British farmer tells farm conference that thinking will have to change without access to the herbicide
LONDON, Ont. — A pioneer in British no-till farming says there’s a good chance European farmers will lose access to glyphosate.
“It’s a French and German thing,” Tom Sewell said at the recent Innovative Farmers Association of Ontario conference in London.
The politics of those two countries means there is pressure to ban the herbicide, which is critical for no-till farmers. Glyphosate provides a simple and effective way to burn down weeds so that fields don’t have to be plowed or aggressively tilled.
Sewell said he has bought two or three years worth of glyphosate.
He said he wouldn’t need glypho-sate if he could figure out how to have a continuous cover crop and then stitch in the annual crops he wanted to grow.
“It would be a challenge, but I’m not going back to plowing and tilling,” he said.
“Part of me said, ‘bring it on,’ but a lot of people would panic.”
Sewell said no-till farming is growing in the United Kingdom.
He farms in County Kent, about 50 kilometres from London, where he owns 67 acres and rents or manages about 1,000 acres from eight landowners. He mostly grows wheat and oilseed rapeseed but is also trying cover crops.
The farm has used minimum tillage for 25 years, but in 2013 Sewell used funding from a Nuffield Scholarship to travel around the world to learn about no-till farming and improving soil.
“I wanted to visit the best no-till famers in the world.”
That set him on a path to his recent adoption of a full no-till system, which is a rarity in his area where farmers still till the ground deep and often. Hot winds in his area result in a lot of topsoil blown away.
Soil health is his priority, and he employs an independent agronomist to “take care what is growing above the ground” and a soil expert “to manage what grows below the ground.”
“The most important thing I learned about (during his Nuffield Scholarship) was soil, organic matter and the importance of roots.”
He said he knew he had to be committed if he was going to go all-in on no-till farming. He sold off his tillage equipment to raise some of the money to pay for the best no-till drill he could get.
Sewell ordered the seed placement part of the drill from a New Zealand company. It places seed and fertilizer in a slot at the bottom of the trench rather than a straight vertical seed trench.
He had the rest of the drill manufactured in Britain, and he’s very happy with the yields he’s getting. Like others in England, he’s getting high wheat yields: this year 165 bushels of wheat at 13 percent protein. He got a 50 percent higher price because of the protein level he reached.
“You’re buying a whole system, not just a no-till drill,” he said.
“Your plants grow different. Your herbicides work different. You have to change your way of thinking.”