Seminar Four- Taking an ecosystem approach to farm management.

woodland valley
Woodland Valley Farm

Today’s seminar was given by Chris Jones he is a forestry graduate from Bangor University and is now an organic lifestock farmer in Cornwall.

After graduating he worked in many places including the UK, Middle East and Africa.

Mr Jones and his wife has since taken over the 178 ha family farm- Woodland Valley, this has been jointly owned by his family and Lloyds bank since 1960.

In 2007/08 the farm received a visit from DEFRA, they asked if a soil sample could be taken for a Carbon audit.

The results of the audit were;

  • CO2- 38%
  • CH4- 9%
  • N2O- 26%
  • Sequestration- 27%

These results were far worse than Mr Jones expected on his organic farm, so he decided to make it his mission to improve!



Video: This is a trailer for the documentary Polyfaces, it explores a farm that uses regenerative agriculture and works in a sustainable way with nature. Credit: Joel Salatin, Polyfaces

Mr Jones was part of a project Low Carbon Ladlock 2010 that got government funding of £500,000 to create a low carbon community. They wanted technological changes to be implemented including; solar thermal and PV, wind power, heat pumps and biomass boilers.

hazelnut trees
Hazelnut tree orchard. Credit: Rutgers University

They managed to convince the project organisers to give them part of the grant to fund a nut orchard, they were given 3% of the funds and the nut orchard overall represented 19% of the total annual carbon savings from the project!

This shows that if more money was invested into this type of management it could potentially have a huge impact.

What ecosystem services do we get from this approach to farm management?
  • Clean food- organic, sustainable
  • Clean water- no artificial chemical pollutants
  • Clean recreational spaces- forest areas, dog waking fields, allotments
  • Clean energy- renewable energy, sustainability, reduced carbon footprint
  • Physical and mental well being- being able to walk outdoors and be in touch with nature is beneficial for both physical and mental health

On an organic farm no chemical fertilizers or pesticides are used therefore there is a low out when compared to the area being used. This is due to reduced resistance to disease and pests when compared to industrial farms that spray their crops with chemicals.

At the time of the first audit the farm was using 30 acres (20% of their land) for cereal production as a supplementary feed for their life stock and the other 80% was cultivated as pasture.

The production of the cereal was a large contributor to the excess emissions of the farm so they looked at alternatives and decided t change their land into mixed herb pasture- this is nutrient rich and high quality so the cereal supplementation was no longer needed.

chicory pasture
Chicory is one of the many plants now growing in the mixed pastures at Woodland Valley Farm. Credit: Cabinet of curiosities 

The benefits of this change are:

  1. The biodiversity of the land has increased
  2. The nutrient content of the soil has increased
  3. Better herd health- reduction in parasites e.g. worms
  4. Self fertalizing! The excrement of the cattle improves the soil quality
  5. The ground soil has better water retention thanks to the deeper rooting plants and the increased organic matter in the soil
Mob- grazing

This is another method introduced onto the farm, it works by intensely grazing the herd on a small area for a short amount of time and then they are moved on to the next area. The land is allowed a long rest period to regrow between grazing.

It appears to be benefiting the herd and the farm as the second audit showed dramatic improvement.

comparison audits
This is a comparison of the first and second audits and the evidence of the benefits are clear to see! Credit: Chris Jones
Future plans

Mr Jones mention several ideas for the future

Grass fed dairy- this uses a low input low output system. He explained that it makes more sense in today’s society to sell milk as people are less interested in buying half a bullock to fill their freezer with meat.

Whereas they will readily buy a litre of milk, so the change makes sense for his business.

Another plan is to put trees in the pastures, this would provide the cattle with shade and shelter. However he is still deciding what he wants the purpose of the trees to be: timber, food production e.g fruit trees or just for the animals.

“I’m interested in the future, I have children- I’d like it to be a habitable planet to live on” Chris Jones 2017.

cows and trees
Cows taking advantage of the shade given by the trees. Credit: South East Farm Press
My opinion

I believe these farming methods are the way forward for a sustainable future. I find it truly inspiring that even though the farm could produce more and gain larger profits by using traditional industrialised methods they have stuck by their belief of a sustainable future and not sold out.

However even though in an ideal world everyone would adopt these methods and try to be sustainable, a lot of people are after a profit. And sadly with the increasing pressures of our growing population I’m not sure if this method of farming could realistically support us.

I found the seminar very eye opening, I wasn’t aware of so many benefits of organic farming or the difference a few nut tree could make!

Has this affected my future plans?

This has affected the way I will view buying produce, I think I’ll make the extra effort to visit the farmers market to support local small farmers instead of just the supermarket.

I’ll also consider the possibility of working with farmers i the future to assist with these ecosystem friendly approaches to farming.

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