In this report, Future Farmers of Yorkshire bursary recipient James Johnson shares his findings from his recent visit to Groundswell 2021.
Since I came back from Harper Adams University, my father and I have been farming in a way that is probably seen as intensive agriculture, following the typical route of heavy cultivations, artificial fertilisers and high chemical inputs, something that we had both been taught to do.
However even after following what we have been taught to produce our food, we have slowly been left with wheat yields that are stagnant if not decreasing compared to 20 years ago, grass land needing huge amounts of fertiliser to feed our cattle and the climate changing in away that’s making working windows smaller and smaller.
Our soils getting less and less resilient to change in our climate.
Over the last few years I’ve really started to question why are we doing this and is this the only way we can produce food?
Is this the only way we can farm?
Over the COVID 19 outbreak, and the loss of my social life, it gave me time to really start to research.
I came across Gabe Brown a rancher in America who focused purely on soil health and diversity.
After watching many YouTube videos and reading his book ‘Dirt to Soil’, the questions in my head were starting to be answered and new ones forming.
This was America however, does this happen in the UK?
My Groundswell experience
Groundswell gave me the opportunity to experience the idea of regenerative agriculture first hand. Being able to go to lectures from forward thinking farmers who have been toying with reduced inputs and building natural fertility for 20 years.
Farmers such as Tim Parton – the first lecture I went to and it was mind blowing!
Looking at plant leaf pH to determine if it’s more susceptible to pest or disease attack before it’s even occurred and being able to put that right before any damage had taken place.
Talks on carbon credits and how they may be used in the future was also intriguing, very much in the early stages, but could definitely be a welcome income stream in the days after BPS, that is if their calculations are correct.
Lots to inspire
There was a fantastic showing of machinery too, but I’m not going to lie, I spent my time looking at cover crop mixes, compost demonstrations, lectures and talking to other farmers, gaining as much knowledge as I could to bring home to the farm.
The only thing coming from a mixed farmer is that the show was very much arable focused.
Apart from the mob grazing on herbal lays demonstration, which was very interesting, as this is something we had toyed with the idea at home but had never seen it.
Safe to say, we are putting some in next year!
Hopefully in time they will develop a grasslands part to the show.
What separates Groundswell from other shows is the ability to be able to network.
During the day or at the bar in the evening, everyone is willing to chat about their journey, their mistakes, their success and share any advice.
There’s no blueprint of 200kg/acre N fertiliser or T1,T2 chemical sprays, everyone’s farm is different, and that’s what makes it so interesting.
Groundswell has definitely helped me on my journey of regenerative agriculture, fuelling my passion in soil health and diversity, which in turn will help my father and I drive our farming business forward and make it more resilient to future change.