It's that time of year when farmers start thinking about crop rotations. How will they feed the soil for the next 12 months.
We're not sure what the question is, but the answer is 'diversity'. We heard this at Groundswell last week and it resonated.
Diversity is king in the natural world, and on our farms we strive for maximum diversity too. In fact, for many, it is one of the fundamental principles of regenerative agriculture.
THE OPPOSITE OF DIVERSITY IS MONOCULTURE.
Diversity happens on many levels, from diversifying business enterprises to spread income risk, to striving for a diversity of microbes in the soil.
The first major decision that a farmer makes each year, with annual cropping, is what crops they will plant and grow for the next 12 months. The crops they grow form the basis of their crop rotation.
It is called the crop rotation because the crops move around the fields each year. If a farm only has two crops in their rotation, each field will probably grow the same crop every other year. For example beans followed by wheat followed by beans followed by wheat.
This doesn't give much variety to the soil, in terms of stimulating different microbial and fungal population through root exudates, or offering different root architectures for natural structuring.
we're in the business of mimicking nature. and nature is diverse.
If, on the other hand, the farmer has 5 crops in their rotation, for example wheat, beans, oats, rapeseeds and barley, then it's likely that the same crop won't be grown in a particular field any more often than once every 6 years. This is a much more diverse rotation and leaves the soil much happier.
Next, a farmer can decide to grow two crops at the same time with the plan to only harvest one. For example, instead of just growing a field of rapeseed, she could plant a companion crop of buckwheat amongst the rapeseed plants. This further increases plant diversity.
She can also plant clover as a permanent crop to live as a blanket under a 'normal' annual crop like wheat. Or, she can plant different varieties of the same crop, for example different varieties of barley all mixed up in the same field.
All of this involves the farmer taking risks in trying new approaches to farming. Always with the aim of maximising diversity. Our role, at Grassroots, is to provide guidance and an increased price to the farmer, to enable and reward them for adopting new farming methods.
So whatever the question, the answer is diversity.