Guy Singh-Watson – Could this be the future of farming?

Modern agriculture certainly since the second world war has all been about controlling nature and actually replacing nature or destroying it I would say and replacing it with a monoculture. Monocultures are incredible demanding they’re unstable, you need lots of agrochemicals you need lots of fuel to cultivate and maintain what is a very unstable state. Diversity is part of nature, the woods behind me there will be several hundred species growing together the idea is to try and learn as much from the wood as possible to mimic the complexity of those systems but try and manage it so that it is more productive. The whole idea is to try and grow food with minimum environmental impact. I want our farm to be productive in terms of food but also leaves space for wildlife so that it will be aesthetically attractive it won’t use chemicals and will use the minimum resources to produce the best quality food. Now that’s quite an ambition isn’t it? So here we’ve got cider apples growing with globe artichokes inbetween the rows. This type of cropping requires far less input. You get more good pest predator relationships, ladybirds from the artichokes feeding on aphids on the apple trees. It’s actually easier to control the weeds these artichokes cast the shade so we don’t have to do any weed control and we’ll grow a green manure around the apples which will die in the winter. It’s about trying to really learn from nature and do things in an intelligent way and accept that progress doesn’t have to come from a chemical container. Progress is much more about ecological understanding and using our knowledge wisely rather than being the kind of domineering thugs which I’m afraid to say is what most agriculture is about. Surely mixed cropping can’t be as productive as mono-cultures though? Well I’ve seen this sort of thing happening in Uganda and actually it’s many times more productive than conventional farming. If you’re in a low wage economy it is much easier to do things by hand than it is here so to try and do it in this country we really need to mechanise things which is why they are laid out in rows rather than a random mixture such as I saw in Uganda but actually there is the potential by using different parts of the environment to have a system which overall is much more productive Some of the principles which are held in permaculture where you’re trying to match the niche of different crops and different livestock and leave plenty of room for wildlife as well. This could be the future of food and it’s becoming so much more possible because of GPS technology You could set a robot or tractor to drive down this row and programme it 10 years later to come back and drive in exactly the same place and weed around the trees if you want and I dare say by the time these apples are cropping you’ll probably be able to get a robot to pick them as well. Technology is getting much smaller and accessible so I think actually mixing up intelligent use of new technology with some of these ecological principles could open up a whole new era for agriculture. The biggest challenge is just trying to get it to work commercially there are lots of hippies who love the idea and whatever but they’re not very good at making it work commercially I think that is where I come in I’ve spent 30 years growing vegetables commercially and constantly trying different systems and I find this the most exciting thing that I’ve done yet really. Farmers have got to take back control of their industry for the last 50 of 60 years I feel we’ve been lead by the nose by the agrochemical industry and agroculture has been about what they can make money selling us, which agrochemical or new bit of machinery whereas this is actually about knowledge it’s all about the farmer’s knowledge and we need to get back to that. Learning about the ecology of our fields and woodlands is the key to moving forward in an intelligent way it can be incredibly productive it can leave space for wildlife it won’t pollute our rivers it is the way forward.

5 thoughts on “Guy Singh-Watson – Could this be the future of farming?

  1. Love Riverford, Guy and all he stands for with regards to growing food organically! It tastes so much better too!

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