Island farmers revert to traditional methods to save money and the planet

Credit: ITV Channel TV

Farmers across the Channel Islands are trying to find new ways to ensure they can stay in business.

Agricultural costs are going up, with the cost of fertiliser rising five fold from £200 to £1,000 per ton - leaving some farmers concerned for the future of their industry.

As a result, many are turning back the years and reverting to traditional methods which are more cost effective and, in many cases, benefit the environment.

Many in the agriculture sector are embracing 'regenerative farming' practices to boost the health and resilience of their crops and herds, as well as financial profitability. So-called 'Regen-Ag' focuses on the biology of the soil and reducing levels of artificial chemicals, through increased use of composting and more sustainable methods of land management.

Rocquette Cider Company in Guernsey is just one of those who has embraced the idea. The company took up the approach five years ago to manage its 5,500 apple trees. At their farm in Castel, the team has created so-called "super stacks” of specialist compost packed with indigenous micro organisms which are then reintroduced to the soil.

The company's manager James Meller said: "The more we can manage efficiently our existing resources on farm the better. We don’t use synthetic inputs, so I am very pleased that we don’t have to add fertilisers to our list of rising costs. This will hopefully make us more resilient going forward.

Bulk waste, such as pressed apple pulp and tree prunings, are also composted and reintroduced to the soil.

The team has opted to use seaweed from the nearby coastlines to add minerals to the soil. Credit: Rocquette Cider Company

The company has also shifted away from importing volcanic dust to increase the soil's mineral content, opting instead for a more local alternative.

“I checked the price of rock dust this year and the cost had also shot up, mainly due to UK freight charges, so we decided to try using seaweed instead. We collected 12 tons from the Richmond end of Vazon. It is free and it is everywhere, we didn't even make a dent in the amount that was lying around.”

Dairy farmer Andrew Le Gallais says it is vital that the industry works to monitor its carbon footprint. Credit: ITV Channel TV

Like others in the industry, dairy farmer Andrew Le Gallais has adopted methods that benefit the environment.

With politicians due to debate Jersey's Carbon Neutral Strategy, he says it is crucial that the sector measures its carbon footprint to ensure it is operating as efficiently and ecologically as possible.

"Each of us as citizens in this island have a responsibility to reduce our carbon footprint, whatever it is and to measure that accurately.

"All this is about information. Information is very valuable and we believe our consumers, particularly our younger consumers are interested. They want to have confidence that what we're doing on their behalf to supply dairy products to the island is good for them."

However in some areas of farming, regenerative agriculture is simply not as workable. For those growing root vegetables like potatoes, it is simply too labour intensive given the scale of land required to produce them for the market.

Andrew Le Maistre's family have been farming for over a century. Credit: ITV Channel TV

The Le Maistre family has been growing potatoes for over a century. Potato farmer Andrew Le Maistre says he is already counting the cost and fears his newborn daughter may not be able to join that proud tradition.

"I'd love to see my daughter join our family farm. I think the continuation of our family farm is a real important aspect - the traditions we try and keep alive, the crops we grow. It would be great for that to continue, however we do need to see higher returns so we are able to continue our profession.

"We've seen a dramatic rise in the employment costs for all of our staff, our fertiliser costs have gone up over 50-75% and they're looking to rise again for the next season. Fuel prices have gone through the roof again. All in all, there's ever-rising cost and not much rise in our returns."