About permaculture farming
Where we want farming to be in the future - our goals:
- Reduced whole farm carbon footprint and increased carbon sequestration;
- Improved soil fertility and health;
- Increased on-farm biodiversity, including agro-biodiversity;
- Increased water holding capacity and reduced contribution to local flooding;
- Increased yields of food and other farm products per unit area;
- UK with a strong and diverse food economy, a net exporter of food;
- Reduced requirement for external inputs;
- Strengthened local resilience and enhanced regional food economies – more agricultural produce consumed locally;
- Improved farmer incomes and increased employment opportunities;
- Improved farmer quality of life, with greater opportunities for new entrants and the involvement of more young people; and
- Greater awareness and involvement of the public in farming
But we are far from that now...
In 2008, food shortages, caused in part by the diminishing quantity and quality of the world's soil led to riots in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In 2016 atmospheric carbon dioxide levels passed 400ppm. By 2030, when today's toddlers have toddlers of their own, 8.3 billion people will walk the Earth; to feed them, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates, farmers will have to grow almost 30 percent more grain than they do now. Never has farming so needed to have a multi-functional and pivotal role in responding to the multitude of crises that are no longer on the horizon – poverty, climate change, biodiversity loss, the list is long, and lengthening.
The permaculture approach
In farming, the application of permaculture design would necessarily combine a range of approaches and methods according to the situation as defined by landscape, climate, soils, water, markets, land use history, investment opportunity, planning, and the like. There is already a huge collection of techniques including keyline soil and water management, biofertilizers, holistic grazing, agro-forestry, minimum tillage, cover cropping and more that can improve food security, create resilience, sequester carbon, improve biodiversity, and basically achieve all the aims we need them to do. This is what Darren Doherty, who designs on several thousand acre properties around the world, calls “playing with a full deck” – using all the tools and knowledge at our disposal. Permaculture is a design system that weaves these different approaches and techniques together to create a holistic, low external input, high productivity farm system.
Permaculture design also looks beyond the hedge, at issues such as household and farm energy, habitation and structures, waste management (there need be no waste on a farm!), and community interaction. And let us not forget the nucleus of the farm operation – the family: its health, growth, learning and security. The design would then add proactive demonstration and training functions to allow the farm to reach its true potential, by sharing and passing on its experience to others.
This process has already started with the formation of the Farmers & Growers Network. With these initiatives and more, we can plot a fertile path to a more sustainable, people and planet-friendly agriculture in the UK where farmers and land stewards are respected for the part they play in maintaining and improving our food security, contributing to the economy and environment.