Proffesor Erik Steen Jensen, SLU, Alnarp, Sweden: 7th of June 2016

Today I met with Erik Steen Jensen and Georg Carlsson at the Swedish University for Agricultural Science.

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Erik had been recommended to me by Josef. He has had experience with intercropping  since the 1980’s and so was someone key for me to meet. There are various trials going on at the moment and the first ones we looked at were in the LEGATO project which is looking at legumes.

 

Here they had mixes of different varieties of peas and beans in different proportions with different cereals. There were many combinations so I will only show a few. They are looking total yield, standing ability, shading and competition with weeds.

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Above is wheat with both leafed and semi leafless peas at 50:25:25 seed rates

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Above is wheat at 50% seed rate and semi leafless at 100%

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Above there was a problem with fat hen. Interestingly there was less weeds in the wheat bean intercrop compared to the bean sole crop.

They are also looking at mixing in perennial legumes too

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Above is wheat, bean and Lucerne. They get better establishment of the Lucerne when in a mix and Lucerne competes with the weeds and fixes N.

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Above is bean/ oats and red clover. Red clover is less competitive than Lucerne apparently. Today we also had a new intern touring around with us. She is from France and is here to work in the trials with Erik and Georg and also learn English, a big day for her too!

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The next project we looked at is a new long term project called SAFE. It is looking at four different cropping systems and measuring various parameters. The first system is the normal conventional system from the area which is Winter wheat, sugar beet, WOSR and Spring barley. The second system is an organic system growing eight crops. The third system is with Kernza (perennial wheat) and the fourth system is Agroforestry with the normal organic rotation.

They first grew the Perennial wheat last year

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The wheat is not commercialised yet and only yielded 0.8t/ha of wheat last year. They are wanting to trial it so they can understand the effect it has on soils, ecosystems and the environment. They are also wanting to intercrop with it:

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Above is newly planted Kernza with Lucerne

The last project we saw was FIOL (Focus on intercropping on organic legumes) This is part of the same project I saw in Joel’s field and is led in conjunction with local organic farmers who give suggestions and also trial themselves. Again there were many different combinations. Below are a few:

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Above is peas and lupins. This was a suggestion by a farmer as it would be a good animal feed and reduce risks at harvest. The lupins are determinate and so harvest earlier than the indeterminate normal lupins.

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Above is oat and lupin. Lupins are strong competitors for soil N and water and so may not be a great intercrop with cereals.

I had a fabulous day and saw and learnt a huge amount. They really are doing some great work here at SLU.

Stephen Briggs, Peterborough, UK: 12th a May 2016

It’s been over three months since my last post. Nuffield travels have been put on hold until spring work had been completed on the farm. We are a bit quieter now with everything planted so I took the opportunity to make a couple of visits in the UK. My first visit was to Stephen Briggs.

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Stephen is a 2011 UK Nuffield ( and also didn’t realise I was taking a photo, not my best shot!). He did his Scholarship on Agroforestry, which is growing trees and annual crops and/or livestock together. Stephen’s home farm is 250 acres and is a council farm. Stephen is a first generation farmer and spent a while trying to get a tenancy and eventually landed Whitehall farm. As the farm is only 250 acres he felt he had to do something different to make it viable, add value and add income streams. This meant converting to organic and 6 1/2 years ago planting apples trees on 52 ha of his arable fields

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The trees are 13 different varieties of which around half are heritage varieties. They are planted on 3m strips of pollen and nectar mix which is in HLS. The apples are currently used to make apple juice. They receive no inputs apart from pruning. Last year he grew 25t of apples and hopes this yield keeps improving as the trees matures. Currently Stephen thinks he gets 10% extra produce from the farm compared to arable cropping alone and this should keep increasing

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There is 24m of arable crops between the trees. This fits well with his machinery sizes. He is on a 6m CTF including a Tyne drill:

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A camera guided Garford inter row hoe:

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Stephen soil is incredible:

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It has Soil Organic Matter of 23% and releases about 150kg/N per ha. It has a couple of downfalls though: it is very prone to wind erosion and due to root crops being grown intensively before, it is now structureless. Stephen hopes the trees will help solve both those issues.

In his crop rotation he grows oats and wheat. Sometimes he also grows vegeltables such as broccoli and beetroot. His crops looked very clean and healthy. Below are oats:

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Not satisfied with just Agroforestry, Stephen is hoping to build a farm shop and education centre soon. In his spare time he also consults for other organic farmers and also found time to write a book. I had a very interesting afternoon with Stephen and his set up makes you think of the possibilities at home.

Stephen thank you for your time and good luck!

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

 

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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:

http://www.organicresearchcentre.com/?i=articles.php&art_id=783

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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

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

 

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

http://web3.wzw.tum.de/oscar/index.php?id=2

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

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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.