Dr Martin Wolfe, Wakelyns Agroforestry, Suffolk, England -7th December 2015
Today I had the pleasure of spending the day with Dr Martin Wolfe and his wife Anne. Martin is a plant pathologist by trade who in the early 90’s got disenchanted with research in the agricultural industry. He decided to do his own research on his own terms and so bought Wakelyns, where in 1994 he set up the farm as you see it today in Agroforestry, which is the practice of cropping or pasturing between alleys of trees.
I first heard Martin speak at a ProCam meeting when he spoke about variety mixtures of cereals which he has been involved in for years. It is the simplest way of companion cropping and adding diversity to a system. As a plant pathologist he was interested in the effect of planting multiple varieties of cereals at the same time, on disease spread and severity. In Eastern Germany in the 80’s the state funded and coordinated work on spring barley variety mixtures as they did not have the cash to buy fungicides and saw this as a way of producing good yields of barley. They found that a four-way mixture reduced disease severity dramatically. About 100% of the East German Spring barley crop was variety mixtures until the fall of the Berlin Wall when it all but disappeared.
Martin recently has been working on the ORC Wakelyns Wheat Populations project:
The idea of the breeding program is to produce seed so that within a field of wheat each individual plant is different from the other, so giving diversity and resilience.
Martin has also worked on wheat/bean intercrops, both winter and spring varieties. They have found that there are fewer insect, disease and weed problems with this intercrop.
Martin takes a system approach to farming and so there is no single solution or magic bullet. Martin believes that part of the system for future agriculture needs to include trees and he is passionate about agroforestry. Agroforestry brings many advantages to a cropping system: enhanced nutrient cycle, improved water cycle, warmer average temperatures, reduced wind damage, disease barrier, host for beneficials, roosts for birds and many more.
The first alley we visited was in Hazel Field. The Hazel is planted in two rows and is harvested every five years. In the cropping part is wheat trials. Wakelyns is completely organic and has not had any outside inputs for years. The nutrient indices are low but the yields are going up!
The next alley was his ley mixture which will be there for three years. They cut the ley and then compost it and apply it to the land: it’s the only amendment.
The last alley we saw in Hazel field had free range chicken underneath. The hedge is in the middle of their patch as it gives them cover. The chickens bring many services to the system from weed control to insect control. The only down-side of the chickens is that they have destroyed the understory of the trees, which is the habitat for many beneficials.
Above is where he has done root crop trials. They grow potatoes (less blight in Agroforestry). He is also trying squash grown directly into the three-year ley. There are many other crops that he is trialling in this field
This plot is where Martin grew black barley last year, a crop he is excited about.
Above is a trial plot Eco-Dyne drill that Martin used as part of the OSCAR project:
The results of the OSCAR project are due in the next few months.
Above is a trial looking into the spatial arrangement effect on tree disease. Above the timber trees are in pairs and there are eight different species . After a set of eight down a row, the eight are then repeated again but in a different random order. This is being compared to another site where they are spaced more conventionally. They have found that the random spacing does reduce disease.
Today was a fascinating day and I have only managed to touch the tip of the iceberg in my blog of what I learnt. I will be coming back in the summer for the open day and recommend everyone else to visit here too. The experience makes you think differently and opens your eyes to many possibilities. Thank you very much Martin for your time.