June 2018 at Wark Farm
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I've written before about the challenges of trying to plan ahead in our farming system in the face of what appears to be a more erratic and extreme climate. I'm definitely getting older, though perhaps without the years of Methuselah my perspective is still too short to judge, but unpredictability does appears to be the new normal for now. Immediately after a long drawn out and gruelling wet winter we have now had one of our driest sunniest spells in a long time. We got lucky this year and the bulk of our lambing slotted into the start of the dry spell, the lambing went well and they are looking really good so far. It should also help with the control of liver fluke later in the summer, always assuming it doesn't revert to three months of rain now that the weather has broken. On the negative side, the damage to soil structure during drilling and silage making on the wet soils of last summer has had an exaggerated effect on the grass, and even more so on the red clover, in the silage fields during this dry spell. Conversely, the experimental work we did 18 months ago on subsoiling our heavier gley (clay type) soils to put more oxygen into the soil and improve the drainage is giving healthier grass growth than the adjacent untreated areas even during this dry spell. And the chicory/herb rich pasture containing cocksfoot grass on one of our driest, stoniest fields is growing huge amounts of fodder for a large group of ewes and lambs despite the dry conditions.
Which leaves us where? It leaves us focussing with even greater clarity on the ecology of the farm system to build resilience. Starting from the soil up as always - improving the soil structure through targeted interventions, especially in the gleys and to repair any compaction as soon as possible after it occurs; the close matching of grass and herb species to soil types, on the field and even part field, scale with the double aim of suiting the plant to the soil and building organic matter to stimulate soil biological activity; the fitting of animal reproductive cycles even more closely to biological cycles and perhaps less to market demand leading to more seasonality in production. In the absence of direct access to the weather gods or growing all our animals in a factory, it's looking like our best defence to variability will be to buffer the extremes with healthy, diverse and complex ecology. Getting it right should come with a happy collection of side effects too. It's taken fifteen years to see the organic system really start to function, I'm guessing it might take another 5-10 years to raise it to the next level.
This month we are open at the farm on Thursday 14th (10:30 - 4:30) for shopping and order collecting. We will be delivering to our usual Deeside, Donside and Aberdeen areas on Friday 15th and will be at Banchory farmers market on Saturday 16th (9am - 1pm). The following Saturday (23rd) we will be at Ballater Farmers Market. We have a good selection of beef and lamb (now onto pure bred Hebridean hogget) this month, including the full range of offal from both, we have wild roe deer venison from the farm here, the full selection of organic chicken from Hugh Grierson Organic, including stir-fry (white meat) and oysters and and our usual pies, bacon etc. If you have any queries please do get in touch.