Andy went to a show called Groundswell 26/27 June, 2019. What happened?
I ventured up to this show with a group of 7 other farmers from the South West, all passionate beef farmers and some apprehensive as to what we might encounter on a farm in the middle of the Hertfordshire countryside.
The set-up was like a mini Devon County Show plus a conference about “re-generative farming”. Most of the punters were farmers, a few students, farm workers, academics and research experts. The show's emphasis was the soil; OUR SOIL.
That precious commodity around us all that is fast disappearing. Even though the Dust Bowl events of the 1930's have passed, in many ways loss of soil is still happening, just not so dramatic. Still dramatic enough for scientists to forecast that we only have 90 harvests left before our soil is so depleted that we will not be able to produce enough food to feed us.
Why is it disappearing? Ploughing of the land is the main reason and also allowing bare soil to be exposed to the elements. These farming techniques in turn cause the soil to be vulnerable to erosion by water run off or dust blowing. So one of the answers is never to plough and always have a crop in the ground to cover the soil.
So that was the premise to this event. To protect our soils under the slogan 'I love my soil' So for beef, dairy and sheep farmers it is about how to farm our grassland in a way so that we build up the level of humus in the soil and increase the fertility but most of all to increase its resilience from weather events such as drought and heavy rainfall. Both of these are predicted to increase with climate change.
For arable and crop farmers it is about how to grow crops with minimal loss of soil. The technique that is mainstream at the moment and quite the fashion is called 'min-til' and involves NO ploughing.
The headline speaker was Allan Savory who has been studying the alarming rise of desertification worldwide. His reasons for this phenomenon are not just climate change but poor management of land by human beings.
The principles of stopping desertification are the same techniques that grazing farmers all over the world need to follow. They are techniques that not only go to help mitigate the effects of climate change, they help to slow it down as well. Most of these areas under threat from desertification are called brittle environments. They are prone to excessive periods of dry weather. At the moment the UK sits in a non-brittle environment.
Allan Savory believes that livestock are an essential part of the management to stop the rapid spread of desertification we need to have livestock on the land.
Under his ideas of holistic management we can draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to the soil; we can increase our efficiency in the way we produce food; be more resilient to the changing climate and increase our profits as farmers.
So at West Town Farm we are starting to embrace these principles and this is where techniques such as mob grazing and keeping the soil covered at all times with a crop come in.
And wow what a journey this is turning out to be. As part of the PFLA and being organic I have met so many inspiring, pioneering farmers over recent years. It's so exciting to be learning new practices not only to make my land more productive but also to make my business more efficient and to know that this management style is helping the farm to work more with nature. It is also helping to increase biodiversity on the farm. I did not think that after 35 years of farming I would still be learning so much.
But there's more because this simulation of nature that we are engaging with, is increasing the organic matter in the soil and this in turn means we are sequestrating carbon from the atmosphere.
I want to bring these techniques to West Town Farm as soon as possible. With Alan Savory's book Holistic Planning and Management we can do this.
In many ways we have already started this process. Some of the farm is already being changed over to these new practices.
All these things make this system of grazing at West Town Farm so exciting and positive.
So if you would like to get involved, there are several ways that you can do this.
You can find out more about re-generative farming and how we produce our food at the farm by coming to our open days. You can support us and this movement by visiting our farm shop and buying our produce.
If you are a teacher who is interested in bringing your class of children to the farm to learn about food, farming or the environment then we can do that too.
Find out more about re-generative farming and how it can be one of the solutions to climate change: