No-Till's effect on the Balance Sheet

Paul Cherry writes

We are finding that one of the reasons (but not the principle reason) farmers are looking to go to no-till is nervousness about the current and future finances of arable farming. We have all become featherbedded by subsidies, but without these payments, even the most efficient farms are pretty marginal financially, especially if you strip out diversification. 

Brexit is now going ahead, and so there is the real possibility that Pillar 1 payments will be reduced or diverted away from farm subsidies to something more politically sensitive and this does not mean an end to the volatility of commodity prices. If subsidies were to be shifted towards environmental efforts, then farming which increases soil organic matter, reduces erosion and increases the carbon capture in your soils must be a win for the farm and a win for the future of farming.

A no-till system won't guarantee the best yields in the parish, but it makes a farm more future proof in terms of soil quality and ability to weather market fluctuations. We are seeing quite dramatic improvements to soil organic matter, areas that were white chalk are now dark, and fields that were impossible clay are now friable. It may be a hard concept to grasp, but we are competing for market share with arable farmers across the globe, and the vast majority of them wouldn't know what a subsidy is, so they know all about reducing costs to the absolute minimum to keep afloat.

We all want to save the planet, but when it comes down to it, the priority is to feed the people on it first. What we are trying to do is maintain the no-till approach, which seems to enable both these things at once.

At Groundswell this year we are aiming to explore this topic in more detail, with real life cost analysis from no-till systems, so it's not just seeing it from the earthworm's point of view.

The Groundswell No-Till Show takes place on 28-29th June 2017

Tickets are available here

Groundswell 2017 Tickets and Info NOW LIVE

A lot has happened since the first Groundswell show that could have fundamental impact on no-till farmers and Conservation Agriculture.
 
From Brexit and the on-going question about what this means for British farms, to the glyphosate debate. There has also been increased awareness of the power that farmers have in reducing flooding through effective use of their land, as well as wider awareness of the role the soil plays in reducing CO2 in our atmosphere. The voice of no-till farmers at a national level on the BBC has become louder, and there does seem to be a pricking up of politician’s ears that Conservation Agriculture is worth paying attention to.
 
There is certainly plenty to be discussed at this year's Groundswell
 
We are excited to announce that tickets are now live for the 2017 show.
We have a lot of inspiring speakers lined up, including David Montgomery and Anne Biklé (USA), Dr Christine Jones (Australia), Graeme Sait (Australia) and Dr Sarah Beynon (UK), as well as in-field direct drill demonstrations, talks from real farmers, opportunities for Q&A and discussion or "Con-ver-sation Agriculture" - plus a great range of food choices (have you ever tried a Groundswell Grass-Fed Burger?!) We also have a great range of relevant exhibitors.
 
This year the show is divided across two days. The first day, the Grass-Fed Day on the 28th June, will focus on getting animals back onto arable land, and on growing and finishing ruminants on pasture. There will be live mob-stocking demonstrations and talks from livestock and soil experts.

The second day, the No-Till Day on 29th June, will be more focused on the arable and feature the direct drill demonstrations, along with demonstrations of soil, cover cropping, rainfall simulation and of course, a conference barn chock-full of fascinating and inspiring speakers. We have teamed up with Kings as our Cover Crop Partner who will be showcasing some classic mixes in the field.   

For those who live further afield there are plenty of local hotels (Accommodation List) or you are also welcome to camp. Be sure to book your rooms in advance. 
 
The ticket prices are: Grass-Fed Day: £45, No-Till Day: £55, ticket for both days: £85 (+fees and VAT) - That's a £15 saving when you buy your ticket for both days.  

If you'd like to get a glimpse of what Groundswell is like, check out the film we made of last year’s show.
 
If you have any other questions or suggestions, please make contact. For more information, you can check the Groundswell website, follow us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter

We look forward to seeing you at Groundswell 2017!

The Host Farmer Writes...

We are often asked what was the driving force behind Groundswell. So we thought we’d write it down.…Not only because we love talking about ourselves, but also because we feel it’s a story that will resonate with anyone who’s made ‘the switch’ away from conventional farming.

In 2010 we were min-tilling our Hertfordshire land, feeling rather pleased with ourselves for making a move towards sustainability and cutting down on diesel costs. What we didn’t realize was that we were inadvertently creating an ideal environment for Blackgrass, and before long we were swamped with the stuff.

When the weeds took over, what stopped us from bringing the plough out of hibernation? Well, a timely visit to Tony Reynolds Lincolnshire farm gave us great inspiration (He’s been devoutly no-till, or Conservation Agriculture as he would call it, for over 15 years). This, combined with a growing belief in no-till evidenced from its prevalence in arable farming all over the world: 90% of arable farming in South Australia is now no-till (Source: SANFA), while it was estimated that globally, 111 million ha of arable land was No-Till in 2009 (source: Derpsch 2010).

Looking at the costs of ploughing, we just couldn't see how it was going to improve profitability. But we still needed that bit of validation and encouragement to step away from the cultivator.

Now we were by no means the first farmers to go no-till back in 2011, yet there was still a sense of being slightly out on the frontier by embracing what is still regarded as fairly ‘cutting edge’ in the UK.

Frontier town can be a lonely place. So we were always hungry for shared knowledge, advice from others in the same boat who’d been doing it longer, people to grumble with, or simply reduce the nagging feeling that we got from conventional farmers that we were completely bonkers.

As we went, we found an awful lot of farmers dissatisfied with the status quo, experimenting with no-till or similar techniques, and all seeking common information and wisdom.

It was this sense of ‘safety in numbers’ and a desire to tap some of the energy and knowledge of the scientists, farmers, agronomists, biologists and many other ‘-ists’ whom we’ve encountered, that led us, after 5 years of no-tilling, to establish the Groundswell No-till Show and Conference. A dedicated, independent event where no-tillers can get together, learn, and be inspired by some of the amazing brains around the world who are devoting their time to the endlessly fascinating topic of our soils, livestock and eco-systems.

We’ve been listening and learning for 6 years now – and we still tend to have more questions than answers – but that’s what makes this all so exciting. It is a constant learning curve.

We will be sharing some experiences from our years of no-till - both successes and failures, and a glimpse at the financial impact - at this year’s Groundswell Show.   The line-up of speakers for the show will be announced in the next blog post, so stay tuned.

Tickets and Lineup for Groundswell 2017 are now live.

INTRODUCING GROUNDSWELL'S GRASS-FED DAY, 28th JUNE 2017

Paul Cherry writes

We are pleased to announce the new Grass-Fed Day at Groundswell No-Till show and Conference 2017. It will take place on Wednesday 28th June, with the No-Till Day following on the 29th June.

It is for farmers who are interested in introducing livestock onto the farm, or who already have stock but want to learn more about pasture-fed livestock, particularly in the arable rotation. It will naturally complement our No-Till Day, which is fundamentally all about soil health.

The inspiration for this day has in part come from the Groundswell team’s travels this year: From the Pasture Fed Livestock Association's AGM and conference in Cirencester, to the plains of Salina, Kansas at the No-Till on the Plains Conference. The knowledge gained from such trips has led us to a renewed focus on getting our 120 strong beef herd into our arable rotation. The key benefits, in short, are that it cleans up cover crops, increases soil fertility and gets carbon back into the soil. If done cheaply, it can be quite profitable as well. 

As John mentioned in the last post, there will be camping available or local hotels for people who want to come to both days of this year's show. More details will follow soon, so get the 28th-29th June in your diaries, and follow us on Twitter to stay up to date for more announcements and ticket releases.

 

Groundswell visit to 'No-Till on the Plains' in Salina, Kansas

The No-Till on the Plains Board 2017

A small team from Groundswell went over to Kansas in January to attend the 21st 'No-till on the Plains' Winter Conference. No-till on the Plains (www.notill.org ) is a farmer run organisation that promotes the use of no-till techniques, specifically in the Great Plains in the middle of the USA. This might seem an odd place to look for ideas that would be applicable to farmers in the UK, but we chose this conference over those of several other no-till organisations in America, as it has more of an emphasis on regenerating soils and working in harmony with nature than the others and this is in tune with what we are keen to promote at Groundswell.

Before we got to this, we had a quick tour around the Land Institute, (www.landinstitute.org ) a wonderful organisation set up by Wes Jackson in the 1970's to find an antidote to tillage agriculture, which Jackson identified as one of the great destroyers of soil around the world. In the fragile landscape of the Great Plains, tillage is even more harmful than for us in the UK, but still many farmers practise it and dust storms and erosion are still happening. We saw the scientists at work trying to breed perennial varieties of common cereals and other agricultural crops in the hope that one day we'll be able to grow perennial wheat (or whatever) without having to plant it every year. Strangely, although this institute is located only a few miles from where the No-till Conference has been these last 21 years, there is next to no interaction between the two organisations, although we did bump into one of the scientists again at the Conference. He wore a frown.

The Conference stretched over four days, day one was for those thinking of going over to no-till and was attended by 80 or so beginners. On days two and three, 800 delegates shuttled between talks that took place simultaneously in six rooms dotted about the building. On the last day 150 hardcore delegates sat together and discussed how to increase their soil and system resilience.

So, you want to know what we learned? The overall message I picked up was the benefits of getting grazing animals back onto arable land, something our great grandfathers well knew. Jay Fuhrer feels so strongly about this that he has addedtwo extra principles of no-till/conservation agriculture to the three standard ones; minimal disturbance of the soil, continuous cover and diversity. The two extras are: keeping continuous living roots in the soil (with either cover crops or perennials) and integrating livestock into your system.

We will be bringing some of these ideas to Groundswell this year. We will be having an extra Livestock Groundswell day on the 28th June and the No-till day, as advertised, on the 29th. There will be camping available or local hotels for people who want to come to both shows. It is going to be fantastic, you really don't want to miss this. Details will follow, but mark your diaries now!

John Cherry

Landward - No-Till Event Showcases Holistic Approach - Brian Sims - October 2016

Held at Lannock Farm, Weston, Hertfordshire, on 30 June 2016, the Groundswell No-till Show brought together several hundred farmers, agronomists, engineers, machinery manufacturers and importers for an extravaganza of information exchange with live demonstrations and seminars on no-till, cover cropping, mob grazing and practical conservation agriculture (CA) in its many guises.
CA is a relative novelty in the UK where we are lagging behind many other regions of the world with just 3.2% of our (approximately) 6 million hectares of arable land managed under the system. So it will be just as well to reiterate that the basic principles of CA comprise: minimal soil disturbance (in practice no-till is the goal); permanent soil cover (with crop residues and cover crops); and diversity in cropping (including rotations, associations and even agroforestry).
CA starts with the premise that soil is the most valuable asset of our agricultural sector and that insufficient attention has hitherto been paid to its well-being in terms of structure, fertility, biodiversity and health. Without healthy soils sustainable production increases are impossible to achieve. It is not a system that can be implemented solely through the acquisition of a no-till seed drill, it requires a holistic ecosystems approach that takes into consideration the complete crop (and animal) environment and its complex interactions with the landscape and beyond. The No-till Show provided a platform for an impressive and informative array of enthusiasts to discuss and demonstrate the essential interactions and synergies that make CA a powerful tool for increasing the food supply for the world’s burgeoning population. And at the same time ensuring that the vital natural resources of soil and water are conserved to continue to deliver essential ecosystem services for future generations. CA is relevant to farming systems throughout the world and holds great potential for farmers in the UK.

To read the full report by Brian Sims (www.engineering4development.co.uk) click on the image below: