Farmer Focus: Adding trees to the organic cropping system

So, we had our June splash, over 80mm in fact which means that our under-sown leys are looking good in the bottom of our spring barley and oats. However, it also has given me a fusarium risk score of about 20.

We’ve now had enough rain to safely see our way through to harvest, so big man, can you turn the taps off over IP29 for now. 

See also: Beans could be an option for frustrated oilseed rape growers

Over the last few months I have been working with Sam Morgan, an agroecological university graduate, on an agroforestry scheme to plant an initial 20ha of trees on the farm on an alley cropping system.

It has been designed to fit around a number of different criteria: to be species sympathetic to a proximate ancient woodland, add amenity value to our function barn, browsing opportunities for our sheep, and ultimately timber.

Our cropping alleys will be 27m wide to fit in with our 9m controlled traffic farming system and the alleys themselves will be 4.5m wide.

The wider tree alley will allow us to plant nurse species around the trees that we aim to take to the quality timber market, protecting them from deer browsing. This will also create a larger area for grasses and wild flowers.

Having a greater proportion of permanent planting in the alleys coupled with the trees, should help to offset the carbon imbalance of the shorter term cropping which all adds to our net zero ambition.

Having visited Martin Wolfe’s (sadly deceased) farm at Wakelyns many times over the past 25 years and seen there what agroforestry can offer in terms of increased land equivalent ratio and biodiversity, I can’t believe that it’s taken me a quarter of a century to take the plunge.

We start planting this winter.


John Pawsey is an organic farmer at Shimpling Park in Suffolk. He started converting the 650ha of arable cropping in 1999, and also contract farms an additional 915ha organically, growing wheat, barley, oats, beans and spelt.