A guest blog from Polly Davies of Slade Farm Organics. Polly farms with nature to supply the finest selection of Organic Welsh Beef, Lamb and Pork to the local community in the Vale of Glamorgan. She is a member of the Nature Friendly Farming Network Welsh Steering Group.
As a farmer, I believe we have to change the direction my industry is travelling in. We have to farm with nature- there is no other option.
The range of habitats on the farm
Mixed farms like mine are a haven for nature. On a yearly basis, we have about 80 hectares of ground in organic arable production. In the summer of 2019, a survey of the arable weeds on the farm found a number of at-risk arable plants including corn mint, red hemp-nettle and stinking chamomile, which was great to see. As a farmer, understanding where these weeds grow on the farm enables me to focus my efforts. Setting-aside areas in the right place provides an opportunity for these plants to flourish. The mix of arable and grassland fields across the farm provide good habitat for many declining farmland birds. We have yellowhammers in all our hedgerows, which even with my very untrained eye are easy to spot!
We also have a few fields which we farm as hay meadows. Hay meadows have declined by 97% across the UK, as many farmers switched to sileage, which is not so dependent on our unpredictable Welsh weather! However, we have been managing some of our fields as meadows, slowly reducing the nutrients to encourage a varied population of flora and fauna. Our hare population is now thriving, as hay meadows are cut at a later date than sileage, allowing the leverets to mature in peace.
Livestock have been fenced out along a number of our streams, enabling our small mammal populations to grow, leading to an increase in our numbers of barn owls. We have dug a number of storm ponds, which support amphibians, and yearly we sow a number of corridors as wildlife cover crops.
How do we do it?
In order to farm in this way, I am very reliant on Government grants- especially agri-environment schemes. My farm does not work without them, I have to pay rent and I have to pay my employees. Labour and land are big costs.
Many local farmers have gone down the industrial route and the visible decline of species diversity is very apparent, even to a novice like me. I don’t like it but I can understand why they have gone in this direction. Farms need to make money, they are businesses, not charities and our major product – food – is now way too cheap. Unfortunately, the public have lost sight of the connection between food and farming.
The popularity of the meat-free movement is a challenge for me. I sell lots of wheat, oats and vegetables but I could not sell these items if I did not have livestock on the farm. In the UK, if you want to farm organically and with nature, you have to farm livestock. There is no other way of doing this. When consumers do not buy local meat raised on organic, nature-friendly farms, those small, family farms that sell direct to the public will go out of business. Large corporation farms and chemically-fuelled agriculture will become the norm.
In Wales and the UK it is very challenging to grow vegetables in the winter. We just do not have the weather. To eat an entirely meat-free diet sustainably, you would have to eat seasonally. This means swedes, potatoes and leeks for the winter months!
We have to eat more locally and in a more sustainable manner. We have to re-learn what is seasonal and local and we have to ask and question where our food is coming from. Going to a supermarket will always be the easiest option, but if you take the time to seek out local nature friendly farmers selling direct to the public, that direct action is improving the biodiversity in the here and now.
The wonderful thing about food is that you get three votes a day. Every one of them has the potential to change the world.