The plan to have Dr Jonathan Lundgren visit BASE-UK took over a year to come to fruition following a postponement from our original date in March 2018.  There was then the threat of a blizzard in Sioux Falls on the day Jon was travelling, a lightning strike to the aeroplane from Chicago resulting in a 16-hour delay before Jon eventually arrived at Heathrow at around 11 pm at night on 2nd December.  James Warne, BASE-UK member, met Jon and drove north to Yorkshire to arrive at 3 am where the landlord of the Black Bull Inn at Boroughbridge let them in.

After this exhausting start to the trip the following three days flew by with two meetings and a farm walk.  The reaction to what Jon had to say has been extremely enthusiastic and Angus Gowthorpe, host of the farm walk on Tuesday 4th December takes up the story.

Hanging on to every word!

On Monday 3rd December 2018 we were delighted to have Dr Johnathon Lundgren speak at Whixley, North Yorkshire.  Forty-four BASE UK members, including 6 new members, were treated to a highly enlightening talk about Johnathon’s time working for the United States Department of Agriculture as an Entomological research scientist.  His discoveries into the harmful and persistent effects of neo-nicotinoid insecticides in arable cropping and the pollution of the rangelands, leading to the wholesale death of bees, were not wholly welcomed by USDA.  This led to Johnathon leaving USDA and through crowd funding buying Blue Dasher Farm in eastern South Dakota, in 2016, where he has rangeland and arable cropping as well as his research facilities.

Johnathon went on to explain that the only way forwards for both the bees and soil was through the adoption of regenerative agriculture, not just conservation agriculture, including minimal soil disturbance, living roots throughout the year, diversity of cropping, protecting the soil with cover and the integration of livestock grazing into arable cropping.

On Tuesday 4th December 2018 Jonathon joined 33 BASE UK members, again including several new members for a farm walk at Angus Gowthorpe’s Approach Farm just south of York.

The group looked at a diverse cover crop in a WW stubble prior to spring oats, winter barley after a catch crop post WW, WOSR companion cropped with spring beans and berseem clover and buckwheat, and a red clover/ryegrass temporary ley.  All crops were no tilled and were on a mixture of sandy loams and clay loams and the drill used was a JD 750A.

Much discussion was had throughout the morning surrounding all aspects of the previous day’s talk as well as liquid fertiliser at drilling, molasses in liquid fertiliser, cultivations and drill types, grazing of cover crops and other destruction methods, benefits of companion crops in cash crops and what species to plant in cover crops and the risks or benefits of including cash crop species in cover crops prior to that specific cash crop.  A great deal of knowledge and experiences were shared by the mixture of experienced and those just starting in regenerative agriculture.”

On Tuesday evening Jon and James arrived at Home Farm, (BASE-UK Admin HQ) for dinner and for Jon to stay with Stephen and I for the next couple of nights.  What a pleasure that was!  They were great company despite being very tired.  An early night and early morning followed with Jon and I travelling to Towcester for Wednesday’s meeting.

Again, the turnout was great with 45 attendees.  Many times, during the day you could have heard a pin drop and could feel the concentration whilst the audience took in what Jon had to say.  I asked members to write to me with their feedback and below is what I have received:

Chris Byass – “I’m not sure my comments will be much help, but we had a very interesting day at Whixley (a good venue) with Jonathan.  He completely changed my ideas about Neonicotinoids.  It is refreshing to hear totally independent views from someone so knowledgeable.  I am going to follow him on his website if he has a newsletter, I may well subscribe to that.  Well done the committee for inviting such a high calibre speaker.

Ian Gould – “I will give an appropriate comment on today’s meeting some thought as my brain is still in turmoil with all the information!!  Absolutely inspiring and terrifying in equal measure!  (I think that says it all!).”

Andrew Lingham – “Thanks for organising a fascinating day and managing to get Jonathan over to this side of the pond.  His bravery and determination in revealing the truth about what is really happening in industrial agriculture is fundamental to the survival of the planet.  The story of Jonathan’s exposure of Big Ag needs the widest of audiences so that farmers can take back control of their businesses and begin to heal our soil and the customers of our products.  Great day, thanks again.”

A group of our Scottish members travelled down on Sunday 2nd December to include a visit to Edwin Taylor and Richard Suddes in Northumberland prior to travelling further south to Yorkshire.  Here’s what Jock wrote:

Jock ? McFarlane – “I just wanted to send a note to thank you for setting up the fantastic meeting with Jonathan and Angus.  I and the ’Scottish’ lot really enjoyed it and we learnt loads.

As I am sure you know we also visited Edwin and Richard on the Sunday and it was really kind of them to show us round.  There is nothing quite like a farm visit with time to discuss all the various aspects.  Once again, I am inspired and now plan to direct drill 30 acres or so of Spring Barley that I would normally plough.

The thing that stood out for me from Jonathan’s talk was that we really do not know how much damage to the environment and to ourselves (and our customers) the chemicals we are using are doing.  I have decided to wean myself off using seed treatments/dressings as I feel we are being scared by the merchants into using them instead of testing the seed to see if we might need them – probably not.  Thanks again for a fantastic weekend……  Thank you and all your helpers very much.”

Ben Williams from Powys wrote – “I took home a few messages from the meeting with Dr Lundgren;

  1. Don`t use insecticides unless we have a serious problem and preferably never.
  2. We could probably cut out a lot of our agrochemicals without detriment.
  3. Glyphosate and its adjuvants are not as safe as we thought and that is a serious issue as we use it a lot.
  4. I was pleased that he extolled the importance of not disturbing the ground, diverse cropping, rotation and livestock in the system.”

William Cooper – “The most relevant message from Jonathans talk is that the prevention rather than cure approach of regenerative agriculture has greater benefits in our soil’s health over and above the savings on the insecticide bill.  The importance of plant health in overcoming pest attack and the value of ants and spiders in the soil ecosystem.  A thought-provoking day.”

Max Chenery – “I guess the message that leapt out at me most was diversity of crops and revenue streams.  We must find new crops to grow and new markets to grow them for.  This will go a long way to solving our problems.  Then we can increase bio diversity and hopefully reduce our dependence on agro chemicals and also increase our margins by growing for a profit!  I need to spend more time focussing on this.

Humphrey Mills – “I felt it was important to hear quite how toxic neonics were and how these chemicals are causing long term harm to the ecosystem.  He really gave us something to think about with his idea of diversifying everything including income streams from the same piece of ground.

David White, Jonathan Lundgren, Stephen Goodwin

And then Andrew Scoley wrote:

First of all, Dr Lundgren reinforced the four key points the whole farm system of regenerative agriculture requires.

  1. The elimination of tillage, or a significant reduction at the very least.
  2. Never have a bare soil, something must be growing all the time, whether that is a cash crop or a cover crop.
  3. Diversify plant communities. Companion cropping, lots of different species in cover crops but also consider what it is you want from a cover crop.
  4. Integrating livestock, mob grazing, different livestock species being run together or in sequence.

I think it is this last bit we arable farmers are going to find most difficulty with, especially on farms which are not ring fenced and there may be considerable distances between units.  However, start on a small scale and work up, see what works in your own situation.

Dr Lundgren presented some interesting and frankly worrying aspects of pesticide use and effects, especially where bees are concerned.  All pesticides are tested in isolation, but who is testing pesticide mixes and the adjuvants to see what happens to the way pesticides work in conjunction with other pesticides?  No one it seems.  A number of disorders appearing in ever larger numbers of the population have a direct correlation with increasing glyphosate usage for instance.  Now, we have to be careful not to confuse correlation with cause, but I would say we have to take notice of what is going on.  We also have to take into consideration the difference between Europe and those areas of the world growing Roundup Ready crops, because the use of glyphosate in those areas far outstrips European usage, and the manner in which glyphosate is used, on the crop not on the weeds before planting for instance, must have a bearing on residue levels being found.  Herbicides such as glyphosate, 2-4D, and Dicamba have all been shown to be toxic to bees at various levels.

On neonicotinoids for example, there is strong evidence that not all the insecticide in seed dressings are staying within the plant which grows from that seed, but some stays in the soil to be picked up by following crops, and for how long does that continue?  Residues are being picked up on neighbouring organic farms which have never used neonics, which suggests that perhaps these pesticides are moving in soils from one area to another, presumably through water action. He pointed out that the USA loses 150% of its bee hives annually.  Why?  Well for one thing, a soya bean seed has enough neonic on it to kill 160,000 bees, but it’s not just the fatalities, it’s the behaviour change in bees which is affecting colony survival.  The effects of neonics on deer have been studied, in which they cause defects and slowed animals down. A slow deer is a dead deer, even if the neonics themselves did not directly cause fatalities.  Dr Lundgren explained the workings of the next generation of pesticides which will turn various genes on and off, but the audience couldn’t help wondering if we were headed right back to the mistakes made with DDT, and the unintended consequences of that.

One of his key messages was to stop chasing acres and make what land you have work harder through vertical integration.  He was keen to grow crops he could sell by the pound not the bushel, they are much higher value!  Converting crops into meat, to sell the meat not the crops is the aim. A proportion anyway.  He has poultry for eggs and meat, wool from sheep, goat meat, and pastured pork, direct marketed to local markets.

He uses no insecticides, no fungicides, no fertiliser and a small amount of herbicide.  This must be our goal.  To reach that, we need LIVING soils, and that is the aim of the four key points.  Focus on soil health and biodiversity to realise nutrient dense foods and profit.

Tim Parton – “Hearing Dr Jonathan Lundgren speak was a nice reassurance for me having not used insecticides for 4 years or neonics.  My findings have been the same as his in that I have a vast array of predators to do the job for me, but also high numbers of pollinators around the farm.  Since taking the stance of not using insecticides, in conjunction with practising conservation agriculture the whole farm ecosystem is now working, with abundance of skylarks, starlings, linnets etc and also predators – it is so nice to see nature in action.” 

John-Arthur Boyd wrote:

  • All the things we should know any way , harvest the sun  and reduce tillage.
  • Diversity with cover crop plants and companion crop planting.
  • What ever you do ask yourself why.
  • Some times he  said to kill off one troublesome  insect we kill 1500 beneficiaries.
  • Quote  : We cannot solve our problems by the same means we used to create them.
  • Have we got to learn how to farm again.”

Thanks go to Angus Gowthorpe for agreeing to host the farm walk on 4th December, as well as acting as host/caterer/admin on the Monday.

Huge thanks go to James Warne for his skilful and patient driving skills as well as for looking after Jon so well on Sunday through to Tuesday evening.

Grateful thanks goes to Chris Brown and ASDA for their support in providing some funding towards this event.

Finally, thanks to Jon for travelling all the way to the UK to see us…

Left to right: Jason Butler, Max Chenery, Rebecca Goodwin, Jonathan Lundgren and Steve Townsend

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