roll it to kill it and then drill into the cover crop blanket, which helps to conserve soil moisture (however, I suspect they also spray it too). I'd be open to looking at any other non-chemical options (even seemingly far-fetched ones), despite the risk, to see if any of them are viable, but as far as I know I don't think we have much choice here.

Engagement in the decision-making process is a a real issue and I agree that it would be worthwhile to think about coming up with some clear guiding aims and principles that everyone is happy with, that could then be used to help guide our decisions.

SJ

Steven Jacobs Sun 7 Oct 2018

I think its important that we make some clarifications and I’m going to attempt to make some here.

Finance
The Ourfield group invested money in this project. As an investor I would like to see some of my investment returned or have the possibility of a return on my investment.

Currently it appears as if the 2017 investment has been spent and little or no monies remain.

Commercial cropping
Commercial is not in itself a dirty word. To be able to buy seed and run any system of farm production costs money. Selling the resulting crop is a way to recoup that money.
Though the system, whichever farm system, is not without sometimes extreme challenges. Weather, market, weather.

Farming
There needs to be a system to food production, and whichever is practiced it needs to find balance whilst also maintaining its existence in a tumultuous climate, both meteorologically and economically.

Farming is about working with nature as best we can. But whatever we do we are interrupting the natural state. We alter the natural behaviour of plants and organisms.

I have long experience of farming, myself some decades ago and over the last ten or fifteen years working very closely with a great many farmers across the country. And I’ve spoken with some very experienced soil scientists and seed breeders. Repeatedly and over a long period of time.

Organic or not organic is not simply a case using of a set of tools and then looking at whether there are some signs of biotic activity in and on the soil.
I contest an argument put in this thread suggesting that Conservation Agriculture is the kinder system for the biota on the farm. It’s one approach. The Cherry family are very good exponents of their no-till approach but not all farms who say they are working to that same set of principles in fact are able to demonstrate the same level of attention to detail. They are not inspected to the same rigour as, for instance, organic and are not under the same level of scrutiny.

Research shows, as I have described to the OurField loomio group before, glyphosate and ammonium nitrate are not benign to the biota in the soil. Key biotic relationships are negatively affected.

All ploughing damages soil biotic relationships. All glyphosate and ammonium nitrate use do also damage soil biotic relationships.

It’s critical to ensure there is sufficient food and shelter for those organisms we wish to encourage.
That balance is key. It’s not easy. But whichever system, method, set of tools used the mitigation of any soil damage is best done by incorporating plant matter to give the necessary food and shelter to the bugs and beasties.

John and Paul are practicing what is clearly a successful system for them at Weston Farms. I would like to encourage more discussion around rotations and available markets so we can better understand how John's system works and where the crops usually go.

The artisan baking market is small and is very particular. Many will demand grain that has not been grown using certain inputs such as plant growth regulators, fungicides, herbicides and pesticides, ammonium nitrate.

There are other markets. When all this began I had thought that we would grow a crop, it would go to John's usual markets and then we would discuss what to do with any ‘profit’ and to, hopefully, reinvest to help develop the field in the Ourfield project.

A note on seed breeding -
Crop breeding today is focused on achieving high yields in high input farming systems.
These breeding programmes and their ambition really accelerated in the seventies. I’ve seen some very useful crosses and populations of so-called modern varieties perform well in low external input situations.

Current varieties cannot compete well with weeds. They have been bred to grow in a situation where weeds are killed by use of chemical inputs and where fertility in soils would normally be found through application of ammonium nitrate.

There are crops that would suit Weston Farms very well. They may not be ‘heritage’ but they might be those bred prior to the nineteen seventies.

But markets need to be determined before seed goes in the ground.

A note on food pricing
I believe that the dramatic reduction in food pricing has been accomplished through economic policies not agronomic policies. Generally food is artificially cheap. This keeps wages low and it has helped to drive farmers off the land. Statistics show that UK farms are increasing in size and the number of farmers in the uk is falling.

I believe this is bad news. For all of us.

A

andrea Fri 5 Oct 2018

At the moment discussions over planting decisions reflect the lack of an agreed long term strategy. An alternative interpretation is that the original strategy is now being challenged by a substantial part of the community. In any case, I agree with Rosy that if we spend more time reviewing and formulating a multi-year strategy, it will be easier to reach consensus on what and how to plant.

GH

Grahame Hunter Fri 5 Oct 2018

if we did not plant a grain crop..

I think many would agree with this sentiment (from Rosy Benson)
Of course I don’t want to plan to fail and try to produce a crop this coming year if its full of weed seeds.. I would want the field decision to focus on reducing the weed burden without the use of chemicals by trying to restore some natural cycles in that soil, (such as ) a mixed herbal lay

John is already doing this on some other land at Weston, and we gain from that experience; but there are quite considerable costs for going down this route for the OurField land (of 32 acres):

  • the herbal lay seed is up to £100/acre, + application and preparation costs
  • the field has to be more robustly fenced for regular grazing,
  • there is the problem of the public right of way directly through it which adds very significantly to the fencing costs, (double line of fencing, stiles etc) and
  • there needs to be a permanent water supply, if this is to be converted away from arable for a few year, and
  • John's time and management resources; he may already be doing this on the amount of land that suits the number of cattle he is running, or that is best suited for grazing.

My feeling is that to abandon wheat now moves us into a wider debate, and then other topics come up - such as the agro-forestry, mixed cropping ideas raised before.

So perhaps for this year at least we should stick with the programme we are already on, and have a more far-reaching debate about strategy in eg March 2019 and try to set out some 5 year goals and a fully costed rotation plan?

TA

Tony Allan Sat 6 Oct 2018

THE LEVEL OF ENGAGEMENT of the members over what do do next is encouraging. I have long wanted there to be a strategy that considered three or four year rotations and land management options.

THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE 2016-2017 SEASON
We are still living with the awful outcome of the first year of the OurField at Weston. We assumed that sowing a spelt crop was an imaginative and useful experiment. The risks associated with obtaining seed and selling the crop were unknown.

I am deeply aware that I am not able to evaluate the risks of farming. I should not be asked to vote on what to sow in the next season.

I believe we should first try to understand UK farming - its commercial and environmental volatility as well as the regulatory challenges and the big uncertainties such as Brexit. Farming is a very high risk occupation where dozens of compromises and precautions have to be juggled. There is little room - in my opinion -for insistence on a single issue.

WHAT FARMERS DO
Farmers provide both production services and stewardship services. The prices they receive for the commodities they produce do not even cover the costs of their production services. The costs of stewarding the soil, water, biodiversity and the atmosphere are beginning to be recognised but they are not formally accounted for. They are not captured in the farm gate prices.

Farmers also provide food nutrition services which are largely captured in the high prices of the organic farming supply chain. But they are not captured in conventional chemical farming or in conservation agriculture. Nor are the negative consequences of chemical farming and deep cultivation.

Ourfield is a field on a farm which was converted a few years ago to the conservation agriculture [CA] system. CA involves no till, cover crops and soil enhancing rotations. The soil health of OurField is improving.

AN OURFIELD STRATEGY - IN A VERY UNCERTAIN WORLD
I agree we should to try to identify a broad agenda for OurField on the Weston Farm. It should lead to the stewardship of soil, water, biodiversity and the atmosphere and the production of healthy food. Outcomes should be environmentally sustainable and it would be good if they will be commercially sustainable.

But we have to recognise that implementing any strategy will have to be an adaptive process. Every year is different if not exceptional. 2018 started wet. The spring grain crops in 2018 on other Weston fields had to survive on soil moisture. Further rain only occurred after the harvest. Meanwhile the BREXIT process brings massive uncertainties.

The installation of water points, fencing and electric fencing has transformed the agronomic, management and commercial options on OurField.

JC

John Cherry Sun 7 Oct 2018

The cattle are just eating off the last corner of the bottom half of the field and I'll be moving them off tomorrow. We had a nice soak yesterday and the soil feels in good fettle. We have just had a year off with very little production, I think it is time to cash in a bit and sow a field of wheat (and run the risk of Mrs May tearing through it next year). Andy Forbes says there's 1.5 tonnes of his seed with our name on it, John Pawsey sounded doubtful that there was...I'll check it out tomorrow. Andy thought it would be worth trying an unsprayed area, where the thistles and other weeds are fewer, and see if the heritage plants swampthe weeds. He feels it will. I'm game to give it a go, that way we get an income and push the boundaries. Any seed harvested will have a value as seed if not milling wheat (as long as we can clean it).

I'm happy to have a conversation about a five year plan, but lets get on now a grow some wheat