The future of arable farming

beardface

Member
Mixed Farmer
Location
East Yorkshire
I've been thinking lately about the debate around food production and how arable farming seems to escape the negativity at the moment.

Are large monocultures grown intensively on the best acres the answer to sustainable food production? I don't think so. The reality is that an allotment produces 10 times more food than an equivalent acre of arable monoculture.

So realistically what's needed isn't the equivalent of the Highland clearances for stock farms, but a complete rethink of arable/horticultural production. What if every acre of highly productive land was the equivalent of a small allotment. Imagine the amount of people we could feed of a smaller acreage. The amount of land that could then be rewilded, forested or put into permanent pasture.

 

Guleesh

Member
Livestock Farmer
Location
Isle of Skye
The problem is that those small bits of very productive land only produce those amazing yields with inputs, -compost, manure etc. You need a much larger bit of land to gather the materials to keep the small bit fertile and productive.

We have a little veg plot here and so I watch a lot of gardening videos and market gardening channels on youtube, Those places look very impressive, but buying in compost is the norm, and those making their own compost are bringing in materials from farms, stables and sometimes food waste to do so.

IMO the main reason that constant inputs are required is the break in the cycle, the vegetables are fed to humans, and human 'manure' all goes down the pan, and not back onto the soil that grew the veg. But who'd want to eat it then?
 
I've been thinking lately about the debate around food production and how arable farming seems to escape the negativity at the moment.

Are large monocultures grown intensively on the best acres the answer to sustainable food production? I don't think so. The reality is that an allotment produces 10 times more food than an equivalent acre of arable monoculture.

So realistically what's needed isn't the equivalent of the Highland clearances for stock farms, but a complete rethink of arable/horticultural production. What if every acre of highly productive land was the equivalent of a small allotment. Imagine the amount of people we could feed of a smaller acreage. The amount of land that could then be rewilded, forested or put into permanent pasture.

im not sure thats true considering the allotments and yeilds ive seen,though monoculture is not sustainable unlike the old mixed farms
 

Banana Bar

Member
BASE UK Member
Location
Bury St Edmunds
The problem is that those small bits of very productive land only produce those amazing yields with inputs, -compost, manure etc. You need a much larger bit of land to gather the materials to keep the small bit fertile and productive.

We have a little veg plot here and so I watch a lot of gardening videos and market gardening channels on youtube, Those places look very impressive, but buying in compost is the norm, and those making their own compost are bringing in materials from farms, stables and sometimes food waste to do so.

IMO the main reason that constant inputs are required is the break in the cycle, the vegetables are fed to humans, and human 'manure' all goes down the pan, and not back onto the soil that grew the veg. But who'd want to eat it then?

Americans say “ you must keep poop in the loop” I agree wholeheartedly with this.
 

MattR

Member
That article seems to be comparing allotment-produced veg with farm-produced cereals, or am I reading it wrong? The pertinent fact is surely that the crops that tend to be grown by allotment holders (potatoes, say) are generally much higher yielding than combinables, which make up the majority of UK agricultural cropping by area.

"fruit and vegetable yields of 31–40 tonnes per hectare per year, 4–11 times the productivity of the major agricultural crops in the Leicestershire region"

What are the main crops in the Leicestershire region? If wheat and other cereals then that is a downright absurd comparison. Are allotment holders growing little patches of wheat yielding 40 ton/acre and making their own bread? If its comparing like-for-like, ie to field scale potatoes etc, then that is surely an equally absurd claim. The UK average potato yield is around 15-20 ton/acre, so are allotment holders growing 200 ton/acre potato crops???
 
The problem is that those small bits of very productive land only produce those amazing yields with inputs, -compost, manure etc. You need a much larger bit of land to gather the materials to keep the small bit fertile and productive.

We have a little veg plot here and so I watch a lot of gardening videos and market gardening channels on youtube, Those places look very impressive, but buying in compost is the norm, and those making their own compost are bringing in materials from farms, stables and sometimes food waste to do so.

IMO the main reason that constant inputs are required is the break in the cycle, the vegetables are fed to humans, and human 'manure' all goes down the pan, and not back onto the soil that grew the veg. But who'd want to eat it then?

I'm going to diverge a little here. There's compost and then there's compost. Some is reduced landfill waste that you can find scientific studies online claiming "compost" will kill plants. When, in reality the material that they've studied is reduced landfill waste.

Or you can make compost which contains the full soil food web.

What you do with that, or how you make it is determined by what does this particular soil and the intended crop need in terms of organisms and organic matter. If you don't need so much OM, you can make compost extract and apply that to the soil, and tea to apply to above ground foliage - depending on plant needs or challenges.

What I'm getting at is, depending on previous management/abuse the amount of compost, or extract, or teas is variable. Once beyond two or three years, with careful management, the system should be nearly self sustaining - because biology reproduces.

Not all composting material need be land based either.

It's not that simple, but that's the basics of it.
 

Blaithin

Member
Livestock Farmer
Location
Alberta
Do urban areas not have compost there?

Here cities have compost bins out beside the garbage and recycling bins. They then have land sites outside the city where the compost scraps are managed and produce a decent compost.

There are even places experimenting with digesters and compost from human waste I believe.

Don’t need land mass to source fertility. We have a giant source in our own population.
 
Do urban areas not have compost there?

Here cities have compost bins out beside the garbage and recycling bins. They then have land sites outside the city where the compost scraps are managed and produce a decent compost.

There are even places experimenting with digesters and compost from human waste I believe.

Don’t need land mass to source fertility. We have a giant source in our own population.

Unless that material is analysed under a microscope you don't really know what you're getting. Landfill operators have identified an income stream labeling and selling "reduced waste", sometimes "putrefied reduced waste" as compost.
 

Blaithin

Member
Livestock Farmer
Location
Alberta
Unless that material is analysed under a microscope you don't really know what you're getting. Landfill operators have identified an income stream labeling and selling "reduced waste", sometimes "putrefied reduced waste" as compost.
Compost isn’t at the landfill here. It’s at different locations. Yeah it’s reliant on people not tossing the bag and the lettuce in and just the lettuce, but it’s all different bins, trucks, handling and locations.
 
Compost isn’t at the landfill here. It’s at different locations. Yeah it’s reliant on people not tossing the bag and the lettuce in and just the lettuce, but it’s all different bins, trucks, handling and locations.

Regardless, there is a significant amount of knowledge required in the process producing proper compost that gives outstanding results due to the biology within. We also have separate bins, but that doesn't have much bearing on the final product result tbh.
 

Blaithin

Member
Livestock Farmer
Location
Alberta
Regardless, there is a significant amount of knowledge required in the process producing proper compost that gives outstanding results due to the biology within. We also have separate bins, but that doesn't have much bearing on the final product result tbh.
So it’s the skill set that needs more development.

Regardless the idea that “You need a much larger bit of land to gather the materials to keep the small bit fertile and productive” is only half true. We already have the material available to produce plenty of fertility for smaller allotments. It’s in the urban centres, land otherwise out of the cycle of production. Bring urban waste back into play, it’s only a wasteland because we let it be.

The management just needs more advancement.
 
So it’s the skill set that needs more development.

Regardless the idea that “You need a much larger bit of land to gather the materials to keep the small bit fertile and productive” is only half true. We already have the material available to produce plenty of fertility for smaller allotments. It’s in the urban centres, land otherwise out of the cycle of production. Bring urban waste back into play, it’s only a wasteland because we let it be.

The management just needs more advancement.

It depends, the biology that would be desired in a finished product comes from the starter ingredients mainly. However there are general rules, recipes, conditions, desired outcomes in play there so, what the starter materials are and how they are managed is also critical. Making compost with the desirable levels of biology is scientific method mixed with art form. There are methods of adding in biology after the fact as well. But, without the knowledge in the making process and without the proper testing, it's just bluffing of sorts. It's the biology in the finished product, at the correct levels for the plant combined with what was in that soil in the first instance, managed correctly after making and applying it, that reduces the need for volume of product going into the future.

There's a LOT of information on compost out there that would be................. wrong, tbh. Well intentioned no doubt, but misleading all the same. There are ways of visually determining what might be in a compost, but without microscope analysis it's guessing as to what's exactly in there. So, people ask isn't suspected good good enough? Well, what was in your soils to begin with, that now will have a material added to it of unknown biology, might one be upsetting biological balances in that soil that had they been known, wouldn't have been desirable to alter.

I should add, it can be possible, if a crap compost isn't totally terrible that that material can be incoluated with good biology to produce good biological compost, so that's a thing also. Some composts however, better walk away from rather than attempt rehabilitate.

A mix of Allan Savorys ideas on management and Elaine Inghams compost amendments would do wonders for the world.
 

Guleesh

Member
Livestock Farmer
Location
Isle of Skye
It depends, the biology that would be desired in a finished product comes from the starter ingredients mainly. However there are general rules, recipes, conditions, desired outcomes in play there so, what the starter materials are and how they are managed is also critical. Making compost with the desirable levels of biology is scientific method mixed with art form. There are methods of adding in biology after the fact as well. But, without the knowledge in the making process and without the proper testing, it's just bluffing of sorts. It's the biology in the finished product, at the correct levels for the plant combined with what was in that soil in the first instance, managed correctly after making and applying it, that reduces the need for volume of product going into the future.

There's a LOT of information on compost out there that would be................. wrong, tbh. Well intentioned no doubt, but misleading all the same. There are ways of visually determining what might be in a compost, but without microscope analysis it's guessing as to what's exactly in there. So, people ask isn't suspected good good enough? Well, what was in your soils to begin with, that now will have a material added to it of unknown biology, might one be upsetting biological balances in that soil that had they been known, wouldn't have been desirable to alter.

I should add, it can be possible, if a crap compost isn't totally terrible that that material can be incoluated with good biology to produce good biological compost, so that's a thing also. Some composts however, better walk away from rather than attempt rehabilitate.

A mix of Allan Savorys ideas on management and Elaine Inghams compost amendments would do wonders for the world.

You are right, but I want to add, it's not really that hard to make a good compost, and should be remembered that the compost is applied to feed the soil, not the crop. The soil biology will utilise crap compost, that's what it does. Nature doesn't have compost heaps, it all happens in the soil.

Making good compost can be a science and an artform, but it's not realistic to think that every bucket of compost produced can have this attention lavished on it, it's not complicated to make compost good enough to keep soil healthy and to replace what is lost from it by the harvesting of fruit and vegetables.

You rightly point out that the starter materials, and how they are managed are critical to making high quality compost, but are the leftovers after harvesting and removing from site a crop of vegetables really enough? I doubt it.

The system can't be self sustaining, unless the yields from an area were much, much lower, to allow far more of what is grown to return to the soil via the compost -which amounts to the same as using more ground than the minimum necessary growing area, in order to support that area.
 
You are right, but I want to add, it's not really that hard to make a good compost, and should be remembered that the compost is applied to feed the soil, not the crop. The soil biology will utilise crap compost, that's what it does. Nature doesn't have compost heaps, it all happens in the soil.

Making good compost can be a science and an artform, but it's not realistic to think that every bucket of compost produced can have this attention lavished on it, it's not complicated to make compost good enough to keep soil healthy and to replace what is lost from it by the harvesting of fruit and vegetables.

To make biologically complete compost, one must understand the biology that's present in a soil first, then what is proposed to be grown and the balance of biology that's needed to attain the optimum conditions. Randomly throwing stuff in get's the results one would expect. Where as knowing what to put in and why will save massively on volume firstly but also enable the correct biology to be present in the soils and on the plant to protect it from pests, diseases etc.

Nature has decomposers such as bacteria and fungi, but what they decompose remains in mostly plant unavailable form. Until their predators unlock those nutrients and make them plant available when they consume their prey and excrete the excess around a plants roots. Plants farm micro organisms by excreting exudates in the soil through and around their roots, they can make changes to those exudates to attract a specific species of bacteria or fungi as they need specific nutrients. The plants attract the prey, which attracts the predators which is one form of nutrient supply to the plant.

If you peg in crap compost to the soil you will likely end up with human and plant pathogens, dormant stages of pests and parasites, weed seeds and other undesirables. For example if the bacterial level is too high you can set the soil in favour of growing weeds not what you intended. What you won't end up with is, the most beneficial conditions for you pasture, vegetables, trees or whatever crop to thrive in. While that may be better in some ways than a chemically knackered soil with little to no organic matter it's a hell of a way short of where we could aim for.


You rightly point out that the starter materials, and how they are managed are critical to making high quality compost, but are the leftovers after harvesting and removing from site a crop of vegetables really enough? I doubt it.

The system can't be self sustaining, unless the yields from an area were much, much lower, to allow far more of what is grown to return to the soil via the compost -which amounts to the same as using more ground than the minimum necessary growing area, in order to support that area.

I never suggested the leftovers of a vegetable crop alone would make biologically complete compost. The biology in the finished product mainly comes from the surfaces of the materials used, when used in the correct proportions, using the correct method of composting etc.

The secret to success is having the correct biology in the soil - it's not there automatically just because it's the soil or just because Farmer Jones is adamant that what he's been doing for the past fifty years is the one true way. What we are able to do is to find out what biology is in a field and add to it, or subtract in some cases, we can also provide predators and fungi, bacteria are rarely a lacking factor. With monitoring and sympathetic management with the biology in mind, and hoping we don't have a natural disaster then yes, the system is pretty much self sustaining after a few short years once the biology has been corrected. Because biology reproduces, and we're not running out of sands, silts, clays, pebbles, rocks, or bedrock any time soon.

Using the soil food web methods has been demonstrated successfully in small and large scale farms, as well as large and small scale landscape projects all across the world.
 

Guleesh

Member
Livestock Farmer
Location
Isle of Skye
To make biologically complete compost, one must understand the biology that's present in a soil first, then what is proposed to be grown and the balance of biology that's needed to attain the optimum conditions. Randomly throwing stuff in get's the results one would expect. Where as knowing what to put in and why will save massively on volume firstly but also enable the correct biology to be present in the soils and on the plant to protect it from pests, diseases etc.

Nature has decomposers such as bacteria and fungi, but what they decompose remains in mostly plant unavailable form. Until their predators unlock those nutrients and make them plant available when they consume their prey and excrete the excess around a plants roots. Plants farm micro organisms by excreting exudates in the soil through and around their roots, they can make changes to those exudates to attract a specific species of bacteria or fungi as they need specific nutrients. The plants attract the prey, which attracts the predators which is one form of nutrient supply to the plant.

If you peg in crap compost to the soil you will likely end up with human and plant pathogens, dormant stages of pests and parasites, weed seeds and other undesirables. For example if the bacterial level is too high you can set the soil in favour of growing weeds not what you intended. What you won't end up with is, the most beneficial conditions for you pasture, vegetables, trees or whatever crop to thrive in. While that may be better in some ways than a chemically knackered soil with little to no organic matter it's a hell of a way short of where we could aim for.




I never suggested the leftovers of a vegetable crop alone would make biologically complete compost. The biology in the finished product mainly comes from the surfaces of the materials used, when used in the correct proportions, using the correct method of composting etc.

The secret to success is having the correct biology in the soil - it's not there automatically just because it's the soil or just because Farmer Jones is adamant that what he's been doing for the past fifty years is the one true way. What we are able to do is to find out what biology is in a field and add to it, or subtract in some cases, we can also provide predators and fungi, bacteria are rarely a lacking factor. With monitoring and sympathetic management with the biology in mind, and hoping we don't have a natural disaster then yes, the system is pretty much self sustaining after a few short years once the biology has been corrected. Because biology reproduces, and we're not running out of sands, silts, clays, pebbles, rocks, or bedrock any time soon.

Using the soil food web methods has been demonstrated successfully in small and large scale farms, as well as large and small scale landscape projects all across the world.


Mmm.. so compost is no good unless you've signed up to Elaine Inghams courses to learn how to make it the right way?

I can't accept this, making good compost isn't that hard, and if the soil is in reasonable shape to begin with then it's very forgiving if the compost applied isn't the best batch. IMHO Attempts to over-complicate the process in order to sell information just alienates people.
 
Mmm.. so compost is no good unless you've signed up to Elaine Inghams courses to learn how to make it the right way?

I can't accept this, making good compost isn't that hard, and if the soil is in reasonable shape to begin with then it's very forgiving if the compost applied isn't the best batch. IMHO Attempts to over-complicate the process in order to sell information just alienates people.

I don't think playing the man is called for but there ya go, butting out of this now.
 

Guleesh

Member
Livestock Farmer
Location
Isle of Skye
I don't think playing the man is called for but there ya go, butting out of this now.

Not sure what 'playing the man' means?

All I'm doing is stating that I don't agree with all of what you're saying. I make some compost, and grow some veg, I don't believe that an area of intensely cropped land can continue to be productive without continually replacing a good deal of what is removed from it.

I do acknowledge that biology reproduces, and given sufficient rest time could self sustain but I don't agree that attempts to permanently fix soil biology alone, could keep up with the demands of an intensely cropped area of veg.
 

Top cereal and oilseed growers honoured at the Yield Enhancement Network Awards 2021

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Despite an average growing year for most crops, many growers managed to go above and beyond their predicted max yields, with Lincolnshire grower Tim Lamyman taking the top spots for his wheat yields and his world record breaking winter barley yield.

The highest cereal and oilseed yields achieved at harvest 2021 were announced at this year’s Yield Enhancement Network (YEN) Awards on Wednesday 24th November at the Croptec Show. With award presentations by Tom Bradshaw, Vice President of NFU, 24 farms took home the evening’s top awards for highest yield and highest potential yield achieved for wheat, winter and spring barley, oats, and oilseed. The 2021 winners came from all corners of the UK, as well as from as far afield as Finland and New Zealand.

Familiar names from 2020 made the...
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