A bold experiment on a Hampshire farm could lead to better food and dramatic changes to the British countryside. There’ll be more wildlife, less pollution and greater protection for towns and villages against flooding.
Details of the new development will be outlined this week at Britain’s leading conference on sustainable agriculture, the Oxford Real Farming Conference. Taking the innovative step is farmer Tim May who runs a 1000-hectare, family-owned estate in north Hampshire.
Until this year the farm – Kingsclere Estates – was run as a conventional arable operation with heavy use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Across Britain this type of farming has led to pollution, wildlife loss, pesticide-contamination of food and rivers, and the degradation of soils.
Now Tim has had enough. He’s turning his back on chemical driven industrial agriculture and bringing back flower-rich pastures and grazing livestock. His aim is to restore the fertility of the soil and restore some of the wildlife that’s been lost. And to the surprise of many other farmers, he also plans to make more profit than he did on the intensive system.
“Some may see this as a step into the past,” says Tim. “But in fact it’s the very opposite. There’s no future to the sort of farming we do today, with large crop monocultures and heavy reliance on chemicals.
“We all know it isn’t working. We need to come up with something better, something more sustainable. And far from costing us money I believe it’ll be more profitable. As the soil becomes more fertile we’ll need fewer chemical inputs. So everyone gains – consumers, us the farmers, wildlife and the beauty of the countryside.”
Tim May has made his radical change of direction as conventional arable farming comes under increasing criticism. In one recent report – by the Dutch based Rabobank – farmers were urged to place less emphasis on total yield and look more towards “optimising” inputs. The over-use of chemical fertilizers and the wasteage of water were identified as two key areas for improvement.