I made a mistake the other day and found myself thinking that the arable sector might be in danger of feeling a bit left out in comparison with our livestock counterparts.

For a flick through almost any magazine, or periodical with ‘farming’ in the title throws up an astonishing array of supposedly new and different ways of grazing both cattle and sheep.

From my own days at college – back in the dark ages – one of the big new things was ‘clean grazing’ where cattle, sheep and silage or hay-making were rotated round the grass fields. If memory serves me right, the idea was that animals wouldn’t go into fields which had hosted the same species in the previous year – and this would be a big help in controlling worms and any other parasites.

Apparently, though, the idea has been pretty much chapped on the head with the concept of using in refugia worms to slow the build up of anthelmintic resistant worms – which I guess is simply accepting that you’re never going to get rid of the things altogether, so it’s better leaving a few non-resistant ones to build up rather than putting all the selection pressure on favouring an increase in resistant varieties.

(Don’t write in if I’ve got that wrong though…)

Anyhoo, putting clean grazing to one side, the fashionable modern proliferation seems to include a host of variations based on the same concept which revolves around animals eating the grass when it’s at the best growth stage to feed them.

So, you regularly read about rotational grazing, paddock grazing, mob grazing, holistic grazing and, my favourite, techno-grazing (and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they’ll be followed shortly by house, trance and hardcore grazing.)

In truth, though, I rather suspect that there must actually be a limit to the number of different ways in which you can put up an electric fence in a field.

But while it might be a safe bet that there won’t be too many of the livestock boys accidentally straying into the arable section, well served as they are with the shows and the market pages, I might not be so lightly let off for failing to recognise that there is a similar proliferation of diverse approaches to achieving the same end going on cropping farms as well.

Now the plough probably still reigns pretty much supreme across the most of Scotland, but there’s a growing number looking into the widening range of different systems and approaches to sowing and establishing their crops.

For while many of these might have originated in other parts of the world, there has been a substantial uptake of strip, min, non-inversion and zero till options south of the Border.

And with a greater focus on carbon capture and recognising soil health – as well as reducing establishment costs – even if they haven’t made huge headway yet on this side of the bid divide, so far they are beginning to be looked at seriously.

Until recently, there was a pretty wide-spread feeling that reduced till options didn’t fit in well with Scotland’s cropping patterns, climate and soil types – and I seem to remember that trials at the James Hutton Institute, carried out near Dundee, seemed to back this up.

But although the results of trials might not have looked to be highly encouraging in the early stages, most of the adherents of reduced tillage have long maintained that the soils need several seasons to adapt and settle down to the new system.

While the economics might not give a clear pointer to any financial improvement under the current policy regime, given there’s likely to be a far greater focus on all things even remotely likely to help mitigate climate change, that paradigm is more than likely to change in the very near future.

Controlled traffic farming to avoid compaction is another option which is currently becoming more practical with the proliferation of autosteer – and, together with a wider use of cover crops, other approaches such as regenerative and conservation agriculture are beginning to be terms which are commonly heard bandied about at farming events as well.

Next month’s Cereals 2019 event, billed as Europe’s leading technical event for the arable sector, might give some time to some of these alternative approaches – as might our very own new ‘Arable Scotland’ event a few weeks later.

But, as was mentioned in this paper a few weeks ago, the reduced tillage approach now has its very own event, ‘Groundswell’, which takes places down south the week following the Highland Show.

Organised by a farming family in Hertfordshire which had already gone down the min-till route, they set it up on the premise that there was no event catering for this sector:

“We realised that we really only needed a good seed drill rather than a barn-full of expensive cultivating machinery – so Cereals and all those tillage events were a waste of our time,” said one of the event’s founders, John Cherry.

This will be the fourth year they have run the event and I believe that being a bit ‘alternative’ there is more than a little bit of Glastonbury about it. Plus it’s probably one of the few farming expositions which takes place over two days to have demonstrations, lectures, seminars and exhibitions surrounded by a festival-style glamping campsite.

But while I’ve no doubt that some of us might be guilty of what is sometimes disparagingly called ‘recreational’ tillage – in that it goes well above and beyond what is actually required to grow a crop – the use of the plough is still a tried and tested way of controlling at least some of the more pernicious weeds out there.

If reduced tillage has an Achilles heel, it might currently be a bit of an over-reliance on the use of glyphosate – to kill of weeds and any cover crop which might otherwise block out any chance of the new crop emerging.

While steps are being taken to address this in light of the ‘endangered species’ status under which glyphosate currently exists, there are also other issues with opinion varying on the practice’s affects on blackgrass and other weed levels.

The recent re-discovery of the importance of maintaining the levels of soil organic matter has also led to other ‘new’ approaches for the arable sector – including the return of crop rotations and (sharp intake of breath here) the reintroduction of livestock onto arable land.

Maybe it’s not so much back to the future and, instead, more forward to the past.