Over 50 people from Bedwyn and beyond heard from local farmers about nature friendly farming at our recent event.
Great Green Bedwyn was delighted to welcome four excellent speakers from Southern Streams, our cluster of 30 local farms, and over 50 members of the public (including 12 from outside the Bedwyns) to our recent event on Regenerative Agriculture (RA).
The Exciting news is that farming is already becoming more regenerative around Great Bedwyn.
Huge changes in farming practices have happened during living memory. In the last century we ceased to grow much food in our gardens. In the last year, the invasion of Ukraine led to shortages of sunflower oil, grain and fertiliser, with fertiliser prices rising to £1000/ton. The next challenge is climate change which will bring hotter summers, droughts and windier, wetter winters.
There are five principles of regenerative farming:
Maximise crop diversity. Planting companion crops (such as buckwheat with oilseed rape or peas with barley) minimises nitrate leaching and protects the soil over the winter. Some farmers are even combining fruit trees with grazing and cropping.
Keep soil covered. Hedges, a 6m buffer area of tussocky grass either side of watercourses and ditches beside hedges with a 4-6m grass buffer on arable fields all help protect watercourses from run-off. Planting of cover crops reduces runoff, minimises nitrate leaching and protects the soil over the winter. The cover crops can then be grazed by animals that help fertilise the soil.
Maintain living roots in the soil for soil health and to store carbon. Roots nourish soil bacteria and other organisms that depend on root exudates. This provides a better ecosystem for fungi and other organisms which creates richer soils and healthier crops with less artificial fertilisers.
Minimise soil disturbance. Reducing or eliminating ploughing with direct drilling preserves soil structure. So far, five of 28 Southern Streams members have started direct drilling.
Integrate livestock to provide manure and reduce reliance on artificial fertilisers. This means livestock integration into the crop rotation, using mob gazing to maximise the recovery period.
The diagram below shows how regenerative farming can support nature, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and flooding and improve returns for food producers.
Local regenerative farming
Richard Charles (Hillbarn Estates), Jim Hynes (AGRII), Duncan Lee, farm manager for Ramsbury estates and Tim Clarke from FWAG South East described the regenerative activities happening in Southern Streams farms.
Local farmers are sowing wild bird mixture strips along field margins and on poor soil, leaving hedges for wildlife and making plots for pollinating insects , while using the better parts of the fields for crops. Permanent pasture is mown annually so it gradually becomes a wildflower filled meadow over time. Well-managed broad-leaved woodland (eg. the Brails) captures about six tons of carbon per hectare per year, while arable land is carbon neutral or even negative.
Changes are slow and can take 10-15 years to happen. Although the yields from regenerative and organic farming can be lower, the economic margin can be higher because of reduced input costs for eg. fertiliser and diesel.
We have enough annual rainfall in Wiltshire but in future may need to store more water to ensure adequate supplies throughout the year. We will also need to grow more heat-and drought-tolerant food plants, but work is being done to develop these.
While recognising the potential conflict between food security and environmental protection, more intensive use of good quality land alongside using low grade land to improve biodiversity should maintain profit margins while at the same time increasing support for biodiversity.
Many thanks to everyone who supported this event. We plan to arrange some farm
visits before harvest time and another talk by Southern Streams members later in the year.