Farmer in field of peas
Jono Smales has been growing organic veg in the New Forest for 18 years.

Organic farming is far from a slice of cake

When you’re growing organically, you’ve got to really stay on your toes and always be ready to adapt to the conditions, writes grower Jono Smales.

Down here on the northern edge of the New Forest, our organic farm is surrounded by valleys of lush ancient woodland – far away from any conventional (non-organic) farms that may leak artificial chemicals over the hedges. When you’re growing organically, you’ve got to really stay on your toes and always be ready to adapt to the conditions.

This hot, sunny weather may seem glorious for growing veg, but actually I’m a bit worried, because our sugar snap peas and broad beans don’t search for water very well; they have shallow roots, and in the wrong conditions they can ripen rapidly before their peak goodness.

I spend a huge amount of time walking up and down the fields, monitoring the crops, making sure they’ve got enough water and that we’re picking them when they’re at their best. Our sweetcorn, on the other hand, does thrive in the sunshine, and you will see it in your veg boxes soon.

I’ve been growing organically for 18 years now. I started because I really wanted to get away from the supermarkets. We get so much more clarity, better prices and mutual trust with Riverford, and we don’t get orders rejected because veg is too ‘wonky’.

I’m not going to lie: growing conventionally is a slice of cake compared to organic. But I wanted to get away from using pesticides. Our soil is a lot healthier now, and we find it’s easier to get people to work for us knowing that our crops aren’t covered in chemicals.

We enjoy growing vegetables; it makes us feel like we’re giving something back to the planet. It’s a tough job out there, because there are so many factors outside of our control, like the weather, diesel prices, labour prices, and so on.

We’re lucky at Lyburn, because we have a lot of the same workers come back year after year, but not a day goes by that we don’t have a welfare issue to help with. Someone might have an issue with their bank account, mobile phone contract or national insurance number. Having lots of workers on the farm does keep life busy and interesting! In the meantime, I’m looking forward to my last weekend off at a festival before the busy summer period.

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