Farmer Focus – John Cherry

January 2023

It’s certainly been an odd year. The hot and dry summer made for an easy harvest, but our spring crops were very poor with the slow, or even non-existent start, that most of them had.  I’m sure I was whinging about this in the June edition. We didn’t even plant a lot of the planned spring crops as the ground was too dry, we substituted millet for linseed as it seemed feasible that we’d at least get a crop of that from an early June sowing.

So we slotted some Mammoth millet in after we had a nice little half an inch of rain in early June and most of it came, but unfortunately it never got much taller than six inches, which made combining (in October) interesting, but didn’t exactly keep the corn-carts busy. In fact we got forty acres worth in one combine tank, but it was better than nothing and very cheap to grow.

Mulika spring wheat was drilled earlier and started growing but rather lost its way and didn’t bring us much more than a tonne an acre, the spring oats looked fantastic, but were burnt off by the really hot spell and again just hobbled over the finish line with a disappointing little heap in the grainstore. Luckily the winter crops did fill the sheds and they are happily valuable!

We had a field or two where we never sprayed off the over-winter cover crops as we couldn’t see the point of having bare ground over summer if it wasn’t going to ever rain again and these gave us some welcome silage, having a bit of westerwolds in the mix paid dividends on that front. Likewise, a field of grass seed that was too dirty to make the grade for seed gave us several hundred very welcome round bales of hay, which we are only just beginning to feed to the cattle now that they’ve finally caught up with the wedge of grass that we’d managed to keep in front of them all summer.

The cattle have done well this year, although their growth rates suffered a little in the heat, they look great going into winter. We bang on about the five principles of regenerative farming, but there’s no hiding the fact that we fall short on a lot of our arable land…there’s often exposed soil, single species cropping and the only grazing animals they might encounter are deer and the odd hare. I think a multi-species grazable summer cover crop would have a far better chance of getting going in these cold dry springs (or indeed any other kind of spring) than a monoculture of spring barley or wheat and be a lot more fun to harvest with a mob of fattening cattle.

A crop like that ticks all the boxes when it comes to the principles: no disturbance, living roots in the ground all year, constant ground cover, lots of diversity and grazing animals would be there. Herbal leys are even better as you get four years of maximum box ticking for your money. Once established they don’t need anything spent on them, which always helps with cash-flow. And the ground is transformed at the end.

We’re now beginning to work on another exciting Groundswell programme for next year (stick it in your diaries if you haven’t already done so: 28th and 29th of June 2023…it doesn’t clash with Glastonbury this year for those of you that worry about that sort of thing!). The sessions application process is open now for anybody who fancies giving a talk or creating a panel to discuss any aspect pertinent to Regeneration, just fill in the form on the website:

We’ll go through them all in the spring and try to find the best!

We have a few trial plots already established and all sorts of new things in the pipeline to pique the interest of attendees. It is extraordinary and pleasing how quickly the whole RA scene is evolving and growing, especially how much attention that it is getting from people outside agriculture. This is inevitably resulting in calls for some kind of accreditation scheme so that the food industry can cash in by selling ‘regeneratively grown’ food at a premium.

Personally I think this would be counter-productive as one of the joys about the regenerative approach is the option of dipping your feet in by trying different things that complement conventional techniques and just working out what works best on your farm. The organic lobby managed to create a set of rules that practitioners have to follow, which works quite well, but it did make for a bit of a ‘them and us’ world, where, for instance, conventional farmers didn’t think of using cover crops (which have been an organic staple for years) as they didn’t think it was relevant or useful for their farms.

We’re working on a definition of regenerative agriculture on this basis, we are all on a journey, it’s a movement after all, we’re just moving at different speeds. We are going to ramp up our colour coding for sessions this year, so we hope it’ll be easier to pick out talks that are relevant to where you are on your journey. We are planning some meatier topics and talks for those who have heard the general guff too many times. We’re particularly excited that Nicole Masters is going to be there. Having just attended her two day course organised by the Land Gardeners at Althorp, I know just how mind-bendingly fascinating she can be.

We had a wonderful day here in October with the Understanding Ag team from America (Gabe Brown, Allen Williams and Shane New), who were over this side of the pond for other reasons and had a spare day in their schedule, so we grabbed them and 300 of you came to hear them talk and inspire. It gave me renewed enthusiasm to expand Groundswell beyond a once a year event. We are currently working on a Groundswell X type mini festival in Scotland sometime in the summer, more on which later. There is so much dynamic stuff going on in Scotland and we always have an amazing contingent who come all the way down to Hertfordshire…I don’t want them not to come but I think a Northern focussed event would be fantastic to go to as well!