Rupert Knowles - CA-WN Farming Correspondent
New-born lambs are scampering after their mothers all over West Northamptonshire. I was driving up a farm track north of Braunston last week and they went skipping ahead without the sense to veer to left or right. The pastures to the side undulate with the ancient signs of ridge and furrow indicating feudal origins. Whether it is arable or livestock, our beautiful countryside hints at a past history of centuries of cultivation and grazing. But it also hints at changes that have taken place and farming today faces further changes on a huge scale which will also leave their mark.
I am excited to have been asked to write about agriculture, farming and the countryside for CA-WN’s bi- monthly newsletter. Am I qualified to do this? Not exactly; but I speak the language of farmers and I hope that I can interpret what is going on in the countryside, how farmers are delivering their contribution to net zero, how farming impacts on biodiversity and also how our food distribution system works (or doesn’t). Questions please! My background is in fruit and trees. I inherited the family fruit farm and one of my memories as a small boy is following my father round the orchard with a large, black umbrella. With the up- turned umbrella under a branch, we would beat the branch looking for fallen black-kneed capsid – a voracious consumer of fruit tree red-spider mite.
As well as growing, I have been an agricultural trainer, a pesticide and fertiliser adviser, chair of an apple- growers’ cooperative, served on local and national NFU committees, an irrigation consultant and an adviser and developer of soft fruit production under glass and tunnels. I taught horticulture in China where together with my wife, Lana Mo, we were first to help Chinese fruit growers through Global GAP (the international Red Tractor mark). I worked with farmers in Afghanistan developing fruit nurseries and orchards and poplar woodlots and I advised on fruit, nut and vegetable projects in Zimbabwe, Bulgaria, China, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. So you will have to excuse me when I do not suffer fools gladly. I am passionate about farming, food and forestry! I will endeavour to research and discuss current farming issues with particular reference to climate change and biodiversity.
Leaf Open Farm Sunday (LOFS)
12 June 2022 was a great opportunity for parents and children to share knowledge on farming and food. One event featured buried underpants! Before Easter Sunday participants had buried a pair of cotton pants (or any other garment entirely made of cotton) eight inches down in a field – to be dug up 60 days or more later. At a depth of eight inches the life-forms in the soil will begin eating the cellulose sugar, from which cotton is made, and start decomposing the organic material. Sterile, lifeless soil would have little impact on the cotton, whereas organically thriving soil would result in very little to dig up, demonstrating a really healthy soil. It strikes me that CA-WN members could do the same in their vegetable bed or allotment and take the said garment to a LOFS farm for comparison. I will research the addresses of local farmers who are members of LEAF (Linking Environment and Farm - https://leaf.eco/) and are participating in the next Open Farm Sunday.