Guy’s news: Time to emerge from the gloom?

A few tantalising breaks in the clouds reveal a sun growing in strength, but with sodden ground nothing has been planted to soak up the rays. To add to our gloom, areas of purple sprouting broccoli are withering, stunted and yellow. Digging up a few plants reveals roots rotting in airless, water-logged soil.

We homo sapiens are incredibly versatile. Given peace, stability and reasonable governance, we manage to grow food in the most extreme circumstances: in deserts, on the sides of mountains, and in the Arctic Circle. I am confident we can adapt to a bit of rain. However, successful agronomy is always based on accumulated experience, and the assumption that the future will be similar to the past. A longer time frame and more objectivity than I can muster are needed to assess whether unusual weather should be attributed to climate change, but perhaps it is time to rethink some of our farming practices.

Based on the last ten years, the biggest challenge we face (in the west at least) is extended periods of heavy rainfall, with consequent problems of water-logging, the inability to plough, plant and weed in critical periods, soil being lost or leached of nutrients, and difficulties in harvesting. Most modern horticultural trends exacerbate the problem: ever larger machines and fields, intensification to squeeze more crops from the same area, and the abandoning of crop rotations which give soil a chance to recover under grass. This ‘progress’ isn’t inevitable; better doesn’t have to mean bigger and more. There are advances in GPS guidance, battery technology, robotics and our understanding of ecology and soil health that could all make a very different type of farming possible.

We are experimenting with permanent raised beds, alley and mixed cropping amongst perennials, low ground-pressure vehicles, and small areas of crops surrounded by buffers of grass. All have the potential to be more resilient, less damaging and even, one day, more profitable than prevailing methods; but inspiring a wider agricultural mindshift will need more investment in machinery and knowledge than a few maverick gardeners and farmers can offer. For now, the sun is beginning to shine. Perhaps by the time this is read we will have started planting.

Guy Singh-Watson

6 responses to “Guy’s news: Time to emerge from the gloom?

  1. Henrietta Campbell.

    Oh for some dry weather! the ground is a quagmire.

  2. I do sympathise: allotments on the heavy clay of London are still very wet.
    It is true each gardening year is different but the trend, long predicted, is for more rainfall, so , yes, we must all adapt, and people like you will show us the way.
    I do love your determination to find new methods , be different and experiment.

  3. We’re in the midlands. Ground still sodden here, too. The local parks have saplings planted a few years ago… the bases of those trunks are standing in puddles of water. Our tiny lawn is sodden. That alone will take a few days to dry out. If we were relying on food grown at home, we’d be in trouble (deep shade from aug-March from a neigbour’s huge pine tree doesn’t help). Thanks for everything you do. We can’t always afford to buy your produce, but when we do, we can see and taste the difference.

  4. Yes I agree with the previous comment..many thanks. I am amazed at the quality of the veg in our boxes..despite all the set backs. Keep leading the way.

  5. me too ! amazed at the quality of your veg, AND the consistency of top class veg each week. I love the newsletter for keeping me grounded in the seasons (!!) and hearing about the challenges of growing food for our plates. I am in awe of farmers – but particularly in awe of organic farmers

  6. Izabella Natrins

    As a nutritional chef, I can’t praise you guys enough for your commitment to excellence, to education and to bringing us top quality fruit and veggies.

    Food is medicine and Mother Nature has made sure that we experience the nutrient-density our food through its smell, appearance and flavour. On that basis I can say with confidence, that the weekly bounty Riverford’s customers receive is VERY good medicine!

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