Measuring progress

On Your Farm presenter Charlotte Smith and Archers’ actor Lucy Speed open the programme from the middle of Devon by explaining that they are looking for a farm but are surrounded by large sheds and outwardly industrial structures. Somewhere in this seemingly inappropriate setting, they are expecting to meet Andy Gray, a possible finalist for one of the programme’s annual awards.

Andy’s business bridges the gap between livestock farmers and end users of meat. He operates the large food grade cutting and packing lines that they saw on arrival. As well as selling dog food, he also farms 150 hectares of arable crops, as well as keeping a herd of deer and a herd of cattle. Other business activities in his eclectic business include a quarry for heritage building stone.

During the visit, the conversation turns to remedial best practice for soil and the new funding schemes for English farming, based on the provision of a public good such as healthy soil. Rothamstead soil scientist Andy Neil is on hand to discuss some of the vital detail. Charlotte Smith is impressed that Andy should have engaged a Rothamstead professional to measure the recovery of former arable fields. Andy, on the other hand is pragmatic: if he can’t quantify the improvements he is making on his land, he won’t get any government cash. Gotcha.

Going underground

After centuries of agriculture, scientists are finally admitting that they are in the dark about the role of earth worms. Today’s Guardian carries a piece in which earth worms are estimated to add 140 million tonnes of wheat to the world’s wheat harvest, without a fully-argued reasoning of how they might do this.

There is more than “nice to know” involved. Crop scientists have been happy to spray crops without a full understanding of what makes them grow well. Shouldn’t we change this?

From Sir Albert Howard to Richard Higgins

It is time to unpack Sir Albert Howard’s legacy and what he learned in Indore. Howard was writing extensively about his composting system in the 1930s and on into the early years of the second world war. He died in 1944, at a time when when mixed arable and livestock farming was still the norm for European agriculture.

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