Janet Hughes: Welcome everybody to the Future Farming podcast. I am Janet Hughes, director of the [Defra] Future Farming Programme and I have with me here today, soil farmer of the year, arable innovator of the year, sustainable farmer of the year and, no doubt, other accolades too, Tim Parton, who's going to talk to us about all the amazing work he does to look after his soil and in particular I'm fascinated to hear about your approach to the biology of the soil, which is a really, really interesting area which I am exploring on my allotment amongst other things, but which is very important for our for our programme. So Tim, thank you very much for having this conversation with us today.
Tim Parton: My pleasure. It's always nice to talk and promote what I've done really, so we've only got one planet, there is no planet B and we can't keep using food production as an excuse to keep destroying the planet. It's just not sustainable, there's no need to do it anymore. You know, we can farm without it, there's other farmers like me, we're all proving that we can do it. And it's time to shout about it and time to protect what we've got.
Soil is such a valuable resource, we can't keep abusing it. It's a finite resource, and if you look back in history every time a civilisation has failed, it's always been because they didn't look after their most vital resource. It gives us food. It gives us clean air, clean water. It's just an amazing living being as it should be, and we've abused it for the last century and it's just time to turn the tables now.
Janet: I just read David Montgomery's book [Dirt: The Erosion of Civilisations] recently about that, exactly that point about how history viewed through a lens of failing to look after soil, resulting in the collapse of civilisations, and it blew my mind.
Tim: It does. David is fantastic and I recommend everybody to read that book because by the time you've realised the damage you've done, the Romans, for instance, as you well know from reading the book, they couldn't feed their armies. But by the time you get to that stage, you can't just turn it round. It takes so much time to regenerate soil and to get it back when you've done that much damage. And to me we've been on that path and we've got the knowledge this time, and we need to turn it around. We all need to help each other and really work together and change.
Janet: So tell us, tell us a bit about what you've learned and what you're doing on your farm, that's different.
Tim: Well, I'm a farm manager in South Staffordshire. We're a 300 hectare farm. I've always had an interest in soil right from an early age. I could never understand how people could just laugh when they were watching their soil go down the rivers and not be bothered by it. That's really intensified over the last 20 years and I started to get more into biology. So from about 2012 I started to play around with nitrogen-fixing bacteria.
The air is 78% N [Nitrogen], you know, there's enough N over all our land and we're just not utilising it. It's just barmy, in my mind. So I started to play around with it in 2012, and then I wasn't brewing microbes. I was just putting the microbes on raw, so I had to reduce N in order to be able to do that, to keep the costs right, and everywhere I used it that particular year, I got an extra tonne to the hectare of wheat yield. I reduced nitrogen by 40 kilos and I got an extra tonne. I thought, wow! I've cracked it, this is it! This is the way and the following year I did a bit more. I didn't get the yield increase, but I didn't get a yield loss.
And it's the one thing you have to remember, biology can be a fickle thing and we've still got so much to learn about it, but it's just an exciting journey and I don't think you'll ever meet a regenerative farmer that isn't smiling and happy because it's the whole picture you've got to look at. It's not just making money, it's having that farm that's a living entity and to see all the bird life come back. You know, I trap moths for Rothamsted [Insect Survey]. I think I caught more moths in three months than what a trap nearby had done in 10 years. And it's just the fact I don't use the insecticides, so everything is always living.
So back in 2015 I adapted my 750 drill because I knew what I wanted to do and at the time there wasn't a drill on the market, so I wanted to brew up biology because it makes it a lot cheaper. I can do a nitrogen-fixing bacteria and phosphorus-releasing bacteria and Trichoderma, which is a very aggressive fungi. I can do that mix for a couple of pounds a hectare and Bacillus subtilis and Trichoderma together is very close to what Mycorrhizal fungi does. It's not quite the same, but it's very close so when your soil is in that early transition period, it's a really good way of starting to get your soil working until you get it more fungi.
You know, now I'm running on a ratio of 1:1, 1.6:1, fungi to bacteria. So my soils are really working, but back then it was just on that transition period. It's a really good way of reintroducing those microbes back into the soil. I do a lot of compost extracts now, so I'll make little batches of compost and then I'll extract the microbes. You only need a couple of kilos per hectare of the actual compost to extract, or even less if you brew that compost up, but it’s just reintroducing those microbes.
We've spent the last 70 years killing everything. Yes, they might come back on their own, but I'd sooner just speed the process up. I get impatient and I want to see the benefits and it's such a cheap way of doing it. You know it doesn't cost much to do this, but once you get all those microbes back and you get that sort of function in, then we don't need to put the fertilisers on because everything becomes available. Potassium, it's just on a constant recycling process that it just drips and re-feeds the plant. We don't need to be adding to it, but we've got to have a functioning soil to get to that stage. So you can't just go from A-Z. You've got to put the work in and, yes, it is hard work, but the rewards are fantastic.
Janet: And how do you know what to do? How do you know how well your soil is functioning and what you need to do by way of amendments to the soil?
Tim: The most important thing anybody can ever purchase is a spade and start to get to know their soil and start to smell it. Look at it, feel it and visually see what's going on. Our forefathers, in my mind, were far better farmers than what we are today because they hadn't got the quick fix in a can to get a result. They had to farm properly and we've got to relearn to farm properly and work with nature, not against her because there is no planet B. This is it, which is all we've got, and we've got to look after what we've got and enhance what we've got, and by doing this, we're going to be producing more nutrient-dense food, so we're going to have a healthier population.
The whole thing just fits in, and you know, we don't need anywhere near as much food then because it's more nutrient dense. We're not always looking for food, in my mind, and that's going to be the answers to a lot of our health problems and everything else, but it all starts with a healthy functioning soil.
Janet: And where did you learn how to do this? So, you weren't always doing this? You started experimenting in 2012. Where do you look for information about how to go about doing this stuff?
Tim: I read an awful lot of books. I've probably read 120 books, something like that. I'm constantly reading books. I'm never not reading a book. Uh, once you've gone down the rabbit hole, it's how far do you want to go? I'm the type of person, I want to know everything and I don't think I ever will know everything this time, it's an impossibility.
Janet: I'm a few years behind you but I'm on exactly the same journey. I think I've read about 35 so far, in the last year-and-a-half, books about this sort of thing, farming and environment.
Tim: You can't stop. Once you've taken the lid off, you just can't stop because...
Janet: It's so interesting.
Tim: ...you just want the next one and the next one, and each one introduces you to the next book and it always appears at the right time and sometimes a book appears that if you'd read it 6 months or 2 years earlier, it wouldn't have made any sense, and they always appear at the right time, but it's always been out there. You know, The One-Straw Revolution [by Masanobu Fukuoka], I think, it was back in the early 1900s, 1920, and he'd got all the answers then, he was doing it.
Janet: I've just got that one in the post actually, it's just arrived this week funnily enough.
Tim: It's a brilliant read.
Janet: Something else that I read led me to it. If you had to choose one, a place to start for someone who hasn't read any of those books yet, which book would you start with?
Tim: I think David Montgomery's book [Dirt: The Erosion of Civilisations] is a really good one to start off with understanding where we are, because we are on this road to self destruction. Gabe Brown is a very easy read [Dirt to Soil: One Family's Journey into Regenerative Agriculture, and again it's a nice introduction for somebody that's just wanting to start off. And then there's loads of books that will lead on from there.
Janet: I think the Gabe Brown one is really good because it tells just a really clear story about what's important and why it's important, doesn't it?
Tim: And it's so easy reading, you know, and it's such a quick read that most people should be able to read that and not get bored with it in my mind. But it should be enough to get the excitement going of what can be achieved because farming is a joy once you start to to work with nature and work along this, there is nothing not to like.
Janet: And when you started work doing these different ways of working, did you tell other farmers what you were doing? Did you find that they were either interested or curious or laughing, or what? What was the response that you got?
Tim: In the early days, nobody was interested. They thought I was a bit wacky. They probably still think I'm a bit wacky. It's a joy to see in the last 4 years, or whatever, to see soil in the magazines. You know, I can remember talking to people back in 2010 and 2012 about soil and people just weren't interested. People have always taken soil for granted, that it's always going to be there, and it's not always going to be there.
We're losing so much soil. We can't keep blocking our estuaries up, we can't keep having all these dead zones in our oceans, you know, 90%, up to 90% of our oxygen comes from marine photosynthesis. We cannot keep killing everything, it's just, we can't. We haven't got that right anymore because we've got the knowledge now to farm without doing that.
Janet: You didn't start out with that view, though, did you? So what turned your mind? What made the difference for you in turning your mind to these issues and making you want to get involved in them?
Tim: A lot of it started with my wife. My wife has always been big into human nutrition and she's always had this belief that you can fix a lot of the health problems with the right nutrition and so I started reading some of the books that she had got around the house and it was just a light bulb moment that if I get the nutrition right in that plant it's not going to get sick. The only reason the plant gets sick is because we've created the problem normally and it's the same with pests coming in, you know, I haven't used insecticides since 2015. And insects are only coming in to take the trash out. There's no other reason for it. They're just doing nature's job. Nature knows that plant isn't a healthy plant, so it's saying, let's take that plant out to get that carbon back into the soil, and hopefully we'll have a better go next year.
And that's where we've gone wrong. We haven't been looking at what's going on in the soil on what's been happening. We've just gone for the quick fix out the can, which has done the job and we've still made money. And those days have gone. We cannot keep poisoning ourselves. You know, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, they all amount to suicide in my mind because they're all poisons in their own right and we can't keep doing that. There isn't the need anymore.
I hate being referred to as a low input farmer because I I'm not a low input farmer and the minute somebody says it, you're a low input farm, people always have this image in their mind of a farm that's not being farmed to its full potential, and it's just being used as an excuse because I'm a low input farmer. I don't need to spend the money and it's messy and their crops aren't yielding as well, but I prefer to call what I'm doing intelligent farming because I'm making intelligent decisions all the while using the best of science. I do an awful lot of sap testing of plants I like, keep that plant at peak nutrition all the while and then I don't need to use fungicides, I don't need to use insecticides because the plant is healthy.
Janet: How are you keeping the plants at peak nutrition and how are you controlling pests and diseases if you're not using all those conventional methods?
Tim: Uh, gosh, I do an awful lot of sap testing, so I use a company called NovaCrop in Holland, which I will be sending samples across every 10 to 14 days. So I'm constantly monitoring that plant. It's like an elite athlete. I'm constantly monitoring because if we have a very dry time, it just stops working because it's too dry, the same as if we have a very wet cold time. So I have to step in then and do foliar applications of nutrition. Foliar applications are far far more efficient than soil applied. They can be 7 to 15 times more efficient than soil applied.
In this last year, I've done a trial working with foliar nitrogen, so I produced a crop of wheat, it was the lightest field on the farm, but the the lightest bits, probably averaged 8 and a half and the the heaviest bits averaged 9 and a half tonne, but I only use 60 kilos of nitrogen to achieve that, and that's something I'll build on year on year, and by doing that, one, I'm I'm not putting all that fertiliser on, I'm not burning carbon. But I'm also reducing my carbon footprint so I'll have more carbon to sell moving into the future and that's going to be a big part of our income in my mind going forward.
Janet: So you're still using inorganic fertilisers? But this is all about using them in a much more intelligent way, is that right?
Tim: Yeah, so the the most I'll probably put on his 120 kilos because, you know, when you're doing trials on your own, you can't be stupid, you can't just say I'm going to do the whole farm like this. You've got to do trials and keep building on it year in year out because every year is different. So, you know, because it worked last year doesn't mean it's going to work this year, so it's a slow, the most frustrating bit for me is the fact I have to wait so long to do another trial. But to get down to 60 kilos, that is using nitrogen fixing bacteria as well, so it's not just doing the foliar, it's getting the whole system to work, and that all comes back to that healthy soil, an aerobic soil that's actually functioning. And that is the most important key to all of what I do.
I'll also use a lot of silicon, so I'm putting more silicon into the plant, because then that gives it the armour. So it fights off the slugs, the cells are so hard that the aphids and whatever just can't bite into it, it's just too hard, the plants got too much armour on there. I use that as a combination with the nutrition to get to where I want to do. But it's always about keeping that plant functioning properly because, for Oil Seed Rape, for instance, when I drilled my Oil Seed Rape this year it was absolutely crawling with flea beetle. There was flea beetles everywhere and the student I had helping me, he said, Tim, you can't really be serious about drilling into that, and I explained to him that if the plant starts to produce the monosaccharides, that's what the flea beetle wants to eat.
As long as that plant's functioning properly, those monosaccharides are going into polysaccharides, so the plant is putting polysaccharide exudates down, so it's feeding the right biology. So it's a healthy plant, there isn't the need for nature to come in and take the trash out. It's all about keeping that plant cycle in and keeping those sugars, getting them transferred into proteins and everything is functioning properly. When we put too much nitrogen out there, all of a sudden we've just got the monosaccharides and the flea beetle are going to come in because that plant can process it, there's too much nitrogen there, everything is blocked up.
Janet: That's really interesting.
Tim: And that's when we get the problem.
Janet: So are you successfully growing Oil Seed Rape in this system then?
Tim: Yeah, yeah, I've never stopped. I've never had a problem. There'll always be a tiny bit of damage. Been out there, tried it, but then just moved on because there isn't the food source there. Then food source is only there when that plant isn't functioning and you get the monosaccharides and the mono fructose and the plant just isn't cycling them and the sugar's there, and it's just a feeding frenzy.
Janet: And that's just because it's not in a healthy state, it's been overfed or whatever?
Tim: Yeah. Flea beetles and aphids are only ever coming in because we've created a problem. If you're in a high cultivation system, you know, just a standard system, because you've mineralised that Nitrogen, there's an awful lot of Nitrogen there, the plant's take it in, that's when the aphids will come in, because again the sugars are there. It's always a food source. If the food source isn't there, they don't come in.
Janet: Yeah, really interesting.
Tim: It's just keeping that plant functioning so that doesn't happen.
Janet: And you're no-till, is that right?
Janet: What was your journey to becoming no-till? Did you just do that on the whole farm all all at once. Did you try it out? How did you come to be doing that?
Tim: At the time, I changed to strict tillage probably back in 2009, which at the time, it was the right thing for my head and it kept the soil aerobic, it kept everything moving forward. And then in 2015 I went to no-till because I just knew I wanted to get more of a fungal soil. I didn't want to be disturbing everything because fungi is so delicate. When you cultivate, it's just like somebody putting a ball and chain through your house and just, you know, the ball and chain's gone through, and you start to lay a few bricks, somebody puts a ball and chain through it again, the fungi can never get established. It's such a delicate thing, it just wants to be left alone and we want to keep that carbon in the soil where it belongs. We don't want to be putting it into the atmosphere.
So every time, you know, you'll get people that put loads of farmyard manure on and they'll plough it down, and then next year they play it back up and it all just vaporises up to the atmosphere. You're not moving that soil forward. It's keeping the carbon where we want it. Carbon is everything, as we all know, we're all carbon. But it's just keeping it back in that soil where it belongs and not putting it up in the atmosphere.
Janet: And in doing all this, you've alluded to this a bit already about the impact this has on your yields and lots of farmers worry, don't they, that if they start reducing their inputs or they start doing no-till, that they won't get the same yields and they need that for their profitability, what do you say about that?
Tim: It's all where you're starting off, and as I said earlier on, the most important thing is to buy a spade and get to know your soil, you've got to get to know your soil, again, smell it, feel it, understand it, and if your soil isn't quite there, then maybe you will have to give it a little bit of help. But it's only, there's always got to be a reason if you're going to disturb something.
Soil doesn't want to be disturbed, and as long as that soil is functioning, I never had a yield drop and probably yields went up. It's always difficult to quantify because unless you've got two systems going side by side in the same field, you can't. But you know, I normally average 9 and a half, 10 tonne to the hectare, you know, best week this year did 11 and a half tonne to the hectare.
Janet: That's up there, isn't it, with the most?
Tim: Yeah, and I'm not using any fungicides, I'm not using insecticides. Um, probably my herbicide cost is 30 pounds a hectare and the nutrition I use, I'll probably be about £40 to £45 a hectare. But if I can't produce wheat at that, I might as well give up. [Laughs].
Janet: So you've taken your costs right down, but you've kept your yields up, so presumably your margin is better. Is that right?
Tim: Oh gosh, yeah, yeah, much better. We're in a far better position. You don't have the stress because you're not spending the money in the first place. As I keep saying, I'm not a low input farmer, if I need to spend money I will, but I want to get maximum yield for the least input, all the while, because then I can face the future.
Janet: Yeah. I've heard you say before that you think this is about, it's not just about doing things differently, it's about thinking differently. It's about a mindset shift.
Tim: It is.
Janet: Can you describe a bit more about what is the mindset that you need to get into to really make this approach work on a farm?
Tim: The biggest obstacle is always what's between your two ears because you've had your family before you or friends before you, or what you've learnt, and the way we're farming now is a totally different approach. So you've really got to start, not from scratch, but it's being so open minded that you can look at things and think that could work better, let's give it ago rather than thinking, oh, that will never work. It's what's between your two years, because I do consulting as well and it's always the biggest obstacle is what's between somebody's two ears. People will come here and they'll pat me on the back and say, ah, you're wonderful, what you're doing is great, but they go home and do nothing. I know it's scary.
Janet: Why is that?
Tim: I think people don't like change. I think it scares them. People have got financial commitments and they're scared of having that dip in income and they always sort of dwell on the negatives rather than the positives. And if you keep dwelling on the negatives, it's going to eat away at you in the end and you think, oh, I'm going to stop. I'm in my nice, safe, comfortable zone, and I'm not going to do anything because it's safe here. You've just got to take that tentative step and get out there and start because there isn't a future in keep destroying our soil.
Whichever angle I look at it, I cannot see how we can keep doing that for generations to come. You know, we've depleted our soils. I know people that have got organic matters down to half a percent now, you know, they just can't farm it anymore. And we've got to start and take notice, and sit up and be responsible. But once you've made that jump, and regen farmers always want to help each other, it's, you know, they always do, and there's plenty of people that are doing it. And people just need to ask questions and go for it.
And it doesn't have to be an expensive obstacle, you can do it as cheap as you need to do it, if that's an issue. You know, it's not about machinery and buying new drills, it's the system that makes it. It's not the machinery.
Janet: Who do you look to for inspiration? Because there are some inspirational leaders in this, aren't there? I'm interested in, are there people that you look at and think, wow, that person is really knocking out the park, I want to learn something from them.
Tim: I think, really, I just take bits from everybody. I read an awful lot, YouTube's good as well, but I read an awful lot and I like books because I can refer back to it and just take bits. I wouldn't say there's one person that I've said, right, I'm just going to follow that person. I've taken bits from everybody. You know, Joel Williams was a big help to me in the early days. Joel was really good. He introduced me to a lot of the stuff that I do.
You know, I like [Dr.] Christine Jones because she was, again, an inspiration, really, and what she's achieved. Most of it, you've got to make it work on your farm, and it's no good somebody looking at me and saying, right, I'm going to copy Tim. You've got to go to your farm and see what works and what doesn't, and you've got to do trials and you've got to change things for your farm because what works for me might not work in Essex or might not work up in Northumberland.
It's just taking the bits and understanding what somebody is doing, but then making it work for you and making it work on your farm. And that's the most important bit, you know. At the end of the day, we've all got to stop as a profitable business because if we're not profitable, we can't do any of the environmental work.
Janet: Yeah, absolutely.
Tim: And that's always got to be the top of the agenda, staying profitable and stopping in business. Nobody is going to help you if you're not, you know, profitable and you're not in business. It's just, that didn't work and they've gone. You've got to be sensible about this.
Janet: Yeah, and there's a lot of people who say you can't be green if you're in the red, but I think a lot of people see it as a choice between producing food and producing for the environment. But what you're saying is, there's no choice, you need to do both. Is that right?
Tim: We need to do both, yeah. I mean, a cover crop, over a 50-year period will produce exactly the same amount of carbon as a newly planted woodland or over a 100-year period, and I could put that cover crop in, I can see it put back that carbon, but you know, there's still 25,000 people a day dying of hunger related problems in the world. I know we've got two big a population, that's another issue.
But as farmers, we need to be producing food. It's what we do. But if we can keep producing food, but regenerate the soils in which we've got that's got to be a win-win. You know, who's not going to like that. You know, when I go for a walk around the farm and there's Skylarks jumping up everywhere, you know, I have a bird ringing club come in. I can still remember the first night they came here because they were just jumping for joy. They'd never seen birds like it. They've never seen so many Skylarks and that, it's just such a pleasure, you know, and everything's like that.
We've got a lot of bird nesting boxes around the farm and last year we were 98% full, but they were all clutches of 8 and 10. It's all down to the food source. Once you get, you know, they say it's the best restaurant in town, but it is because once you've got the food source there, they just keep flocking in because they can feed, they can reproduce, it's just a nice environment for them.
Janet: It's so striking to me when I talk to people who are taking this sort of approach to farming and trying to combine farming for nature and farming for food, and making what they're doing more sustainable, I hadn't expected to find so much joy in it. But there's so much joy in the birds that come, and in the biodiversity and the progress that you can see you're making and the health of your plants, isn't there?
Tim: It's everywhere because, you know, you can be on the tractor and the Skylark's jumping up, but I've yet to meet a true farmer that doesn't enjoy walking around their farm and seeing nature flourishing. To see that farm come back to life, you know, I've walked farms, thousand acre farms and I've found one worm, you know, and you can go back in 4 years time and the whole thing's changed, it's working, it's flourishing. Who's not going to like that?
That feel good factor has to come into it because you wake up in the morning and it feels good, you feel right because you know what you're doing is right, and the whole farm ecosystem is working, and you're getting better crops, you're more profitable. Everybody is happy with the whole equation and that has to be, that's worth an awful lot in my mind, and especially in the plight we're in as a world at the moment, with everything that's going on.
Janet: Well, exactly, exactly. When it comes to what government is doing over the next few years, we're doing this agricultural transition, phasing out Basic Payments, we're going to introduce our new schemes.
If we really knocked it out of the park and do a brilliant job, if we're having a conversation in, let's say, 5 years, and you're saying, wow, I wasn't expecting you to do that well, it's brilliant. What would we need to have achieved? Or how would we need to have done it for you to feel that way about the work we're doing in government on this?
Tim: Gosh, that's a big question. I think, you know, the least amount of soil disturbance we can achieve, the better. There's nothing, every year you have a wet time and all the rivers turn brown, and that's not only soil going down those rivers, it's all the nutrients going down those rivers. And I think if we could have a time when that doesn't happen, I'd have to give you a round of applause if you could pull that off because that to me is the biggest thing because we cannot see our most vital resource just floating into our estuaries and blocking up our estuaries, and going into the oceans and creating these dead zones, and that has got to be the main goal.
You know, we all need food and we want healthy food, I think is another big one, and I think we've really got to push and educate the public of what food we can produce in a regen system and how it is more nutrient dense and how we are improving ecosystems on farm, and how we are keeping carbon back into that soil because once you start to explain to people what we can achieve, I've never met anybody yet that doesn't start smiling and doesn't start enjoying the story of what can be achieved, and then realising how important food is, you know.
At the end of the day, we are what we eat. It's as simple as that. You eat rubbish, you're going to have rubbish health. It's as simple as that, and if we can achieve that and get people more aware, you know, there's gadgets out now that you can just scan, and you can see how nutrient dense that food is. And I envisage people doing that when they're shopping, that they'll be going into supermarkets and they will be picking the most nutrient-dense avocado and the most nutrient-dense tomato because it's so important. How could anybody not get passionate about it? You know, this is the food we eat, it's the fuel, it's what we should all be really pushing for.
Cheap mass-produced food has served a time and, you know, post-war we did a really good job of producing mountains of grain. Farmers did exactly what they were asked to do and it was brilliant, you know, and I think everybody should have a part on the back, but we're moving into a new era now where we've got more knowledge and we need to respect what we've got, but we need to be pushing for this nutrient-dense food.
Everybody wants to be healthy, don't they? You know, and it's got to be the drive, and you've got that power in your clutches to be able to push that in the right direction, and I think if you can look back in 10 years time and think, yeah, I got that right, then you'll have a nice smile on your face that you've got it right.
Janet: Oh, I certainly won't be saying, I got that right. It's going to take a lot of hands to get that right, both in terms of the people who work with me, but also the whole sector, we've got to do this as one big team, haven't we, to make these changes?
Tim: Definitely, and it's all the team, all of us, from the farmer to the consumer. All of us have got to be together to make this work because at the end of the day, it's the consumer that's got the most power. That's who we're actually all working for, with regen ag we can save the planet. We should be the farming heroes of the world, but it needs talking about it. People are always interested, but it just needs programmes out there to show what farmers can achieve.
Janet: We need farmers to show off a bit more, farmers love to learn from other farmers, don't they?
Tim: Exactly, and that's what it should all be about. It's the crux of regen ag, it's helping each other and learning together because we can move forward so much quicker if we all do trials and we all move and talk about it and share, that's what it's all about in my mind because we can just progress so much quicker and there's so much we've got to learn. We can't, you know, I don't think a lifetime is going to be enough. There is so much that we've got to learn and so much out there. And I do think this is going to be the century of working with biology. Biology has got all the answers.
Tim: We've just ignored them in the past.
Janet: What a brilliant note to finish on. I'm going to ask you one last question, which is a hard one, but out of everything you've learned in the nearly 10 years that you've been exploring these ways of working on your farm, what's the one thing you really wish you'd known at the beginning, that you know now, that you could tell somebody just starting out on this journey?
Tim: For me, I wish I'd known more about nutrition and how important it is to the plant, and how dangerous nitrogen is. Nitrogen's our best friend and our worst enemy. Without nitrogen, nothing grows. We don't function, but we need to get that balance right? You know, I keep bringing it lower and lower. I mean, I grew spring barley for, I think it was about 36 kilos this time, and it out-yielded the conventional stuff of 120 kilos.
Tim: Nitrogen is, Nitrogen creates a lot of the disease problems because we've got those weak cells and those weak cells are just bursting over, so then we have to start using growth regulators because we've created weak cells, and then we have to start using fungicides because we've got weak cells, so I wish I'd have known that.
But at the same time, Janet, it's been such a lovely journey learning all this stuff, it would have been boring to have been able to jump the gun and not know it, because that's what it's all about, is everyday's a learning day and I'll never stop reading books.
I'm constantly reading, it's just one of those things for me, the can of worms has been opened and I'll never stop, because there's so much to learn, and what this year won't be the same as what I've done next year because there's so much I learn over the winter, then I start to implement that, you know. I use salicylic acid, it's such a good protection for the plant again. So I use lots of these products to always have the armour on the plant, that it's always protected, but nutrition is always the key as well.
Janet: I love your voracious appetite for learning. You have that in common with a lot of other farmers I've met who are trying more regenerative approaches, there's just a bug that you get for learning more about this and trying stuff and doing experiments and learning more. It's quite infectious.
Tim: It is really infectious because once you've started it, there's just so much, and I think it's a driver of one that you realise how little you need to invest to get a very good crop. And that's a big driver, but it's just that feel good factor for me as well, the knowing what I'm doing, and when you go out and you put the spade, and I've got 20 worms in a little spade depth and you see that soil working and you smell the health, you know, you can't help but have that feel good factor of what you're achieving, and as I say, to drive that forward even more year on year it just gets better and better, and you know, I never have wheel ruts anymore, it just doesn't happen.
The tram lines have been in now for the past 12 years and they're still only a centimetre deep, you know. I always drill the tram line so that tramline’s protected and covered, so this time of the year you wouldn't know where the tram lines are because there's no compaction there because that soil is constantly working and aerobic. If I didn't drive on there, I know I'd grow a perfectly good crop on a tram line that's been there for a long time.
Janet: Amazing. Well, Tim, thank you so much for sharing your passion and knowledge with us today. I have no doubt at all, a lot of people are going to really enjoy listening to this and I'm really grateful for your time and your enthusiasm. And I'm going away inspired and enthused for the work I'm doing and for the work you're doing. So thank you very much.
Tim: My pleasure.
Janet: I'll leave you to go and enjoy your evening. I hope you haven't been too affected by the weather. Are you alright? Is everything intact?
Tim: Yeah, I've had one or two trees come down, which is sad but we'll replace them.
Janet: Yeah, there's been a lot come down all over the place.
Tim: Well, it was so windy on Saturday wasn't it. It's always the trees you really like. [Laughs].
Janet: Yeah, somebody was saying on Twitter earlier, their big favourite oak tree had finally succumbed and they'd been waiting for a few years because they could see it was on its last legs, it just split down the middle. Although they do come back, don't they? Often they often do that and then they start growing again.
Tim: They can, it's amazing how everybody has their favourite tree. I lost mine back in the early 90s, my favourite oak. They're like losing a friend. It sounds daft, but they are, it's like losing a friend.
Janet: Yeah, no, it's not. You must have read The Overstory [by Richard Powers]...
Janet: ...which has got people's, it's basically a story of people's favourite trees, isn't it?
Tim: Yeah, yeah, there's another one, Tree Wisdom, again, which is really good, how trees talk to each other.
Janet: I can't keep up. I'm buying more books than I can read.
Tim: That's what I always end up doing.
Janet: One lifetime isn't enough to read them all, is it?
Tim: No, it's not, but it's just a joy to me. It's just learning and changing.
Janet: Well, that comes across in the way you talk about it, my face hurts from smiling. Brilliant!
Janet: [Laughs]. Thank you so much, Tim, brilliant to see you. Bye bye!
Tim: My pleasure. Take care, bye bye!