Philip King
Jolyon King
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As I have mentioned before, BASE stands for Biology Agriculture Soil & Environment and follows the principles of Conservation Agriculture which is fundamentally about carbon management in soil and is based on three core principles.

• Minimum soil disturbance
• Residue cover on the soil
• Rotations

Last December, I was lucky enough to attend a trip to France kindly organised by BASE UK to visit a number of French farmers who are embracing Conservation Agriculture on their farms.

Our first stop was Saint Lubin, Arronville, just north of Paris, to visit farm of Frederic Remy. Frederic showed a group of nearly 30 UK farmers around his arable farm where he grows a wide rotation of cereals, pulses and cover crop mixtures spoilt only be the odd wild boar! Crops are established using a tine or disc low disturbance drill, both made by Horsch.

Frederic’s innovative farming decisions were focused on:

• Improving soil structures and nutrition
• Use of cover crops in a rotation with plenty of roots
• Companions crops grown with OSR
• Clover lasting through two or more crops in the rotation
• Very dense diverse cover crop mixes with investment in seed
• On-farm trials and time spent on research and visiting other farms to build a personal knowledge base
• Reducing inputs such as machinery, labour and tractor hours which Conservation Agriculture can bring to a farming business, freeing up time to be better spent doing other things!

Next stop was the Loire Valley to visit long time Conservation Agriculture advocate, Frederic Thomas. A man with endless knowledge, he kindly gave us a fascinating insight into his soil health and water management strategies, using cover and cash crops as well as compost. Farming on sandy soils on top of clay, it was amazing to see what could be achieved with careful management and attention to detail using Conservation Agriculture principles.

He was able to turn tired sand with no organic matter into well structured, living soils full of soil biology. This was a stark contrast to the intensive tilling of neighbours field which lay capped and lifeless, demonstrating how far Fredric had come over the last 20 years. It was also pleasing to learn that some of Fredric’s neighbours were so impressed with his results he was now taking on their farms as well. Covering 700ha with a 3 meter Sky disc drill and a 5 meter Duro France cultivator drill with some aging low horsepower tractors, shows it’s not the kit, it’s all about the system as a whole.

A big thanks to BASE UK for organising such a great trip and to the French farmers we met along the way.