Farming, of all kinds, is my passion. I started my career at Seale-Hayne Agricultural College in Devon, and have managed farmland, crops and livestock ever since. I am now the Farms Manager at Overbury. Fanatical about the education of everybody about, growing healthy crops, farming, food production, using technology, conservation and rural life. No-till Conservation Agriculture farm, 2013 Nuffield Farming Scholar and member of the Global Farmer Network
My introduction to Agroforestry was a great experience and one that
has opened up my eyes to viewing farmland in a very different way. As part of the Kellogg’s origins group (link)
we were very lucky to be given a tour of the Agroforestry enterprise at Blue
Bell farms, by Steven Briggs. Steven
farms as an organic farming tenant growing wheat, oats, and some vegetables on
some very good soil near Peterborough.
The 125 acres of agroforestry is laid out across six fields in 3m
bands of fruit trees separated by 24m of cropped land. The trees are on shortish, root stocks so the
fruit can be picked, and the fruit trees pruned by hand and so that the roots don't get deep enough to interfere with the land drains.
Agroforestry Fruit Trees
The system looks at the land in a 3D way. The trees are able to put roots down below
the crop root zone to capture nutrients and moisture lower down in the soil
profile. Most arable crops root between 1-2m whereas the trees go down to 10m
so there's little competition for these plant essentials. The tree divisions increase the crop edge
effect and the leaf mulch falls onto the cropland, returning nutrients as they
decompose. The trees also act as a
wind-break; for every 1’ of tree height you get a 10’ wind reduction effect,
very important in the flat fen lands.
This reduction in wind also reduces the notorious ‘fen blow’ of topsoil
across the fields and enables more spray days.
Spray days on an organic farm you ask?
Steven's soil is short of manganese so regular applications are applied
to supplement the soils deficiency to the growing crops.
Ploughing Overwintered Stubble
The strips that the trees are planted on can be planted with pollen
and nectar so that in the short term will provide brilliant insect
habitat.Overtime these will turn into
brilliant beetle banks providing habitat and food for beneficial insects
helping control pests. The system is run
with a 6m Controlled Traffic Farming layout to keep machinery wheelings running
in the same place, except where the overwintered stubbles are ploughed.
So are there any down sides?To be honest there we’re too many. Yes it ties up the land for a long
period of time as you need to write down the cost of the trees, so OK if you
own the land but difficult if you are a tenant and a 3 year FBT makes this
impossible.There is a large capital
cost, even planning at 120 trees/Ha.Over time the yield from the crops reduce as the yield from the trees
take over but if you have a market for the fruit then the output is
significant.It makes a lot of sense.
Everyone who visited was really impressed with the system and it
certainly made everyone think a little more about some of these techniques could be employed on their own farms.