21 November 2019
Agroforestry event in Melton Mowbray

A Win Win for Farm productivity and the Environment

3 December 2019
iSAGE training course and workshop

Innovations to improve sustainability in the sheep and goat sector

4 November 2019
Calling all UK Sheep farmers!

Survey on breed distribution and management

31 October 2019
Proceedings of the European Conference on Crop Diversification

Abstracts, presentations and workshop reports now online

21 March 2019
In adversity, what are farmers doing to be more resilient?

Opportunities, barriers and constraints in organic techniques helping to improve the sustainability of conventional farming

Innovations in grower tools and cultivation approaches

Featuring a range of innovative tools and ideas as well as showing how to modify old kit. Discussion topics will include relevance and practicality of the innovations presented. (Organised by OGA)
Alan Schofield (Organic Growers Alliance): Chair

Two films were supposed to be shown as introduction to this workshop; however, due to network problems, only one was run. Both are accessible on the internet: .

The film presented a Japanese method of producing paper-pot transplants and showed how they can be planted with a specially designed planter. However, this method is only practical for selected crops and works best in fine soils without residues.

The other film was Eliot Coleman Discusses Inventing New Tools for Small-Scale Farming .

Roger Hitchings went on introducing the audience to Eliot Coleman’s work and farm, and described his impressions and experience from his two visits on Eliot’s farm. A wide range of handmade tools were shown and various constructions of movable polytunnels. One example for application was after the tomato-crop has finished in autumn, moving the tunnel (e.g. by hand or on rails) over to a neighbouring plot with Christmas-flowering chrysanthemums. Also the mobile chicken coops were very interesting, made of polytunnel materials and two bike-wheels, including a nest box, ramp, mesh floor and roosts.

Tolly’s low-tunnels
Ian Tolhurst gave an instructive presentation of different forms of innovation on his farm; starting off with the statement that ‘Innovation’ is a term one quite recently has learned to interpret, adding that he didn’t realise he was being innovative all these years… He started with an introduction of his business and underlined that labour is the most expensive part of his (most growers) work and that he tries to make tasks as efficient as possible. He showed and explained a selection of his handmade tools. He uses for example a handmade wooden meter for measuring (much faster than a tape meter), row markers made of a wooden rake, or extendable wooden poles as support for the polytunnels which are covered with a thick layer of snow at the moment.

He went on describing how he transforms his wood-chip compost heap into a hot-bed, using the heat coming from the compost in a low tunnel on top, to grow salad leaves in trays during the winter months. Temperatures in the tunnel stay around 10 degrees Celsius and the seeds which had sown during the first week of December are now 10 cm tall (6-7 weeks later).

Key conclusions

The discussion that followed the presentations brought out the following points:

  • As labour is the most expensive part of the growers work, it is important to make tasks as efficient, easy and fun as possible.
  • Using the heat of compost heaps in low tunnels is a great opportunity to grow early crops during the cold winter months.
  • Transforming old, used and cheap tools/items into new and more efficient ones is often easier as expected. Everyone should give it a go!

Individual speaker presentations and abstracts

Video shorts: Innovations from the USA

These two short video presentations will set the scene for the innovative machinery workshop session. The first features Eliot Coleman himself explaining why he felt it necessary to develop his own tools, equipment and systems. The second will feature the Japanese paper pot transplant system as an example of innovation that can really make a difference in the right situation.

Roger Hitchings (ORC): Eliot Coleman’s approach to tools and equipment (11.7MB)

This talk will introduce a number of innovative approaches to small-scale production developed by that most respected of organic growers, Eliot Coleman. The talk will be illustrated by a series of photographs taken during visits by ORC staff to Four Season Farm. Questions for discussion include whether such innovations are widely applicable and do they have the potential to stimulate further innovation.

Iain Tolhurst (Tolhurst Organic Growers): Innovations in growers’ tools (5.4MB)

Since the dawn of mankind we have been developing tools, the very first ones were directly related to food production or food procurement. The development of tools for humans was unique in the animal kingdom; having fingers and an opposing thumb gave us fantastic dexterity, tools gave us the ability to exercise increasingly our control over our environment and led to huge increases in food production and hence population growth. The latter is a clear illustration as to how successful mankind has become and we are now faced with the danger of becoming a victim of that success.

Growers tend to be practical people and organic ones no less so, we have all made or adapted a specific piece of kit for a particular task at some time. My presentation will look at tools for growers that can be easily and cheaply produced on farm or locally, tools that are for specific purposes either to speed up jobs or to take out some of the graft that may be needed. Working hand in hand with tools is the development of systems; these are often as a result of tool development or as a direct need for finding a solution to a new problem brought about by mechanisation. I will be drawing upon examples of the way tools are used and developed at Hardwick on our farm and in the gardens.