I received, in the post, a complimentary copy of the Irish Dairy Farmer magazine. “Oh, how exciting,” I said, “it’ll be straight to the bin with that”. I’d rather read Woman’s Weekly or Wedding Style than sit down with a copy of Irish Dairy Farmer.
But hang on for a minute – there was something about regenerative farmers on the cover. Better to have a sneaky look and see what that’s about.
Regenerative farming is a sort of hybrid, a cross, if you like, between organic farming and mainstream conventional farming. It’s all about soil care and sequestering carbon and all that sort of thing and minimising fertiliser and chemical input.
It’s become hard to ignore at this stage and, yes, I think I have leanings in that direction. Just so you know, if you didn’t already.
In many ways there’s nothing new in it. It really harks back to the days of mixed, rotational farming and is the polar opposite of monoculture continuous wheat sprayed with, of course, an all-singing, all-dancing fungicide and insecticide programme. But I am a child of that era – the chemical farming era – and while I’m all for soil care, I don’t think we should throw out the baby with the bath water.
Chemicals have to be part of an agriculture that’s serious about cost-effective food production and good science must be part of that. As part of this approach, I certainly think the EU must revisit the whole area of gene editing (not to be confused with genetic modification) primarily as a means to reduce chemical input for disease control.
But back to the Irish Dairy Farmer magazine. I read the (excellent) articles on regenerative agriculture and was interested to see that some dairy farmers are picking up on this approach. Now, that said, there are other dairy farmers who are on another planet with a huge nitrogen input and who keep trotting out the same old stuff about dribble bars and hedgerows and protected urea.
But you know what? I actually ended up reading the entire magazine and was seriously impressed by the dairy farmers profiled in it. It’s a good read.
I try to plant some trees every year and this spring we’ll be planting one (often soggy) end of a tillage field with a front row of oaks and nine rows of Scots pine behind – a total of 1,000 trees. Everyone likes oak trees but I particularly like pines and it now appears that Scots pine is, in fact, an ancient Irish species after all and deemed excellent for wildlife. Ideally, I’d like to chuck a couple of hundred Monterey pines into the mix but they’re proving hard to source at sensible money.
I won’t bother with a forestry grant as it’s not worth the hassle and a potential two-year wait for such a small (one acre) strip. Besides, I’d prefer to do my own thing species-wise.
However, it’s a north-facing headland and generally I don’t like overhanging trees or a high hedge on such a headland as it greatly hinders natural drying and the shade prevents crops from ripening. This reminds me of something a Co Dublin farmer once said to me about combining linseed, which is notoriously difficult to cut if the sun’s not shining directly on it – peas are similar. “With linseed,” I was told with typical Dublin wit, “if there’s a bleedin’ shadow – you’ll have to cut around it”.
But it’ll be a good while before these trees cast a consequential shadow and certainly my days of casting shadows will be over.