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In Your Field: Tom Clarke - 'About 500 seagulls bobbed on the unwanted potato lake'

I think I have found a new crop this month. It’s one nearly every farmer could sell at a good profit. Like many, I am always on the lookout for new opportunities and in the past I’ve looked at and dismissed loads; canary seed, miscanthus, lupins, even daffodils.

 

About eight years ago I did swap linseed into the rotation. But, like most, I have tended to stick with the old favourites. I say favourites, but it can be a love/hate affair. Each crop has upsides and downsides.

 

Wheat is the daily bread lining the rotation sandwich, but is getting rustier and encourages grass weeds.

 

Marrowfat peas became impossible to keep clean, hence the shift to linseed, which in turn can be a bit stubborn and has to be harvested in a good mood.

 

But, as I don’t grow OSR, it is the root crops which test my loyalty. Granted the weather has grown rebellious recently, but alternating droughts and deluges have really shown up the rootcrops’ failings.

 

Having just been elected to the NFU sugar board (sincere thanks to those who voted), you wouldn’t expect me to say a word against sugar beet, but it attracts an unfair share of flak from campaigners and commentators.

 

This year, however, it’s the potatoes which have really lost the plot. Across the country large swathes of spuds lie wet and unlifted. Where they have been soggily plucked from the ground they’ve left behind a grotty mudbath, even in our peaty fen.

 

Last week I walked fields in wheat after potatoes and discovered a new feature.


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Upon this unwanted water feature bobbed about 500 seagulls. Calmly they watched me squelch towards them at an ever slower pace. When I finally sunk to a halt they rose as one and turned the sky as black as my soil.

 

And here lies the key to my new crop. No, not seagulls, though there are plenty, but the shared photos of my ‘lake’ prompted farming colleagues to kindly suggest a fish farm.

 

However, the answer lies beneath, in the soil itself.

 

Globally there is three times as much carbon stored in soils than in all the world’s land plants. Increasing carbon in cultivated soils from an average of one to three per cent would suck a teraton of CO2 from our air - essentially resetting the climate.

 

Defra is now willing to pay farmers to maintain soil health after Brexit. What’s more there’s already a market in carbon – £25/t now, but it’s forecast to rise three to ten-fold in the coming years and there are not many crops I could say that about.

 

With new ways to monitor soil carbon and get paid, could it be that for farming black is the new green?

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