We spoke with Jake Freestone, a Crop Protector and UK farmer about some of the ways he is maximizing biodiversity on his farm.
Why is biodiversity important on a farm?
Biodiversity underpins all of our food and ecosystems. The environment is so crucial to making food production run as smoothly as possible. Whether support that is helping bees to pollinate crops or helping to clean the water as it goes through the farming system, a biodiverse environment makes everything run smoothly.
Have you seen a species return to your farm because you are mindful about biodiversity?
We are finding more beetles and more earthworms in our soil. We started doing no-till in 2016, and within two years we started to get an increase in Rose Beetles and another beetle called a Devil’s Coachman. They are natural predators of slugs—one of our big problems here in the UK. By leaving plant residue, you promote a good habitat for the beetles.
Jake Freestone speaks about managing slugs
Also earthworms, we have fields with earthworm castings all over them and to me that is a really easy win for farmers. The more worms the merrier and if my earthworms are good in number, then I am confident that the things that we can’t measure or see with the naked eye are also in good health.
What about diversity within the crops themselves?
We try not to just keep biodiversity on the margins but integrate it into the actual cash crop we grow. For instance, in our oilseed rape, we grow vetches, buckwheat, and clover to act as companion crops within those fields. We think they can mask the emerging oilseed rape crops from flea beetle. They are leguminous and provide a degree of nitrogen while helping cover the field to reduce bird damage. They suppress weeds which saves on herbicides and gives us a net financial benefit of about $45 USD per hectare.
Can you tell me more about Linking Environment and Farming – the organization that promotes sustainable farming?
Some farming friends suggested it to me. They said LEAF is on the cutting edge of environmental sustainability, where they look to reduce the impact on ecology and biodiversity while still remaining focused on outputs.
LEAF has a helpful Integrated Farm Management handbook and they run a great event called Open Farm Sunday where as many farms as possible open their gates on the same day. We welcome the general public and our customers so they can see how we grow the food and look after the environment.
At a LEAF meeting the farmers are really positive people. We ask ourselves about the wider benefits to society and the environment from what we do on the farm and you always learn something when you go to one of those meetings.
What has been something that you have picked up on in one of those meetings that you have implemented in your farm?
We deepened and widened a stretch of ditch to create a silt trap and a little reed bed as well. Now we have reeds growing filtering the water and when you go down there, there are little birds, little wrens and threshes and all sorts of stuff making that their environment and their home now.
Can using pesticides help with biodiversity?
We have to be responsible and make sure to stick to the label. We need to have buffer strips around our fields and use the right product at the right time, with the right dose.
We used to use seed treatment to control cabbage stem flea beetle. Without that [now banned treatment] farmers now spray broad acre insecticide across the emerging crop to prevent damage. Unfortunately, there are huge losses from resistance and over the span of three days, the pest virtually wiped out my whole crop of oilseed rape in three fields. It was that quick and that invasive.