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.