New Ideas in Farming

16 May, 2016 - 13:30 | Lara Pollard-Jones

Farming is both a very traditional and a very experimental and innovative activity.  On the one hand, we are inevitably tied to the land and its attributes, whether they are constraints or benefits.  On the other we have experience, science and happenstance to provide new ways of doing things – as usual necessity is often the mother of invention and, of course, most farms are almost entirely held together by baler twine!

The innovations started when moving from nomadic to pastoral and then to tillage systems and the first important innovations were the plough, followed considerably later by the mould-board to turn the furrows more effectively, and of course the rotation of crops to eradicate diseases and feed the soil.  Originally we were all “organic” and it was only following the discovery that some intensive farming practices might be destroying the soil that the Soil Association and the current organic systems appeared during the twentieth century.  This recent period has also seen accelerating innovation in terms of the controversial genetic engineering or modification and cloning.  

Meanwhile traditional methods have been modified and accelerated, with artificial insemination and embryo transplant techniques, while with soil testing more effective use of minerals and fertilisers is possible.  Similarly scanning enables animals to be fed most effectively when producing their young.  Over-use of fertilisers has had detrimental effects on watercourses and over-use of pesticides has resulted in a reduction of wildlife both in quantity and diversity, while some of the bugs have been able to evolve to resist the chemicals and so the developments go on …  and debates on anti-biotics and neo-nicotinoids and bees, not to mention the pro’s and con’s of badgers and their role in the bovine TB cycle.

A particularly interesting development is the work of the Savory Institute in managing grazing using intensive short term mob-grazing to affect the soil structure briefly without compaction or over-grazing.  This has been used in Southern America and other developing countries to reverse desertification although, as ever, there are strong views held by both advocates and critics. 

 

Farming is both a very traditional and a very experimental and innovative activity.  On the one hand, we are inevitably tied to the land and its attributes, whether they are constraints or benefits.  On the other we have experience, science and happenstance to provide new ways of doing things – as usual necessity is often the mother of invention and, of course, most farms are almost entirely held together by baler twine!

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