WILDFARMED ON CLARKSONS FARM
WILDFARMED ON CLARKSONS FARM

In season 3 of the hit show Clarkson’s Farm, Wildfarmed co-founder Andy was invited to Diddly Squat, just down the road from Colleymore HQ to help Jeremy learn more about the Wildfarmed regenerative standards and to give them a go in his fields, much to Kaleb's dismay…

As with all stories, there are always two sides so we took stock with our co-founder Andy to gather some of his thoughts on being on the telly box alongside Jeremy.

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“This was Jeremy’s first attempt at a Wildfarmed field, in which he didn’t use any pesticides and where two crops, wheat and beans, were grown at the same time.

It’s not organic - some fertiliser is used – although as we shall see Jeremy’s first Wildfarmed crop mainly relied on bath salts. This new way of doing things can take some getting used to.”

A new approach

 

"The best way I could think of to illustrate the Wildfarmed philosophy was to dig a hole under the nearby hedge and compare it to the soil in the field; it was dark chocolate versus milk chocolate.

 

That dark colour from the hedgerow is the colour of life, the result of a 500-million-year partnership between plants and the creatures of the soil universe. That’s why healthy plants grow abundantly along hedgerows without the need for any chemicals, and why a football-pitch sized area of this uncultivated soil can store hundreds of thousands of litres more water than the soil in a conventionally farmed field.

 

The question was how we could get Jeremy’s field soil closer to its hedgerow origins, and turn food-producing fields into rich habitats for insects, bees, and birds of which so much has been lost that the UK is in the bottom 10 per cent of countries worldwide. Jeremy, a binocular-carrying member of the RSPB, was keen to get started."

 

The beginning of the end?

 

"It was September and the wheat would have to be in the ground quickly, in a field that for decades had been farmed with the full armoury of chemicals.

 

The soil would be no different to any addict going cold turkey; it would be a bumpy ride, and the farming involved would be a radical shift from the chemical-based system towards which farmers have been pushed since World War Two."

 

Biology vs chemistry

 

"Fast forward a few months, and Jeremy Clarkson was striking a Nelson-esque pose, holding a small telescope called a Brix monitor. Using a kitchen garlic crusher, we squeezed out a couple of drops of juice from the leaves of the wheat onto the lens of his Brix machine.

 

Hold it up to the sun, and it’ll give you a numerical read-out which is a pretty good proxy for how healthy the plant is. Orientating the device towards the watery sunlight in search of clarity, Jeremy complained: ‘I thought farmers were supposed to drive tractors.’

 

Just like human health, it’s about using nutrition before problems set in, rather than chemicals or drugs afterwards. But the key to success is precise timing.

 

That’s why early one morning we assembled around the rainwater tank used to fill up Kaleb’s sprayer, to prepare the nutritional boost of bath salts - magnesium sulphate - for the Wildfarmed crop.

 

It’s a crucial nutrient for the plant to be able to photosynthesise, and of course, all plant health depends on this. But it must be applied first.

 

By the time we applied the salts, it was late morning, the sun was at its zenith, and the moment to get the necessary impact from this nutrition was slipping away."

 

Paying the price

 

"It was about this time that I heard from Cheerful Charlie that Jeremy wouldn’t be receiving the environmental payment to which he was entitled on his Wildfarmed field because the deadline had been missed.

 

This wasn’t a good omen, particularly in the first year of a cold-turkey transition away from farm chemicals. Claiming these payments isn’t easy for farmers - imagine the worst form you have ever had to fill in, add your most frustrating encounter with a chatbot, and multiply by 100 – but at the minute it’s the only way Jeremy could be paid for all the environmental benefits he is providing whilst growing a Wildfarmed crop; avoiding river pollution, creating a pesticide-free, flower rich nature habitat, and significantly reducing CO2 emissions.

 

Yet for all our sakes, we have to make sure farmers are rewarded for these aspects of food production. Because we can’t carry on as we are."

 

Integrating livestock

 

"Back at Diddly, the Wildfarmed way of growing crops involved bringing in sheep. For the last ten years I have used sheep and cattle to graze wheat, initially in France and where, since 2021, I have farmed in Oxfordshire.

 

It might sound odd, but wheat is a type of grass, and, like a lawn, will come back stronger from being cut. Grazing cereal fields was actually a customary practice for millennia. It provides food for the animals in winter and free in-situ fertiliser for the crops. But there comes a point when the grazing must stop because, unlike a lawn, we need a wheat field to produce the seed that we harvest.

 

The original idea to graze Jeremy’s Wildfarmed field had been abandoned because the winter had been too wet; the animals would damage the soil and the crop, and we had now got to a point in the season where the wheat was close to its seed producing phase and had to be left alone.

 

Except, when I drove over to have a look at the field one day, there were the sheep, looking me straight in the eye, calmly chewing through their Wildfarmed bounty. I tracked down Charlie, who was cheerfully optimistic that the grazed area would be the highest yielding. I didn’t share his optimism."

 

Transforming landscapes

 

"Whilst these new systems might take a little time to bed in at Diddly Squat, or any other farm, there’s no doubt that regenerative farming can work on a large scale. Wildfarmed, founded with my friends, former financier Edd Lees and former broadcaster George Lamb, is today a community of 110 farmers supported by over 500 customers - bakeries, restaurant chains and household-name supermarkets - who buy their high quality Wildfarmed flour for a premium.

 

Before I left Diddly Squat, Jeremy and I stood by the hedge dividing his Wildfarmed field from one of his conventionally farmed ones. ‘It’s alright for us to try new things,’ said Jeremy, looking at the bean flowers and bees in the Wildfarmed wheat, ‘you and I have alternative sources of income."

 

Profit, at a loss?

 

"The poignant moment when Cheerful Charlie announced an overall farm profit of £114 at the end of series one of Clarkson’s Farm, is the reality with which more and more farmers are confronted. Let’s not forget that this tiny profit came after Jeremy had spent tens of thousands of pounds on chemicals.

 

The risk in farming is huge, and to my mind the only way to reduce that risk is better soil and getting nature rather than chemicals to do more of the growing."

 


Watch Series 3 of Clarkson Farm