12th April 2024

Farm scale permaculture, the next step

Above: Professor Martin Wolfe at Wakelyns Farm, Suffolk a few years ago. He is explaining how resilience, disease resistance and long term soil fertility is all about diversity. A mixed population of wheat with similar but different genetics brings resilience to the whole crop.

(Below) Integration of trees into the fields – an agroforestry system and that ensures over time soil carbon rises and leads to an increasing biodiversity of birds, insects and other companions to the farm ecosystem.

The long term research from the farm suggests if the total yield is valued, not just the wheat crop then the output is improved by a factor of 1.4 x

An oft quoted statistic in  permaculture education is the fact that the smaller the cultivated plot, the more productive it tends to be per sq meter. Attention to detail, sequencing, stacking, beneficial relationships, IPM are all part of the explanation as to why this is an observable reality. So a common critique of permaculture is based on the question of yes, all well and good but does it scale?

This brings us up against some key questions and assumptions we have about farming and agriculture, in this post we will be exploring some of the assumptions and alternatives to our monoculture systems.

Below: Wakelyns from the air – you can clearly see the establishment of the agroforestry system and the contrast with the surrounding farmland.

Diversity all around at Treflach Farm.

As a pioneering farm Treflach has attracted a great deal of interest in its work over the last decade. It has become a regular venue for courses and training, not least from Sector39 who has held 6 full PDC’s there over the last decade. We have witnessed many of the transformational changes at the farm, but really it is just getting started on a bigger mission. The farmer Ian Steele talks to One Plant Develop group who have come to explore options about low impact living.

Treflach produces a range of produce that it refines into higher value products. They have their bakery and sell their free range happy beef and pork directly from their own shop. Any trimmings from the butchery process go into their range of pies which they also direct sell. A delivery business has grown up around that as well as they increasingly find loads for the empty returning vans to pick up. This is often food residues which can be converted into value via the pigs.

This apple tree is planted with pigs in mind who love working on any surpluses of production.

Taking a leaf from Martin Wolfe’s book, Trefach have begun a silvo-pasture initiative. While these corridors of trees establish, the hay will be cut by mower, but once this diversity of tree species have matured the grazing animals will be allowed back in the field. This adds many benefits including shade for the animals, leaves they can browse on, a scratching post and a generally more diverse habitat. This obviously also encourages birds and insects and starts to create plenty of other new wildlife opportunities.

treflach farm view

Allowing access to the countryside for training events and celebrations help reconnect people back to the land and to their food supply. When people don’t know the difference between food production methods they fail to understand the importance food quality and provenance. Working with diverse groups in this way is a big part of  the Treflach formula.

Peas in the barley. There are many ways to diversify and it has been a long process of trial and error at Treflach but they are making headway over time.  Being organic means no spraying, but how to introduce a new crop to a field without ploughing – a practice which wrecks soil structure and exposes delicate soil carbon to the sun where it burns off as CO2.  Treflach are combining minimum tillage practices with no ploughing and in the process have established this crop of peas and barley. The crop will be harvested and threshed as pig food, a great combination of protein and carbohydrate and of course the pea is a nitrogen fixer which also gives back fertility to the soil.

This is the start of a big topic and we will explore farm scale permaculture from many angles through the Academy of Permaculture, so watch this space!