Inspiration, Innovation And Insight At Groundswell 2021

We weren’t quite sure how many people we could cram into the Groundswell site this year. We’d redesigned the layout, erected some large tents as lecture halls with double spaced seats to comply with covid restrictions and taken no end of advice from experts who all appeared to be making suggestions up on the spot. Then Boris pushed back ‘freedom day’ from the Monday of Groundswell week until some time in July. We thought what the hell, let’s just do it. We decided on a 3500 attendee limit, which we hit just before it started and that proved to be just about perfect.

Written by John Cherry

I’d love to tell you about all the hundred or so talks that were delivered, but as it was only physically possible for any one person to attend, at most, ten sessions over the two days, that isn’t going to happen. But we will eventually get them all up on the Groundswell YouTube channel ht t p s : // w w w.yo u t u b e . co m /c / GroundswellAgriculture . There is already some fascinating stuff on there: farmers telling their stories, soil experts explaining what goes on below ground, politicians sounding like they know what they are talking about, conversations about water, biodiversity, different strategies for building resilient farm businesses etc etc

What was more evident this year was the sheer joy that everyone there found in being able to actually talk to fellow enthusiasts, after being shut down on our own patches for eighteen months. Farming can be a lonely business, especially if you are doing something which your neighbours think is bonkers, so it is really lovely to chat to old and new friends while queueing for a cup of coffee or over a pint in the Earthworm Arms.

One particular side-effect of the covid business was that we couldn’t fly in any big name speakers from the USA or, indeed, anywhere abroad. This resulted in a pleasingly UKcentric event, albeit with a fairly fluid line-up as some speakers had to bow out at the last minute due to positive tests or whatever. It shows how much the atmosphere has changed since our first Groundswell six years ago, when we were advised that we’d better only put the show on every other year, otherwise we’d run out of speakers…we had 170 speakers this time and had to put several more on hold.

Meanwhile, out in the demo field we had a dozen different companies showing off their drills and all reported a lot of interest from farmers. It won’t surprise Direct Driller readers who will be well aware how big a saving there is to be made by avoiding tillage. Gary Markham’s benchmarking figures underlined how desperate the situation is for many, if not most, intensive cultivating operations, especially as BPS starts to be phased out. Decent wheat prices this year may delay financial meltdown for some, but we’ve all got to find cheaper ways of establishing our crops.

The price of some of this tackle may seem eye-watering, but it was great to hear George Renner, in his double act with Adam Driver, talk about using his 20 year old Dale drill and 30 year old tractor pulling it to sow most of his crops. ‘Work smarter, not harder’ was his message. There was, similarly, all sorts of tips available from all quarters about using Mother Nature as an ally rather than an enemy in our businesses. One of the funniest and most heart-warming sights was the exodus of delegates down to the cattle grazing field to take part in the dung-beetle safari, led by Sally-Ann Spence and Claire Whittle. Six years ago most farmers wouldn’t have cared whether they had any sort of beetle on the farm, the mood has changed so much now that it seems we are all actively encouraging these little ecosystem engineers, not least because they improve landscape health and thus animal health and ultimately human health.

Another highlight for me was listening to Colin Tudge (the founder of the Oxford Real Farming Conference) talking about his book The Great Rethink which challenged a lot of commonly held views about the best way to get ourselves out of the mess humanity is finding itself in. Good farming, you’ll be pleased to learn, is crucial to our salvation. I’m now reading the book…

There were indeed too many highlights to mention, the fascinating compost ladies, the wild bee man, Professor Karl Ritz’s pictures, Henry Driver’s art etc etc…basically lots of hope for the future. The loveliest thing we find in putting this show on though, is the feedback that we get from the attendees and it’s theirs (and your) enthusiasm that makes it all worthwhile.

We’re already working on next year’s event, plan your holidays around it: 22/23rd June 2022. If you have an idea for a speaking session please get in touch, likewise we are open to any ideas which would make the event better or more entertaining or more useful.

Re-Watch Groundswell on YouTube

In the meantime, you can catch up on sessions you missed via the Groundswell YouTube channel. Follow the QR Code below to get to the channel and give it a like to be notified when further videos are added.