NIAB TAG Cambridge, UK – 11th December 2015

Today went to visit Ron Stobart and Simon Kightley of NIAB TAG to speak to them about their Clover bi-cropping trials

Also I wanted to speak to them about their OSR companion cropping work.

Ron has written an outline of the results of the New Farming Systems here:


The highlights for me from speaking to Ron are (reference to bi-cropping):

  • works well upto 50% of normal dose of Nitrogen fertiliser
  • yield improvement of 1t/ha in the zero N plots compared with control
  • Average yield improvement of 0.2t/ha in the full rate N over the 10 years of the trial
  • there has been an improvement in soil structure and reduced bulk density
  • water infiltration rates have tripled
  • clover recovers best in the zero N plots

Then in the afternoon Simon took us outside to see their companion cropping trials in OSR:



The first plot above was their brassica mix which included Chinese cabbage, rocket, pak choi and linseed. The idea being that the other species dilute the effect of flea beetle shot holing and it seemed to be working well.

The second plot was the OSR by itself


There was a problem with the germination of the charger and it as pretty hard hit by pests as well

The third plot was the legumix:


This plot included Common vetch, Crimson clover, Berseem clover and Persian clover and again was pretty thin but there were more OSR plants in the companion crop than in the control.

The last plot was with Fenugrek:


The idea of the Fenugrek is that the pests are repealed by the smell of the plant. Not sure whether it worked because it seemed that pigeons seemed to love the smell and have eaten it! The trial also had different replicates with different seed rates of OSR.

I especially found the idea of the brassica mix interesting. You could get your salad for your sandwich while walking your crops! Thank you to Ron and Simon for giving up their time today.

Dr Toby Bruce, Rothamsted Research, Harpenden, UK – 10th December 2015

Today fellow scholars Gordon Whiteford, David Walston and I spent the day at Rothamsted Research with Dr Toby Bruce.


Toby and I follow each other on Twitter and have spoken before and I was interested to see the work that he and others are doing at Rothamsted. Toby is a chemical ecologist and looks at ways to use chemical alarms and sex pheromones to effect insect behaviour and to improve IPM. Probably his best know work is the development of pheromone traps for monitoring Orange Blossom Midge in wheat. Currently he is working on “lure and kill” technology ( which is used for beetle pests of field beans and will hopefully be commercially available in the next few years. Toby is also passionate about connecting with farmers and people out in the field. This has led to the release of his app Croprotect ( Croprotect is a platform for growers to access and share IPM information and ideas.

Next Toby took us to see Dr Paul Neve. Paul in involved in a project covering 70 farms in the UK and looking at their management information to see the effect of management strategies on Blackgrass infestations and herbicide resistance. He is also involved in developing an in field diagnostic tool for testing plant herbicide resistance. Also he is looking methods of reducing herbicide resistance with methods similar to RNAi.

Then we met  Dr Jonathan Storkey. Jonathan is working in a project to develop customised Cover Crop management models to manage grass weeds


Out in the field he is comparing cultivation, cover cropping and rotational strategies for grass weeds control


In the afternoon we visited his trials with various replicates of different strategies. Some interesting facts Jonathan said were: that he believes shading of weeds is more important than alleopathy; seed predation of Blackgrass is lower than other grass weeds as not much eats Blackgrass seeds; black grass’s short seed bank persistency is it’s Achilles heel.

Next we saw Dr Sam Cook. She specialises in IPM in OSR. One of her projects is using Turnip rape as a trap crop for pollen beetle in OSR


We saw her trials in the afternoon where she plants a border of turnip rape around the edge of OSR. The idea is that the turnip rape flowers earlier than the OSR and attracts the pollen beetles into the trap crop as they prefer the trap crop. This then means that the pollen beetles are below spray threshold in the crop. It works well but not in every year. There is also promise to use the same strategy for Cabbage Stem Flea Beetles as they prefer to lay eggs in the turnip rape. Some of the plots had been decimated by flea beetles. The interesting thing for me is how much more vigorous turnip rape is at establishing and coping with pest pressure. It has survived when OSR has not. It seems that in breeding for yield OSR has lost some traits we now need.

In the afternoon we had a look around outside at Rothamsted. We saw the Rothamsted Insect Suction Trap


This tower constantly traps insects to monitor migration. Along with other towers across the country it gives researchers and growers information on insect migration throughout the season and the effects of climate change.

Next we saw a new project at Rothamsted


This is the Digital Field Phenotyping Gantry. It moves up and down the crop plots and can take very accurate photographic information which can be used for many different applications such as nutrient effects on crops and calibrating of drones.

Then we saw the Broadbalk Experiment


This experiment has been running since 1843 and has been continuous wheat. It is looking at the effects of different fertiliser strategies on soil and crops and many other factors.

We had a packed day at and many thanks to Toby for organising the day and showing us around.





Dr Martin Wolfe, Wakelyns Agroforestry, Suffolk, England -7th December 2015



Today I had the pleasure of spending the day with Dr Martin Wolfe and his wife Anne. Martin is a plant pathologist by trade who in the early 90’s got disenchanted with research in the agricultural industry. He decided to do his own research on his own terms and so bought Wakelyns, where in 1994 he set up the farm as you see it today in Agroforestry which is the practice of cropping or pasturing between alleys of trees.

I first heard Martin speak at a ProCam meeting when he spoke about variety mixtures of cereals which he has been involved in for years. It is the simplest way of companion cropping and adding diversity to a system. As a plant pathologist he was interested in the effect of planting multiply varieties of cereals at the same time on disease spread and severity. In Eastern Germany in the 80’s the state funded and coordinated work on spring barley variety mixtures as they did not have the cash to buy fungicides and saw this as a way of producing good yields of barley. They found that a four way mixture reduced disease severity dramatically. About 100% of the East German Spring barley crop was variety mixtures until the fall of the Berlin Wall when it all but disappeared.

Martin recently has been working on the ORC Wakelyns Wheat Populations project:

The idea of the breeding program is to produce seed that within a field of wheat each individual plant is different from the other so giving diversity and resilience.

Martin has also worked on wheat/bean intercrops, both winter and spring varieties. They have found that there are less insect, disease and weed problems with this intercrop.

Martin takes a system approach to farming and so there is no one solution or magic bullet. Martin believes that part of the system for future agriculture needs to include trees and he is passionate about agroforestry. Agroforestry brings many advantages to a cropping system: enhanced nutrient cycle, improved water cycle, warmer average temperatures, reduced wind damage, disease barrier, host for beneficials, roosts for birds and many more.


The first alley we visited was in Hazel Field. The HAzel is planted in two rows and is harvested every five years. In the cropping part is wheat trials. Wakelyns is completely organic and has not had any outside inputs for years. The nutrient indicies are low but the yields are going up!


The next alley was his ley mixture which will be there for three years. They cut the ley and then compost it and apply it to the land, it’s the only amendment.


The last alley we saw in Hazel field had free range chicken underneath. The hedge is in the middle of their patch as it gives them cover. The chicken bring many services to the system from weed control to insect control. The only down side of the chickens is that they have destroyed the understory of the trees, which is the habitat for many beneficials.


Above is where he has done  root crop trials. They grow potatoes ( less blight in Agroforestry). He is also trying squash grown directly into the 3 yr ley. There are many other crops that he is trialling in this field


This plot is where Martin grew Black Barley last year. A crop he is excited about.



Above is a trial plot Eco-Dyne drill that Martin used as part of the OSCAR project:

The results of the OSCAR project are due in the next few months.


Above is a trial looking into the spatial arrangement effect on tree disease. Above the timber trees are in pairs and there are eight different species . After a set of eight down a row the 8 are then repeated again but in a different random order. This is being compared to another site where they are spaced more conventionally. They have found that the random spacing does reduce disease.

Today was a fascinating day and I have only managed to touch the tip of the iceberg in my blog of what I learnt. I will be coming back in the summer for the open day and recommend everyone else to visit here too. The experience makes you think differently and opens you eyes to many possibilities. Thank you very much Martin for your time.