Posted 8th Sep 2016
Following on from our chat with Graham Harvey earlier in the week, we talk to Tim May. He explains how he got involved in Grass Fed Nation, tells us about the importance of not relying on pesticides and reveals how Brexit is a great opportunity for British farming to reshape itself
1. How are you going about restoring the damaged soils on your farm?
After ten years of running an arable farming system, the soil was becoming lifeless and we wanted to return to a more diverse mixed farming system. We took just under half of the farm out of arable production and started to grow mixed herbal and red clover leys on the rest of the land to increase organic matter levels, fix nutrients and aerate the soil.
We also introduced a 1700-strong flock of breeding ewes and a 150 head herd of beef cattle. Alongside these changes we have minimised our reliance on man-made chemical fertilisers and pesticides and we try to keep soil disruption to an absolute minimum. With the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust monitoring the biodiversity we have already recorded significant increases in numbers and diversity of spiders in particular; we await with interest the longer term results.
2. For you, why is it important to not rely on pesticides?
Pesticides degrade the soil and over time, the soil becomes lifeless and the crops grown are unhealthy. Essentially these chemicals strip our landscape, killing off important microbes and systems within the soil and there is also the risk of the chemicals getting into the food chain. Creating a sustainable farming system that encourages good soil health ensures healthy crops and animals, a diverse eco system containing high numbers of different species, and ensure the future of food production.
The business case for relying on pesticides just doesn’t stack up we are faced with flat yields, an unstable price and, as the various pests and diseases that we are trying to deal with these pesticides gain resistance against them, we end up having to spend more on them. We needed to return to a system that had more control over its destiny, and the high chemical commodity production system doesn’t fulfill that.
3. What inspired you to use wildflowers and to run your farm the natural way?
I discovered that we needed more diversity in our whole system, and using multi species mixes for our grassland was an easy choice. There are many benefits to this but most importantly for me was that the more plants have in the soil the more nutrients I can access from the soil, as each different plant has an ability to glean their own requirement of nutrients from their environment through their many different root systems.
I also wanted to ensure the farm’s future for my family and provide a healthy, environmentally diverse landscape which could thrive. I could see that the way things were going, the farm couldn’t survive and I knew things had to change. Rather than relying on machinery, I prefer to employ people and create jobs, and healthy food.
4. What persuaded you to get involved in Graham's book?
Graham shares the philosophy of taking back the food which we deserve and to create sustainable farming systems whereby food is grown and reared in the most natural way. I’ve worked with him previously and made films for Pasture Promise and featuring in Grass-Fed Nation made perfect sense as it extols everything which we believe here at Kingsclere.
5. Does Brexit make you feel more or less positive about the future of farming? Why?
I believe we have to be positive about the situation we find ourselves in. Now is a chance to reshape our farming landscape and ensure we can move forward and ensure farmers get a better deal for producing better food. We need to recognise our strengths as a nation if we are going to operate in a more open market place.
One of the biggest strengths I can see is that the British brand is trusted on the international market place. If we say something is something, it generally is. In the organic world people are happy to pay for British produce because they can be pretty confident that the product is actually organic. When put against the recent fraudulent organic shipments coming in from the Eastern Block we have a competitive advantage. I can’t see how we will be able to compete on pure commodity production with or without GM, so we’d be better off focusing on a higher value product with a story.