My presentation at the Nuffield conference is now online. 2 years work in 12 minutes
My presentation at the Nuffield conference is now online. 2 years work in 12 minutes
The second visit of my UK Nuffield mini trip was to see John Pawsey
John farms about 3500 acres organically. He converted to organic in 1999 and grows Winter wheat, Spring Oats, winter beans and Spring Barley undersown with a 2 year ley which he now grazes with sheep, a new edition to the farm this year. The other new edition to John’s farm, the System Cameleon, is one of the reasons I wanted to see John.
This is the first such machine to be imported into the UK. What makes it unique is that it is a drill and also a inter row hoe. John runs an 8.8m CTF which fits the Cameleon in perfectly. When I got there the machine was busy hoeing
Above is the coulter that drills and hoes. It drills in 25cm rows and the hoe covers 80% of the ground
It really is an impressive machine and does a very accurate job of hoeing. John bought it for a couple of reasons. Firstly as a drill it has a consistent seeding depth, unlike his horsch. This means that when he blind weeds he doesn’t pull out the shallow seeded plants. Also as a hoe it manages to enter the ground in any condition due to the tungsten tip unlike the Garford. As it is so accurate as a hoe it also means it opens up many opportunities for undersowing consistently, intercropping, relay cropping etc.
John has become the distributor for the System Cameleon in the UK. If I was ever to convert to organic (no plans😀) this would be the first bit of equipment I would buy.
On John’s farm he is also hosting a field lab which is looking at Black Grass control in cereals through sheep grazing
Above at the top and bottom of the picture has been grazed at GS30-31 by sheep and the middle has not. As can be seen the middle had a lot of BG in head and looks worse than the other. From a quick inspection it seems a success but it looks like the BG in the grazed area is just delayed not killed. They were doing plant counts the day I was there so the results are not known yet. Whether the delayed grass BG produced less seed, I am not sure.
John’s other recent addition to the farm is a flock of New Zealand Romney sheep. These have been introduced to make use of the 2yr leys in the rotation, aid soil health and add diversity to the farm
I really enjoyed my morning with John. He is someone who is always looking at ways to improve and is not afraid to try something different. I was really impressed with the farm and the crops. Thank you John.
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.
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
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
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:
A camera guided Garford inter row hoe:
Stephen soil is incredible:
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:
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!
Today went to visit Ron Stobart and Simon Kightley of NIAB TAG to speak to them about their Clover bi-cropping trials http://www.niab.com/uploads/files/NIAB_NFS_Fertility_Building_4pp_A5_FINAL.pdf
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):
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.
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 (http://www.rothamsted.ac.uk/projects/S5370) 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 (www.Croprotect.com). 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 http://www.rothamsted.ac.uk/projects/S5238
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. http://www.era.rothamsted.ac.uk/index.php?area=home&page=index&dataset=4
We had a packed day at and many thanks to Toby for organising the day and showing us around.
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.
Simon Chiles is as farmer who farms on the Kent/Surrey border. He has been no-till cropping for I think 15 years and knows more about the John Deere 750a drill than anyone else in the UK, a lot more than John Deere do! It was Simon who was kind enough to show me around his farm about five years ago and educate me how to use the drill successfully, without his help I would have made a lot more mistakes than I have.
Simon decided he would open his farm for the day and show people around and tell us what he is up to. You will see below that Simon is not afraid for try something new and different!
The first field we went to was a seed crop of Winter Triticale that was drilled this spring. Triticale is a crop I am interested in growing. It needs half the Nitrogen that wheat does and rarely needs a fungicide but yields the same. The problem is the market is difficult to find. That will have to change.Half this field had also had been treated with Mychorriza fungi from Plantworks to see if there is any benefit.
The second field was a seed crop of vetch which is growing with mustard. The idea of the mustard is to act as a climbing frame for the vetches so they are off the ground at harvest.
The field next door is a field of Soya. It had a high weed population but there are plenty of chemicals to take out the weeds. There is a population of 60 seed per meter square which is ideal. The idea is for the UK to grow some home grown soya to replace imported products:
Then we were driven to a seed crop of Phacelia which is being grown for T Denne and Son. The crop had been hit by a late frost but hopefully with some June sunshine will pick up
Then we were driven to a field of where Simon was growing a four way mix of different group 4 wheat. The idea is to improve disease resistance and quality by mixing varieties and get genetic diversity:
The last crop we saw was a field of seed Lupins. These looked very well and I am tempted to grow some myself. A bit research needed first:
As you can see Simon does not do things conventionally and my hat goes off to him for trying all these different ideas. I am always keen to try something different but Simon seems to take it to another level. It was a great day and as ever good to chat to other like minded farmers, I think about 120.
After Simons, myself and Josef Appell a Swedish No Till farmer went back to my farm via Andy Barr’s machinery shed to have a look around my farm. The biggest surprise for me was when we dug a hole in my OSR field that was companion cropped we found all this soil life
I had a great evening chatting to Josef about farming and look forward to visiting Sweden next year.
My next post will be in just over a weeks time when I leave for North America for a month. A lot to blog about hopefully!
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.
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.
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.
Today I spent the day at Stoneleigh in AHDB-HGCA’s fancy new headquarters. The idea of the day was for me to get to know the HGCA team and for them to get to know me. I spent the morning with R@KT team chatting about myself! It was good to find out too that the leader of the R@KT team Dr Susannah Bolton used to study intercropping and the HGCA want to research companion cropping and intercropping. So hopefully my study will help with these aims.
After lunch I was interviewed by Eleanor Perkins on video which will hopefully be on the HGCA website soon (www.HGCA.com). Then I was shown around the building by Dr Vicky Foster. Overall all an interesting day with good contacts made and hopefully the start of a productive working relationship.
Thanks again to HGCA for sponsoring my Nuffield Scholarship
My official first trip of my Nuffield scholarship involved grappling with the motorway system at 5.30am and it was shut! So country route it was for the last part of my journey. My destination was Farmcare in Leicestershire to see the Agrovista Companion cropping trials with Mark Hemmant, Technical Manager, as my host. In their trials Agrovista are experimenting with different establishment techniques, seeding rates and seeding mixtures with interesting results.
Mark prefers using Berseem clover as a companion due to its deep rooting properties where is I a few years ago struggled to get Berseem clover established. They have reduced seeding rates down to as low as 5 kg per hectare and still seen an advantage from companion cropping. When seeding rates are down to 5kg/ha the seed is applied in the OSR row at drilling compared to higher rates of companion seeds being broadcast.In fact they have found that there are more advantages to having seeding rates low compared to high due to the higher seedrates possibly competing with the Oilseed Rape.They have found better establishment from companion cropping, this they think it’s due to less slug problems. Also they have seen OSR rootneck increase in size in companion cropping and last year seen a yield advantage of up to half a ton hectare in companion cropping compared to without. They were also comparing establishment techniques of companion cropping and they found that the best established achieved from broadcasting was with spreading of the companion seed before drilling and tickling the seed in with an adaption on the drill.
After visiting Farmcare we went for lunch. We started at MacDonald’s for adrink and then went to a local pub for big plate of pie and veg! If this is how my lunchtimes are going to be on my Nuffield visits then I may need to run another marathon!
After lunch we visited Agrovista’s cover crop and blackgrass trial. At this site agrovista trialling the use of cover crops with species of vetch and black oats to control blackgrass by drilling a little bit later to allow one flush blackgrass before drilling and then drilling the oats at low seed rates which allows the blackgrass to come through with the cover crop.
The idea is that you get blackgrass growing with the cover crop and this helps lower the black grass seed bank. They have had success and have achieved lower blackgrass emergence in the following spring cereal compared to multiple overwinter stale seedbeds. The interesting plot for me was an early drilled mix with Phacelia. This had virtually no blackgrass growing in the bottom. It will be interesting to see which plots are cleanest in the spring crop.
It was interesting first official visit and many thanks to Mark for taking the day to show me around.