Terroir - developing our soil through
Agricultural Knowledge, Science, Innovation and Technology for Development
Agricultural Knowledge, Science, Innovation and Technology for Development
Dynamic Farming System
John Nash's equilibrium, otherwise known as Governing Dynamics is a principle I believe works with nature as with people. The theory states that if each player cannot improve their situation given the other players keep their's constant then a Nash Equilibrium exists. This means that it is important not just what is best for the current crop, for the best total outcome one has to take into account the whole farm. It may seem like common sense. The whole can be greater than the sum of the parts.
Our farm rotation is over seven years allowing for diversity to prevent weed establishment and resilience of crops to disease and pests.
Resilience to changing climate is an essential element to the longevity/sustainability of the overall farming system.
The farm is closed to all inputs (excepting, pasture seeds, new cereal and bean variety seeds, new bulls, essential trace minerals for cattle and fuels for tractors and sometimes grain drying).
The 99.9KVA Solar Photo Voltaic array, situated on the main cattle building, provides enough electricity to process and dry the grain in a dry season the remaining electricity generated (50%) is exported to the National Grid.
Our farm has often felt like a research station without the scientists. However we are working on that. We are constantly experimenting to broaden our knowledge of what is possible in the agroecological context.
The main areas of challenge are, weed suppression and combinable crop yield, which in my experience of wheat has the often rather strange linear relationship of higher yielding crops having high levels of weeds. This I attribute to the fact that modern varieties of wheat are uncompetitive to weeds, any weed suppression trait existing in older, taller varieties of wheat have been unwittingly bred out of modern varieties. Weed suppression is not a trait of interest to current plant breeders as it is assumed pesticides are available to tackle this problem. However with increasing interest in cover crops even chemical farmers are looking to taller wheat varieties for no till systems.
We are looking for varieties which have high disease resistance, high root mass, excellent weed competitiveness and high yield. This is a photo of wheat sown into a mixture of white clover and yellow trefoil yielding over 2t/ha of wheat and over 300kg/ha of clover. There is clearly a huge above and below ground biomass yield too.
"You have to take the view that it is going to rain for a fortnight starting tomorrow even if you are in the middle of a drought." David Wilson's wise words have stuck in my head long after visiting Duchy Home Farm, together with taking the Long View and making the most of older varieties of crops which may have facets which have been lost from modern varieties.
This crop of Spring wheat has come from seed saved from old thatched roofs. The traits shown in the HERITAGE WHEAT (shown here) are largely undemonstrated in modern varieties of wheat. This tall wheat grows with an elegance and colour not seen elsewhere, in the sunshine it has been said to look like a Van Gogh painting. It is not high yielding in quantity though has good milling qualities and qualities of weed suppression and disease resistance invaluable for agroecological farming. We grew this wheat for DOVES FARM FOODS.
Diverse Ley Mixtures
Turner's excellent books on Fertility Pastures (Farming), Cure Your Own Cattle and Herdmanship written in the 1950s are just as relevant today and set out the principle of strength in diversity.
Our diverse pasture mixtures are similar to those expounded by Turner.
Using legume-based mixtures to enhance the nitrogen use efficiency and economic viability of cropping systems. Doring et al. (2013)
Alex has been using extremely diverse mixtures for decades in Australia and encouraged farmers, horticulturalists and viticulturists all over Europe to do the same. We have been doing so since around 2000 to great effect.
Alex has many publications, take look at the link above.
The pastures are rotationally grazed, the cattle grazing one paddock for about 6 days depending on the season. Over tall or grazed pastures are topped to spread the cow pats and remove seeding heads. This process ensures plants re-invigorate their root system and the leaf system constantly throughout the season. The distributed cow pats prevent the build up of stale uncomposted pats and facilitate the more even manuring of plants.
Bio Dynamics from the Greek, Life Energy
Alex Podolinsky has had a profound influence on the way we farm and our approach to farming. His outspoken ideas have often raised eyebrows. However the Bio-dynamic methods that he has developed and progressed in Australia have transformed a vast area of agricultural land both in Australia and now around Europe. Land that had been lost to salination in Australia has been regained to farming with this method. Alex's method enlivens the soil and strengthens plants in their true form to guard against disease and improve quality. What particulary appeals in this approach is that it is about the farmers and getting farmers to see or indeed to perceive bio-dynamics working, for if they cannot then why do it.
Alex is shown in a field of Demeter malting barley used to make Demeter whiskey, a sample of the distillate in his hand.
Motivated and trained farmers are essential to the development of our farm.
The best anecdotal evidence of the improved soil structure has come from our farmers (staff). They are a dedicated team who when necessary work long hours to reap the harvest or sow the next one.
Rather than using steel to till and aerate the soil, we are using plant roots in the diverse leys and cover crops. This is improving the soils' structure, stabilising it with the dead roots and root exudates (glomalin) which make a sticky soil glue.
This means we need to repair the soil much less frequently with tractors and soil lifting cultivators. Indeed we hope that soil repair with metal and fuel is no longer necessary.
Progress is achieved through employment of the best techniques from the past and new technology from today. Satellite guided, light weight tractors, modern high roof, open, calving building (providing the outside inside), Solar PV electricity generation, the best available and appropriate genetics, to name a few.
This is solar powered farming, not only for electricity generation but cover crops and diverse pastures are solar powered too. Our Soil Fertility is Solar Powered.
Satellite Guided Home Made Seeder
We sold our plough in 2004 to ensure we were never tempted to use it again. A selection of spring tined and rigid cultivators are used with narrow or wide points depending on soil moisture and purpose. Three passes with our Kongskilde Vibroflex including mixing shears will achieve a seed bed, after diverse ley narrow points are used first to break the sod.
Our aim is to use No Till methods in future, however this is still in the early developmental stages despite good work by Rodale Institute in the US.
REFUSE-Rethink-Repair-Regenerating-Rediscovering-Reinventing-Researching, the 3 Rs become 10
Our work to improve the wildlife habitats and diversity of wild species is supported by Natural England's Higher Level Stewardship. This is a ten year scheme grant aiding various projects and management activities on the farm including:
planting a new orchard,
protecting ancient monuments,
planting wild flower margins,
providing winter food for tree sparrows and other bird species, repairing stone walls,
providing pollen and nectar sources for wild bees and honey bees
and reversion of arable land to grassland next to Avebury World Heritage Site.
The natural balance on our farm supports our crop and animal production for example by balancing slugs and beetles or aphids and ladybirds, the whole farm functions as one infinitely and instantly connected organism.