With snow currently on the ground, the soil is very much in the middle of its winter sleep, a few cold frosts will not go amiss to dry and rectify some of the damage caused to the ground from the excessive wet weather we have had. 2012 was wet, according to my figures we had over 40% more rain than our five year average, despite the first three months of the year being in drought conditions.
Now as we wait for signs of the ground drying out during February and beyond, we will start looking at planting our spring crops. This will start with the spring beans which last year were fantastic, then into our spring wheat which was not planned, but has come about either to fields we did not get planted in the autumn, or fields that were planted but have subsequently failed thanks to rotting seed and hungry slugs. Not ideal, but I am hopeful of a bit of luck sometime soon.
Whilst waiting we continue with the winter list of jobs. Alastair is making the most of the frosty soil to get a bit of much needed hedge cutting underway around some of the fields. Also we are cleaning out a field ditch thanks to the help of a neighboring farmer and their digger. With clean ditches, and well maintained land drains under the fields, the soil should dry out a little quicker as conditions improve. This is a job we have been gradually doing over the last four or five years. Another few years and we should have done the whole farm. This essential, but expensive operation ideally needs repeating once every 20 to 30 years, so is not too onerous.
Away from the farm, January is the annual Oxford Farming Conference where for a couple of days and nights the agricultural industry gets together to hear inspiring, if not sometimes controversial talks and debates on all matter of subjects. I had the pleasure of attending once, and would recommend it to anyone in the industry. This year delegates were not disappointed as Mark Lynas, an environmental campaigner previously against genetic modification, left the audience in shocked surprise as he apologized having now “discovered science.” He has realized although his previous convictions were based on good intentions, they were completely wrong and damaging. He had feared that genetic modification was only to benefit large multinational biotec companies, whilst he hadn’t given thought to the needs of the worldwide consumer, and the growing population which is predicted hit around 9 billion by 2050, all needing to be fed. He has realized that GM is safe, predictable, and has many advantages, that as a world we should be looking at.
Mark Lynas’ speech made headlines in the general media, whilst social media has been buzzing with interest, from both sides of the debate. Either way, I think that whilst Genetic Modification is not the answer to everything ( just to note all crops grown in Britain are GM free), we owe it to ourselves and future generations to look at this well proven science in all areas, rather than write off so called ‘Frankenstein’ foods simply on hysteria and hear-say. Well done Mr Lynas, you may have stirred a few people up, but nothing like a good, well researched, informative debate. I recommend sitting down with a cup of tea and an open mind to see his speech in full at www.ofc.org.uk, it will certainly give you food for thought - GM, Organic or LEAF Marque is for you to choose.
Duncan Farrington has been a LEAF farmer since 1998 and Bottom Farm became a LEAF Demonstration Farm in 2003.