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.

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15th January 2015- Dr Dwayne Beck, BASE UK meeting

Today I spent the day listening to Dr Dwayne Beck of the Dakota Lakes Research Farm, South Dakota at a BASE UK (www.base-uk.co.uk ) meeting in Baldock, Hertfordshire.

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Dr Beck’s main interest is in no till, cover crops and especially rotations. During the day he highlighted the importance of very diverse rotations including stacked rotations. He highlighted the importance of having a rotation containing warm season broadleaves and grasses and cool season broadleaves and grasses. He also emphasised the importance of having a two year gap between crop types not just one, which is commonplace here. For example: winter wheat, maize, spring peas, Winter OSR, Winter Barley, Spring Oats, spring linseed, Winter Beans. The above rotation is very complex and may not be practical but it has 2 broadleaf crops followed by 2 cereals but also two winter crops followed by two spring crops. The idea is that it allows you 2 years to get on top grass weeds in the broadleaf part of the rotation and 2 years to get on top of BLW in the cereal part of the rotation. The mixing between drilling dates and harvest dates stops predictability, so weeds are always guessing along with insects and disease. This type of approach has been shown to dramatically reduce weed pressure and also input costs.

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Also Dr Beck talked about seed balls. The this is where you coat seeds in a clay substance and then broadcast the seed so need for a drill. The idea is the coating makes the seed weatherproof and more likely to germinate, which is always a problem with broadcasting. I like the idea of no drill. It would be the end of the “which drill is best debate”, hallelujah!!

Dr. Beck is also experimenting with intercropping. He is growing forage corn and forage soyabean together. Also Corn with a living mulch of Alfalfa. My ears really pricked up at this point as this is what I am studying on my Nuffield. Dr. Beck has kindly offered to show me around Dakota Lakes farm so off to South Dakota I am going!

Www.dakotalakes.com is the research farm’s website and there is a lot of information on this site in the publications section. Well worth a read. Overall a productive day spent with 100 other like minded people.