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