12th of February 2015 – Ian Wilkinson and Cotswold Seeds

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Another day on the road to meet Ian Wilkinson of Cotswold Seeds in Moreton in Marsh. I have heard Ian speak at various conferences and have bought seed of him in the past. His knowledge and experience with clovers, legumes, ley mixtures and various plant growth habits made me want to meet him and pick his brain! So I spent a few hours chatting to Ian and his colleague Sam about all things plants and soils.

There were a few points that stood out for me from this meeting:

  • continuous Yellow Trefoil sown with spring cereals can be done and was done in Kent years ago (not much new in agriculture)
  • if you rotate clover species you will avoid clover sickness and it is specific to species
  • most clover seed production is abroad
  • oats and vetch could be a good mixture with both going to animal feed
  • yellow trefoil can be sown under beans
  • sweet clover could be a good understorey in cereals but could become very aggressive in second year
  • Main problem of undersowing is the variability from year to year
  • the best way to improve soil is a perennial mixed ley

This is probably just a snapshot of Ian’s knowledge and hopefully I will be able to tap into it in the future.

On the way out I had a look at their mixing plant and warehouse.

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This his is one of the seed mixers and it is loaded all by hand and is not automated as each order is mixed individually which needs care.

I would like to thank everyone at Cotswold seeds for an interesting day and for lunch.

11th February 2015, BASE UK AGM, Stoneleigh Park

So Wednesday started at 4.50am, a little earlier than usual. After driving to Tom Sewell’s farm we were kindly chauffeured upto Stoneleigh park by Guy Eckley. This was not an official Nuffield Visit but spending the day in a room with a hundred of the country’s most innovative farmers, I was surely going to learn something. After the formalities of the AGM we were then entertained for an hour by Dr Adrian Newton of the James Hutton Institute.

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His subject was cereal variety blends. Something that I have been looking into for a while and the simplist form of companion cropping. Well after listening it is not so simple! Some benefits of cereal blends are: 50% less disease, less lodging, higher yields, more even yield. Some other points are: malsters not interested in cereal blends, crude mixing can be better than a homogeneous blend, mixtures don’t work as well in high disease years. The James Hutton institute is just starting some cereal-legume intercropping trials which is right up my street and so I am hopeful for a visit to Scotland soon.

Our next speaker was Tom Sewell the 2012 HGCA Nuffield Scholar, my friend and mentor (I have still not told him he is my mentor yet!) Tom’s report can be found  at the Nuffield International Website, well worth a read. One thing that stood out from Tom’s talk was a picture of Victor, a Paraguan farmer, who has put his children through university and built his own house all from 15ha of farmland which he intercrops, very inspiring.

Next speaker was Robert Richmond a dairy farmer and also Nuffield a Scholar. He farms in the Cotswolds and feeds his entire organic herd from pasture. He also grows mixtures of oats and beans for whole crop. Companion cropping and intercropping really is just as relevant to livestock farming as well as arable farming. Below is a picture of Rob’s pastures before grazing. His dog in in there somewhere. (Apologies for the picture quality, I didn’t want to use my flash and blind the speakers)

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Our final speaker was BASE’s secretary Steve Townsend who is a No Till consultant, soil consultant, plant nutrition consultant and probably lots of other things I have forgotten. His subject was compaction. Steve talked about the difference between chemical and physical compaction. How tillage always causes soil structural problems and how carbon is the driving force behind soil health. The slide below shows how much CO2 is emitted from increasing depths of cultivation. Very worrying considering how much of the countryside is currently laying bare.

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Overall it it was an excellent but tiring day. Thanks Guy for driving.