Farmer Focus: Mixed farming – no longer the poisoned chalice

Although I’m still in the early years of my career in agriculture, it seems there’s a constant cycle of reinventing the wheel or looking to the past for answers. It certainly feels that way at the moment.

With mounting pressure on fossil fuels, both globally and locally, and the current government’s attitude towards agriculture, it doesn’t appear farming will be exempt, as we were in the past.

We will more likely be thrown under the bus.

About the author

Richard Harris
Richard Harris manages his family farm in partnership with his father in south Devon. Growing wheat, barley, linseed, grass and cover crops, with a small pick-your-own pumpkin patch.
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We must look back at how it was done before, without our heavy reliance on inputs and shiny new machinery.

It is this which has fundamentally plastered over the cracks of our system, getting us out of trouble and making us lazy, all in aid of a quick return.

See also: Regenerative agriculture: Tips on building carbon-rich soils

One of these cycles seems to be mixed farming, or what has recently been rebranded as “livestock integration”.

For a long while mixed farming seemed to be the poisoned chalice of farming, where a little of everything seemed to brand you as a “jack of all trades, master of none”.

But with current high costs of fertiliser, fuel and machinery, this fertility building, diverse business model, with the right branding, could once again become the future of our industry.

Our farm went from centuries of mixed farming to a simple arable farming system in the late 1990s, and by 2015 it was evident we were taking more than we were giving back, relying on the can, the bag or horsepower to get us out of trouble.

It would be fair to say the traditional mixed farming model needs an update.

But with our modern farming techniques, technology and scientific understanding, a no-till farming system, focusing on arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, companion cropping, grazing cash crops, volunteers, cover crops and fertility building leys, could well be one of the fastest tickets into the modern agricultural world.

The aim might be to enhance soil health to a point where our reliance on fossil fuel-based products reverts to more sustainable levels… whatever they may be.

Maybe they weren’t wrong after all.

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