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Russell McKenzie: 'With all the hype about soil degradation isn't it time to wake up and smell the coffee'

Russell is farm manager for John Sheard Farms and a partner in the family farm of D.J. Tebbit, responsible for a combined total of 995 hectares (2,457 acres) with land crossing into Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire. Cropping is split between winter wheat grown for seed, milling and feed, winter barley, winter oilseed rape, spring barley, spring beans and spring oats. Russell is an AHDB monitor farmer and a 2014 Nuffield Scholar.

My initial thoughts when I started writing this blog was I was glad I actually made it through to 2017, as 2016 seemed to be an ‘annus horribilis’ for departing celebrities.

 

It certainly makes you appreciate why we should make the most of the brief journey we have on this planet, and perhaps youth really is wasted on the young.

 

Early January has seen the usual round of pigeon chasing and assessing what state oilseed rape crops are in after a tricky autumn where lack of moisture hampered establishment rather than the previous year where flea beetle pressure was the domineering force.

 

It is now a crop which is not only proving challenging to get established, but is costing significantly more to grow than it did 10 years ago.

 

In my opinion, it has moved into the ‘high risk’ category, although the rewards may be great if prices and yields remain stable.

 

The Oxford Farming Conference has just finished and, although I did not attend, social media allows us to keep updated with events which took place. Among many things was Andrea Leadsom’s proposal to abolish the three crop rule.

 

There was a staggering statistic from Konrad Brits’ brilliantly engaging lecture on coffee that some 70 million cups of coffee are consumed daily in the UK – it is probably no surprise to learn the UK is one of the fastest growing coffee markets.

 

Another theme which stood out was the importance of soil degradation and the need for appropriate soil management. This has been spoken about a lot recently, but it is a subject which is not going to go away and neither should it.

 

We have a duty of care to future generations and, as custodians of the countryside, to look after this most precious and vulnerable of resources, as there won’t be any more of it built.

 

There is a lot of discussion and focus on building soil organic matter and improving soils and I am glad we chose to introduce cover crops and move towards a no-tillage system three years ago, as benefits are clear.

 

With all the hype about soil degradation and its damaging effects, perhaps it is time to wake up and smell the coffee?


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