Conferences, farming and biodiversity.

Birds, butterflies, insects and small mammels all need diverse plant life to survive.
Over the past few weeks I have been fortunate to be asked to speak at two high profile conferences on future farming. Both conferences were keen to hear about our Foggage farming system at Fordhall Farm, highlighting the consumer and industry shift towards methods of more diverse and ecological farming systems. The first was the Oxford REAL Farming Conference at the beginning of January, jointly organised by author and scientist Colin Tudge and Agricultural Editor of the Archers, Graham Harvey.

Due to all the renovation works at the farm, I could only make it to one day of the conference, but it was an inspiration. I was most impressed by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, a neurologist and nutritionist. She described how the human gut is to us, what the soil is to the plant – the source of all health. Whether you are talking about the human body or the environment, it makes sense. The healthier and more balanced the source of nutrition is, the healthier and stronger the bodies or plants it supports will be, and this is of course the lynch pin of organic agriculture.

For years, we have treated the symptoms of unhealthy plants by prescribing fertilisers and pesticides or imposing mechanical operations. We have ignored the crucial role of the soil – the area which for milennia has been the backbone for all life on the surface. By working to improve the health of our soil, our plants/crops will grow healthy and in abundance.

It was an inspiring talk and for me it reminded me of the struggles dad had when he took over Fordhall in 1929 and the direction he chose to take to improve his crops – to protect and nurture the soil.

Clover – one of the farmers’ best friends.

Most recently I spoke at the Organic Producers Conference, organised by The Organic Research Centre (Elm Farm). Again the message through this conference was biodiversity, both above and below ground. My particular workshop focusses on whether the ‘land-sharing’ approach was better than the ‘land-sparing’ approach that separates natural areas and agriculture into parks and (intensive) farmland.
Martin Wolfe provided a wonderful presentation from his farm in suffolk, demonstrating how intercropping with trees and other woodland shrubs increased natural biodiversity and  increased stability of the farming system. The benefits resulted from a reduction in the spread of disease and an increase in the health of the soil. Overall, a more sustainable farming system, which had the added benefit of being very pleasing to to the eye!

 … I can’t wait for our orchard in the pig paddocks to blossom!

All in all, a very fascinating January, with lots to spear us on at Fordhall for the next 12 months.


p.s. If you haven’t already joined Hugh’s Fish Fight – do it now!