FARMING EXPERIMENTS

Four years ago I took over a 100 Ha farm in South West France and with a view to certifing it organic and farming cereals. After two years of standard organic practices – shallow cultivations, inter row hoeing, tine weeding, winter/spring rotations etc – it became clear the extent to which the soil was depleted. Anaylsis showed that organic matter was down to around 0.6%. PH is around 8, soil heavy clay with very little visible topsoil remaining.

Objective

I became convinced that the only way to restore fertility was to:

  1. Restore the mix of animal and vegetable by bringing animals back to the farm.
  2. Find ways of growing which didn’t involve the compaction and cultivation of the soil.

I try and test new methods rigourously, always cultivating a ‘control’ portion of the field in a traditional way, comparing yields and net margins.

The rider to these net margins is that they deal with yield, not nutrition. The link between soil health, plant health and human health has been proven many times, in studies going back hundreds of years. Organic certification deals with whats not in our food – ie no toxic chemical residues. (In as much as any food that’s crossed the globe remains traceable) But it doesn’t deal with what is or should be, in our food. When we say ‘eat 5 a day’, well 5 a day of what? A tomato grown in fertile soil in August is not the same as a tomato grown hydroponically in December. There are two aspects to this. One is the state of the soil, the second is the variety. Last year I tested two samples of wheat grown side by side and without fertiliser. On average , a local heritage variety had 50 – 60% more mineral and vitamin content than the modern wheat hybrid whilst the yield was identical.

Going forwards I need to find a way to fund the equipment necessary to test not just the yield but the nutritional qualities of crops grown in different ways. In the meantime, the question was how to grow weed free and abundant crops whilst not cultivating the soil or using toxic chemicals.

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