Farmer Focus: Clover disappointing for organic farmer Andrew Charlton

The annual 48-hour muck spreading sprint is now complete. Strictly speaking we spread green waste compost rather than muck.

 It is much more commonly available in this area and has a pretty good rotational manuring effect. Compost contains about 1.1% phosphate and 0.8% potash, so applying it at 10-15t/ha one year in three makes an acceptable maintenance dressing.

Some people are surprised we can farm at all without animals or fertiliser but it’s doable providing you are careful. Nutrient budgeting across the whole rotation is critical to understand what you are doing and it’s backed up by annual soil testing which indicates no significant loss in fertility over 10 years of organic management.

Of course clover is the single most important part of maintaining fertility. Unfortunately we’ve had our worst year ever of establishing the crop. I followed a very inaccurate weather forecast for the Easter period and sowed the crop just in front of a six-week dry spell in April and May. The crop then emerged very late and the prolonged autumn drought has not enabled a spurt of growth late in the season. I guess the lesson is to ignore the weather forecasts and wait for moisture before you drill.

Some uncertainty has been cast over our future as tenants by reports in Farmers Weekly and elsewhere that our landlord, Norfolk County Council, may significantly or totally dispose of its land holding in the light of the straightened financial circumstances many public organisations find themselves in.

As a farmer with a specialised business 100% devoted to organic food production, and as someone racing towards an age beginning with a five these are worrying times. However I’m heartened by the positive approach my neighbours are taking to lobby against any changes and I would urge others similarly affected to add their support.

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