Hope, fear and skill building

Two main messages caught my attention today: Water availablility and a significant reduction in the UK wheat harvest.

Water availability

The first, in my inbox: An invitation from John Kempf’s RegenAg Academy to a course on water availability in the soil, and how to improve it.
It asked the excellent question, why some plants suffer drought stress despite ample annual rainfall.

Some might say this is mainly a question of poor distribution across the growing season. Might be, but how does such a statement help us?
My experiences in my own growing space this year showed me I did not even produce half as much food as in the previous years, and neither did my neighbours. Seasoned, reliable growers of 40 years plus. Scary and sobering.

In my case, that’s despite practicing organic, wild-life enriching, biodiverse, low-till to no-till approaches.
You rightly ask, well, which one is it!? I practice no-till with a good helping of compost and/or rotted manure, whatever I can lay my hands on. However, the potatoes are a challenge on my sandy loam. When I tried no-till, the yields were significantly poorer than if planted deeper in the soil, where they can get their roots deeper in moist soil.

So, I avoid digging wherever possible, but do make an exception for the tatties. And since I rotate these, every bed gets dug (forked) every now and again. Which destroys the fungal networks.
Now, learning about soil microbial and plant relationships, I am trying to make the best of this situation. Early stage succession plants, like the brassica family, prefer a bacterial dominated soil. So over the next seasons I will experiment with following potatoes with brassicas. The harvest digging inevitably disrupts and destroys fungal networks. But this at least should suit the brassicas.

But I digress!

The evening news: Bread prices likely to rise

The 2nd message arrived over the radio whilst preparing a light supper of bread, peppers and scrambled eggs. I do love my bread.
UK wheat harvests are down in the region of 30-40% this year, and worst for the last 40 years. Whilst the BBC could do a better job and say compared to what other figure (averages? last year’s yields?), I don’t need to get all the details.
I happened to have been on a couple of train journeys through Kent in the last few weeks. The stunted and patchy growth of corn and wheat scared me. That was clear enough.

I suspect water availability was the main limiting factor.

I did not realise that the picture was quite so stark across the whole of the UK.
It raises some questions:

  • How do harvests of organic and conventional growers compare?
  • Who’s wheat will we be eating the coming year? The talk is of imports, but who will be going short?
  • Who in this country will be going short of quality food because of the affordability, unequal distribution of wealth, the combined impact of Brexit and Covid19 policies?
  • This is only the early impact of climate change, and erratic weather patterning. If this is a fairly mild impact, in a maritime climate, in a temperate region, what is to come?
  • And, more positively, what can I do to influence a more resilient farming system?

Learning more about how water is stored in the soil and how to actively influence is an absolute priority, and practically useful on a garden and farm scale.
Water is a limiting factor for the plants themselves, and the functioning soil food web they rely on, too. Without sufficient water, organisms go dormant or die.

I had already made my mind up before the news, but to keep my sanity, I gladly signed up for the course after supper, and will report back!

Learn with me: Receive discoveries and reflections directly to your inbox

Image “Wheat” by lamoix is licensed under CC BY 2.0 – many thanks.

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