Growing food is an agricultural activity and is dependent on the natural rhythms of the forces of Nature. The seasons arrive and pass with the regularity of millennia, as sure as night follows day. These are things we can depend on and rely on to mark the beginning and end of the growing cycle. The laws of Nature are governed by these natural rhythms, plants respond to the changes in weather, the day length and other factors. Animals know when to get ready for nesting and mating not because they look into their diaries or their computers, but because Nature gives them a signal as if to say “OK, you can go for it now!” So the whole of Nature is controlled by these great global and annual events. Unless you are a farmer or somebody that works outside, you may well be divorced from the laws of Nature. The weather may well pass you by as nothing more than an inconvenience or a pleasure.
This winter, or rather the almost complete lack of it, has rocked the meteorological world as it has broken all previous records for the warmest and in some places – the wettest ever. Here at Hardwick we keep records of rain and temperature and have decades of data (great bedtime reading for those of you that like such things!).
During December we recorded night-time temperatures that were higher than those we measured during July and August last year. This is a bit of a worry. If the weather is to continue to be so erratic, it makes crop planning very difficult indeed. There is much talk of Climate Change, it used to be referred to as global warming and in UK people started to get excited and dream of growing lemons and bananas in the new southern climate. I met a farmer in Cornwall that had even planted avocados in the hope that the new climate would bring forth a bounty of high value crops. He failed to understand that even if it does get warmer the light levels are still too low for such a crop to produce a decent yield. So, “climate change” is more to the point and is the new way to describe what is happening to our weather systems.
“Climate change” is an admission that perhaps we have no idea as to which way the weather will go and who will benefit and who will lose out. We worry about the Planet and how it will survive, but this is not the problem. The Planet has dealt with huge changes over millennia and always comes through. The planet is safe and has the ability to be reborn and adapt. It is us that is under threat and our ability to continue food production in the face of the onslaught we make upon our soils, air and water.
Industrial agriculture only manages to produce 30% of our food, but manages to emit many times more carbon and pollution than all the rest of the food producers put together. It can never manage to feed the World. It is too wasteful and can do no more than add to the problems. Here at Hardwick for decades now we have been working on building resilience into our food system. Our yields are good. We know we can produce an optimum amount of food from our tiny piece of Planet and we know that we can build soil carbon and that is good for the Planet, as we can lock up some of that carbon that has escaped to the atmosphere. We are continually adding new trials to our cropping, the recent addition of agro-forestry is just one example of improving the resilience of our food system.
If we had a reliable crystal ball, we could see what the next year’s weather had in store for us and sow and plant appropriate crops. We don’t, so we continue to gamble on what may or may not happen. I am one of the 2% of the population that has never done the Lottery, I have never seen inside a betting office of ever gambled in any way, yet every year we gamble quite considerable amounts of money on crops in the ground that we hope will, weather permitting, produce a viable yield. Must have made some fairly reasonable bets though, as we are still in business 40 years later.
Many of our crops that should be producing in March/April have been damaged due to the warm winter and will not be around in the spring. So this year I am putting my money on an early warm and sunny spring and we are going to start sowing and planting a couple of weeks earlier than we would normally dare to do and see if we can hasten our crops along a little. Anybody fancy placing some bets on how this gamble may work out?