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

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

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Riverford founder and farmer, Guy Singh-Watson, talks permaculture, ecology and mixed cropping in his latest rant.

Could this be the future of farming?

modern agriculture certainly since the Second World War it's all been about controlling nature and you know actually replacing nature destroying it I would daresay and replacing it with a monoculture monocultures they're incredibly demanding they're unstable you need lots of agrochemicals you need lots of fuel to cultivate to maintain what is a very unstable state diversity is part of nature of me I mean the woods behind me you know they'll be like maybe 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 and the whole idea is to try and grow food with the minimum environmental impact I mean I want our farm to be productive and in terms of food but also leaves space for wildlife that will be aesthetically attractive they won't use chemicals and it will use the minimum of resources to produce the best quality food now that's quite quite an ambition isn't it so here we we've got cider apples growing with global artichokes in between the rows this sort of mixed cropping requires far less inputs you get more good pest predator relationships baby birds from the artichokes feeding on the aphids on the apple trees it's actually easier to control the weeds these artichokes cast a shade that we don't really have to do any weed control and we will grow a green manure around the apples which will die in the winter and it's about trying to really learn from nature and do things in intelligent way and accept that progress doesn't have to have come out of a kennel container if 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 is what most agriculture is all about surely mixed cropping can't be as productive it's monocultures though well I've seen this sort of thing happening in Uganda and actually it's many many times more different conventional farming I think that you're in a low-wage economy it's much easier to do things by hand than it is here so to try and do it in this country really needs to mechanize things which is why they're laid out in rows rather than a kind of random mixture such as I saw in Uganda but actually there is the potential by using different parts of the environment actually to have a system which overall is much more productive some of the principles there in you know held up in permaculture we're trying to match the niche of different crops and different livestock and you know leave plenty of room for wildlife as well this could be the future of food and it's becoming so much more possible now because of GPS technology so you know you could set a robot or a tractor to drive down this road and program it ten years later to come back drive it 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 and the technology is all getting much smaller and much more accessible so I think actually mixing up you know intelligent use of new technology with some of these ecological principles could open up a whole kind of new era for agriculture the biggest challenge is just trying to get it to work commercially I mean they're lots of hippies who love the idea and wherever but you know they're not very good actually making it work mostly I think that's where I come in you know I've spent 30 years of growing commercial vegetables commercially and you know constantly trying different systems and you know I find this the most exciting thing that I've done yet really farmers have absolutely got take back control of their industry for the last 50 or 60 years you know I feel we've been led by the nose by the agrochemical industry and you know agriculture has been about what they can make money selling us you know which agrochemical which new bare machinery and so on whereas you know actually this is all about knowledge it's all about the farmers knowledge and we need to get back to that learning to understand the ecology of our fields and woodlands is the key to moving forward in intelligent way it can be incredibly productive you know it can leave space for wildlife it won't pollute our rivers it is the way forward

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