Groundswell 2017 in the News

With over 700 farmers and soil experts attending the 2nd ever Groundswell Show, it made quite a stir in the agricultural and national press. Here's a selection of what journalists had to say about the Groundswell Show 2017.

 
 

The Times - Farms thrive by ditching the plough

1st July 2017

Jerome Starkey, Countryside Correspondent

To the untrained eye, the tractors on Lannock Manor Farm looked like they were were flattening a field of clovers, not planting next year’s harvest.

There was no sign of a plough to churn up the soil and no gulls in the sky to pick off unearthed worms. The machines that the tractors were towing were doing something that sounds impossible. They were planting without ploughing.

After 10,000 years of human agriculture, the practice of carving clods of earth into rows of ridges and furrows is falling out of fashion.

Record numbers of farmers are switching to a process known as no-till farming because its proponents claim that it is significantly cheaper, far better for the environment and produces more nutritious crops...

in addition - the times article led to a lively debate in the "letters to the editor" section

A few of which are included here:

 

The times - Fields with a wide range of crops "don't need fertiliser"

3rd July 2017 

Jerome Starkey, Countryside Correspondent

Farmers could stop using fertilisers and grow healthier produce from healthier soils if they mixed up their crops in a single field, according to leading ecologists.

Cows would also grow larger and their meat would be more nutritious if they grazed in pastures of more than 20 types of plant, rather than monocultures of grass.

“Diversity will replace fertiliser and will replace insecticide and fungicide and build soils much faster,” Christine Jones, an Australian ecologist, predicted at the Groundswell soil conference in Hertfordshire.

British industrial farming relies on vast amounts of fertilisers, made of nitrogen and phosphorus, which are usually sprayed on pastures for grazing or arable fields of a single crop.

Dr Jones said that the chemicals inhibited natural interactions between plants and microscopic…

 

Farmers Guardian insights - Maximising soil fungi to reduce reliance on inputs

10th July 2017, Abby Kellett

At this year’s Groundswell show and conference, farmers and the wider industry learnt the importance of boosting soil fungi in order to maximise the output and sustainability of their soils.

During the two-day event in Hertfordshire, attendees were informed of the benefits associated with reduced cultivations, whether through the use of grass leys or no-till cropping – both of which support the development of soil fungi.

Farming systems which rely heavily on inputs and cultivations are creating nitrate-rich, bacterially dominated soils, which promote plant disease and nutrient lock-up, attendees heard.

Instead, Joel Williams, founder of Biolife Ag, said growers should work towards increasing the fungi content of their soils. A high level of mycorrhizal fungi was said to be particularly beneficial, since it has a direct relationship with the growing plant.

Mr Williams said: “Unlike most soil fungi which feed on organic matter, mycorrhizal fungi, which exist on the plant roots, retrieve carbohydrates and sugars from the plant, which are by-products of photosynthesis.

“The energy retrieved from the plant helps feed soil microbes and allows the fungi to produce hyphae which explore small crevices within the soil profile and retrieve vast amounts of nutrients and water which are supplied to the plant.

By exuding acids and breaking chemical bonds, mycorrhizal fungi are able to make unavailable nutrients available to the plant, reducing reliance on readily available inputs which are vulnerable to leaching", he explained.

“All nutrients exist in three pools – soluble, exchangeable and total extractable. While soluble nutrients are available for direct plant uptake, exchangeable nutrients are attached to soil nutrients and are available on a medium-term basis. Total extractable nutrients make up the biggest pool which is formed by insoluble, unavailable nutrients.

“At the moment, farmers tend to measure the soluble pool by testing the amount of readily available nutrients and by topping up where there is a shortfall – which is fine as a short-term solution – but we need to do something more long-term.

“We have a huge bank of nutrients locked up in our soils and soil fungi has a role to play in making these unavailable nutrients available.”

By sourcing nutrients from the ‘insoluble pool’, mycorrhizal fungi limit the need for soluble nitrate, which pests and disease prefer, he added.

Unlike bacteria, fungi are extremely sensitive to inputs, including artificial fertiliser. In order to support crop production in the short-term, while fungi populations are being increased, Mr Williams suggests applying nutrients in a foliar form to improve the soil’s ability to recycle nutrients.

By applying nitrogen in the form of foliar urea for example, not only will soil fungi populations be protected, but the plant will use less energy than if it was to convert granular nitrogen, such as ammonium nitrate, into a plant available form.

For those using granular fertiliser, he advised not flushing the system with high levels of soluble nutrients, but instead to split fertiliser applications as much as possible and to avoid using starter fertilisers.

To reduce the damaging impact that pesticides can have on soil fungi, Mr Williams suggested applying a source of carbon, such as farmyard manure and compost, along with the pesticide to buffer against its potentially harmful effects.

But where mycorrhizal fungi populations are high, the need for pesticides is likely to be reduced.

“Mycorrhizal fungi aid disease suppression, both directly by creating a dense layer of hyphae around soil roots, which prevents disease from entering the plant, but also by exuding chemicals which deter pathogens.”

FARMERS GUARDIAN - Drill highlights from Groundswell no-till show

13th July 2017, Edd Mowbray

Last month’s Groundswell no-till show in Hertfordshire gave all the major drill makers a chance to show what their machines can do in a standing cover crop of vetch, oats, clover and radish... 

Crop protection magazine - conservation agriculture: Re-birth your dirt

July 2017, Tom Allen-Stevens

Conservation or Regenerative agriculture has long been the preserve of the no-till enthusiast, but are there valuable lessons for all? CPM gathers knowledge from Groundswell and on-farm trials.

Groundswell, that took place in Herts last month, could be viewed as the gathering point for disciples of regenerative agriculture, expounding minimal soil movement with metal, where bare earth is viewed with disdain and biology is the celebrated saviour of an enlightened tilth.

But that could be pigeon-holing an event that has a lot to offer mainstream agriculture – look around the stands and the packed seminars and you’ll find progressive, inquisitive arable farmers, rather than ecological activists.

“It feels a bit like Glastonbury Festival meets conventional agriculture,” notes Northants grower Andrew Pitts. “There’s a hint of organic evangelism, blended with and endorsed by professional realism – the event seems to embrace the best of both worlds. Is this the new Cereals?”

One person you probably won’t find at Cereals, but who drew a crowd at Groundswell is geologist from the University of Washington David Montgomery. His trilogy of books charts the degradation and rescue of soils, and the effect on society...

Anglia Farmer - Farmers flock to no-till day in hertfordshire

August 2017

Hundreds of farmers attended the Groundswell no-till show and conference held at Lannock Farm, near Hitchin, Hertfordshire.

Visitors were treated to direct drilling demonstrations into a range of challenging cover crop mixtures. Drills demonstrated were: CrossSlot, Dale Drills, John Deere, Ryetec, Sly Agri, Weaving, Horsch, Agri-Linc and Simtech Aitchison.

The cover crop area was supplied by Kings, who showcased different cover cropping varieties in a special trial area. Conference keynote speaker was Dr Christine Jones, who explained how farmers can increase output at the same time as reducing inorganic fertiliser use.

Host farmer Paul Cherry said: “We all need reminding what a valuable resource our soils are, and it’s time to reverse the slide in the long-term decline in soil organic matter. We have a lot to learn from experts from drier parts of the world...