I have had a couple of interviews lately about organic farming and this makes you sit down and think a bit about what we are actually doing on the farm now and also about how we used to farm , before we were organic . Normally ,this time of year my head is filled with the sowing and planting programme , how much compost we have left , how much space is left on the propagation benches and how to make the money eke out until the new crops come in . So these interviews give me a chance to step back and think . I was surprised to see the result of one . They had interviewed chemical and organic farmers and one of the conclusions they had come up with was that organic farmers use more chemicals than they let on . This seem to be based on some comments by a chemical farmer who said organic farmers use sprays with lots of heavy metals in them and they are not as chemical free as they (we) make out .
When it comes to chemical use , I generally get through about two litres of organically certified seaweed solution on 5 hectares of fruit and vegetables per annum , which is the equivalent of spreading four pints of milk evenly over seven football pitches ; for this pollution , dear reader, I can but apologise deeply . When it comes to fertiliser use , the Environment Agency recently did a spot check on my land to see if I was within the legal limit of Nitrogen application . I am allowed up to 170kg of Nitrogen per Hectare , I had only an average of 7kg per Ha. Lucky escape there then .
Going back to the interview , I did try to explain that I, like all organic farmers , rely on the biological cycles within the soil and the environment . This view I have was recently reinforced when watching 'The Real Dirt on Farmer John' , a film about a farmer from a conventional background who went organic. In this film he shows how hard his first year was ; the high levels pests of pest and disease being a prominent feature . Now his farm is productive and a lot less troubled by either . This , he puts down to his biodynamic practices but I would say it was also due to nature readjusting itself on his farm .
It put me in mind of an old friend , Reink Noodhouse , who used to work part time on the farm I was in my first years of organicness and he had this phrase ; 'Organic Farming is nature growing at it's own pace' . The more I think about this , the more I realise how true it is and actually how simple organic farming really is . After the severe intervention chemical farmers use , nature needs time to readjust and this will not happen quickly . I would say that my farm is still adjusting after twenty five years .
Things have seemed to have changed from the soil up . We have more earthworms . I remember some of the changes the land went through when I was converting my first field to organic. The first piece I converted was half a field . I remember about three years in I ploughed the whole field together ( the non organic and the organic side ). On the organic side the field soon filled up with worm casts.On the non organic side their was nothing, just a desert of soil deadness. Heaven knows what on a microscopic level is happening to soil flora and fauna , it must be only good things ; many are linked with increased plant disease resistance and more efficient nutrient uptake. We have more ground beetles , lacewings , ladybirds and hoverflies and as a consequence have less aphids . We have more blackbirds , sparrows , starlings , great tits , blue tits , pied wagtails , skylarks , grey partridge and turtle doves . Because of this , we have less cabbage white caterpillar damage and less white fly . We have more field mice but also more little owls and kestrels nesting on the farm . We also have more frequent visits by buzzards , marsh harriers and we may even have a nesting barn owl . We have many less rabbits but more stoats , weasels , badgers and foxes . Nature is coming back into balance on our farm and my job , as an organic farmer is to provide a place suitable for it to happen ; I am here to give nature a nudge in the right direction ; not hit it hard over the head with a big stick .
Some things are not in balance ; deer, crows and pigeons are a constant menace but with there large ranging abilities and much of the surrounding farmland totally out of balance, it would take more than my 25 hectares to get them in balance .
Organic Farming doesn't always make for a pristine looking farm , there will always be weedy patches but then nature is a bit rough round the edges too. In fact , so am I .