Tue 23 Apr 2019

2019/2020; What is OurField's longer term approach?

Grahame Hunter Public Seen by 43

There is a very interesting closed thread called "2018; what are we going to plant in the year ahead?" [PS you can always read closed threads..just not post new content there.]

I would like to re-open the debate to determine some policies for the future, for example
* are OurField members are happy to remain with a no-till conservation agriculture system that may require use of chemical sprays to terminate cover crops?
* what will we plant in the "break years" between the profitable grain crops?
* are members happy to commit to a multi-year programme where improvement of soil fertility may reap longer term returns but could mean lower profits in the short term?
* should we agree over-arching policies so John can farm the land according to his best judgement to meet the desires of the members, but without month to month voting on each application of spray or fertilizer?
* do we in fact want that voteless procedure, or are the regular votes an important part of the "ourField" method?


Grahame Hunter Tue 23 Apr 2019

As a warm up, here is what John Cherry wrote one year ago...it still seems pertinent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Darren Sun 26 May 2019

After many complaints from Ourfield folks about Loomio being difficult to use, particularly on mobile, I am pleased to :raised_hands: (finally) announce :raised_hands: that we have an alternative Ourfield discussion test site up and running. This test site uses Discourse which is a powerful fully featured discussion forum that also gives good performance on mobile devices.

I invite members interested in discussing the future direction of Ourfield to look at the discussion I've just started there.

If you are interested to join the conversation &/or test discourse (please do) please send me your email address in a message via Loomio https://www.loomio.org/u/darren4 or via email darren@ourfield.org.uk

If the testing goes well there will be a proposal to move from Loomio to the new Discourse forum.

It is hoped that this move would enable the team at Western to communicate with us without as much tech friction and members to more easily engage in discussion.


Grahame Hunter Fri 7 Jun 2019

This sounds promising; nevertheless I imagine we will want to keep Loomio running because of the great string of interesting comments and discussions from the past?


Grahame Hunter Sun 20 Oct 2019

@darren4 do you still like "discourse" enough to suggest we should move to that in place of Loomio?


Darren Mon 21 Oct 2019

A couple of things have happened since I set up our Discourse forum that make me unsure about the move-

  • Theres been a load of work done to Loomio and it looks like its set to improve. You can switch to the new Loomio ( which may well work better for many folks) by going to https://www.loomio.org/beta

  • I recently heard something that suggested that the organisation thats hosting our Discourse instance may not be quite as stable as it was previously (I'll investigate this further)

If we move to Discourse there would also be a monthly charge (much cheaper than any commercial supplier)

'Theres also the issue of moving everyone there, possibly we could lose some in the move?

So something to test, and some things to think about. Happy to elaborate on any of this if anyone has any questions.


Tony Allan Wed 23 Oct 2019

Dear Darren
Very many thanks for your comments on Loomio and Discourse.
I shall try to sign up for the new Loomio. I am uneasy about changing embarking on such changes but I presume the new version will be better.
Very many thanks for giving attention to our communication issues.
Best Tony (Allan)


Darren Wed 23 Oct 2019

To clarify the new Loomio is just a different front end, you are still interacting with the existing Our Field Loomio conversations.
If you go to
https://www.loomio.org/beta you just have to flip a switch and you are then using the new front end / interface. You can also go back there to switch back to the old version.


Tony Allan Wed 23 Oct 2019

Dear Darren

Very many thanks for the additional guidance.




Grahame Hunter Fri 25 Oct 2019

I too have switched to the new Loomio, and although so far I do not notice much difference, it is working well! In fact for me, "not noticing much difference" is a big plus. g


Grahame Hunter Sun 20 Oct 2019

I am going to close this thread in 7 days because it has been superceded by the vote of 19 Oct 2019