Turnip Townshend and robust rotations

This year, our event topics in the South East have in some form or another revolved around reducing your costs without compromising yield. As part of this, one of the topics for discussion was Robust Rotations and, the lessons learnt or, not as the case maybe!

However, when you start analysing what we mean by robust rotations, you suddenly think of the phrase Déjà vu as these related topics are certainly not new to farming!

So to take you back to your history lessons: let me start with some buzz words like… cover cropping:  the Chinese were actually using cover crops some 2000 years ago and also during the Roman times as they realised their potential for soil protection and enhancement. Then there’s companion cropping – Native Americans invented the ‘three sisters’, growing corn, squash and beans together. Livestock in arable rotations – this husbandry was actually incorporated into farming regimes in the fourteenth century. And finally for this lesson, the four course rotation was being practised in Belgium in the sixteenth century but was popularised in the UK by ‘Turnip’ Townshend in the 1730s -rotating cereals with legumes, grass and turnips to increase for soil nutrients and manage weeds, diseases and pests. This significantly improved crop husbandry subsequently escalated yields and productivity dramatically to feed yet another rapidly growing population.

So, what’s new?  Well, as we know, farming is a continual learning curve and the more we know, the more we question what we don’t. Therefore, we need this ever turning farming rotation as this ensures we continually progress our knowledge along with improving technology so giving us the chance to make our businesses more sustainable and robust.

However, as it has already proved, it is at our peril if we totally ignore the importance of the historical lessons learnt, as the methodologies we now again aspire to integrate into our farming strategies emulate from them.