We started Groundswell out of a sense of frustration that no-one was putting on a Summer Show to which we might
want to go. Having gone down the no-till route, we realised that we only really needed a good seed drill and not a barn
full of expensive cultivating equipment, so Cereals and all those Tillage events were a waste of our time. None of the
lectures and very few of the exhibitors talked about the soil, let alone soil biology
A visit to the fabulous No-Till on the Plains Conference in Salina, Kansas showed us what could be done. One of the most striking things was how hungry for information the farmer delegates were about the soil and the ecosystems that lived in them. Also, a lot of the speakers were describing some fairly radical farming ideas and techniques and their audiences were lapping it up. We thought that if the good people of Kansas were ready for this, we sure as hell ought to be ready in Europe.
And so Groundswell began four years ago and is growing, and it is going from strength to strength. Last year we welcomed 1,250 delegates. This growth reflects the snowballing of interest in No-till, Conservation and Regenerative Agriculture, not only from farmers but also from policy makers and politicians attracted by the ‘public benefits’ of such systems such as carbon sequestration and flood/drought prevention. And then there are the Foodies who come to find new and better ways to join the conversation about how and what we might grow in the future; they don’t need to be told that food tastes better when it grows in healthy soil.
Despite these other interest groups, Groundswell remains a show ‘for farmers, by farmers’; we aim to explore ways of working with nature to grow food in a profitable way. As the new saying goes: ‘Resilience is Fertile’ and after all profitability is one of the key factors that makes your operation resilient. It’s all very well regenerating your soil, but if you are not making money while you do it, you won’t be doing it for long.
Planning for this year’s show is in full swing. It’s going to be a cracker!
Groundswell is constantly evolving, in the best regenerative tradition. This year we will again focus on the seed drill trials; we’ll have the leading drills planting seed in a growing cover crop and there will be talks and discussions about the finer points of drilling. Dr John Baker is flying over from New Zealand to talk about the mechanics of zero-tillage. He not only designed the Cross Slot drill, he has written one of the definitive books on the subject of getting seed into the ground with minimal disturbance. This year we have changed the lay-out. We have moved the drill demonstration to a different field which will keep everything a bit more local (and avoid having to cross the road). We have also added another tent for more talks, because, useful as a good drill is, it is only part of the jigsaw when it comes to making the no-till system work. It’s a much more exciting journey than just swapping one bit of kit for lots of others, fun though that is.
Headlining the speakers this year we have Allan Savory, visionary and hero. I am so excited that he’s coming and can’t wait to hear what he has to say. Arable no-tillers may be wondering what he can say to them as they may only know him as someone who regenerates deserts with holistically managed grazing, but his understanding of what all farmers need to do to make our businesses profitable and sustainable will make his talks unmissable. There will also be breakout seminars with 3LM (the UK’s Savory Hub) after the talks.
I’m similarly hopping from one foot to the other in anticipation of welcoming Jay Fuhrer to Groundswell this year. For those of you who aren’t familiar with his work, he’s a mild-mannered and incredibly authoritive soil health expert who advises the lucky farmers of Burleigh County, North Dakota on their soils. He explains it all very well. We’re thrilled too, to welcome Frederic Thomas to Groundswell for the first time. I defy anyone not to be inspired to try something new after listening to him talk; he fizzes with ideas. His magazine TCS, published in France, is a sister publication to Direct Driller. Another talk not to miss.
Unfortunately, we have too many brilliant speakers and you’ll have to miss some because they’ll be as many as five talking at once (in different venues). I won’t mention them all here, but will highlight Charles Massy, author of the wonderful Call of the Reedwarbler and Isabella Tree with Charles Burrell, who’ll be talking about the surprising story of what happened when they turned the Knepp Estate over to wildlife. Both of these talks have incredibly useful information for farmers about how to work with nature, which is the only sensible way to farm.
There will be a range of talks about different aspects of soil life and how to encourage it and various ways of gauging how well your soils are doing. We are delighted to have Joel Williams back, this year he will be joined by Amir Kassam and Jay Fuhrer in a series of ‘First Principles’ sessions, for those delegates who want to start from the beginning and fill in the knowledge gaps. We have lined up some farmers, like Simon Cowell and Will Scale, to talk about their experiences of no-till in different parts of the country as well as panels of farmers and other researchers, bringing their thoughts and results to the conference. As in previous years, there will be talks and demonstrations highlighting the benefits of cover crops, agroforestry, silvopasture, mobgrazing and other pasture based animal production systems.
This year we will also see a ‘Nutrition’ knowledge-stream running through both days. Many farmers are dispirited by the current market model in this country, where we are encouraged to grow ‘commodity’ crops in competition with the major grain producing regions of the world, so we will be exploring opportunities for growing grains and other crops for local markets to make our food system much more resilient. We’ve got some variety trials as well as heritage wheats growing nearby by way of piquing interest. John Letts will be talking about some very low cost, but high return, ways of growing ancient wheats.
To emphasise this angle, we’ll have a ‘Food for Thought’ tent; we want to address the disconnect between the food we grow and those who sell and eat it. In this age of dietary revolution, with more books being sold on how and what to eat than on any other subject, it seems timely for Groundswell to join up the growers with the eaters. So we’re creating panels of policy makers, nutritionists, growers and market innovators to start conversations about the future of feeding the nation. There will be myth-busting opportunities galore; glyphosate will probably feature…
There will also be, as before, a focus on the fifth principle of soil health: the re-introduction of animals into the arable rotation and a continued focus on the benefits of Pasture for Life for grazing animals with our friends at the Pasture Fed Livestock Association. A lot of these growers are leading the charge with direct marketing and we will see how this can be done. There will also be a chance for arable farmers to get animals onto their land by hooking up with graziers, so that they don’t have to learn too many new skills. We’ve established a Cotswold Seeds herbal ley at the top end of the demonstration field which will be being mob-grazed by one of our mobs of cattle.
On the financial resilience side, Gary Markham will be providing an update on his No-Till Benchmarking figures, from a small, but growing, cohort of local farmers. There will also be a panel discussing ‘True cost accounting’ which will investigate the real cost of growing food under various systems, which should give us ideas about how to transform agriculture to a system which delivers good food and a healthy and sustainable soil and wider environment.
We are particularily grateful to Affinity Water who have once again pledged their support by being headline sponsors for the event, it is so pleasing that they recognise all the benefits that good farming brings to the water cycle.
Tickets are now on sale, it’s the best value show of the year! We look forward to seeing lots of you there