Author Archives: Kathryn Mitchell

Frogmary Green Farm Joins Network of LEAF Demonstration Farms

We are delighted to welcome Frogmary Green Farm as a LEAF Demonstration Farm. LEAF’s nationwide network of over 40 LEAF Demonstration Farms showcase the very best of sustainable farming practices.

Nick and Claire Bragg run Frogmary Green Farm, a 500 acre poultry and arable farm, based on the edge of South Petherton in Somerset.  The farm also grows potatoes for supermarkets and maize and grass for fodder.  Frogmary Green Farm joined LEAF in 2008, became LEAF Marque certified in 2013 and regularly hosts both Open Farm Sunday and Open Farm Schools Days.

Frogmary LDF Launch

From Left to Right: Lord Cameron of Dillington (Dillington Farms), Nick Bragg (Frogmary Green Farm) , Patrick Wrixon (LEAF Board member), Claire Bragg (Frogmary Green Farm) and Caroline Drummond (LEAF Chief Executive)

Speaking at a lovely LEAF Demonstration Farm Launch event yesterday, Nick explained, “LEAF’s Integrated Farm Management (IFM) approach is all about striving to achieve balance across the whole farm. We’re working hard in lots of practical ways to conserve and enhance the natural environment by planting trees, creating wetland areas and cutting our carbon footprint.  All of us on the farm care deeply about our precious environment and want to do all we can to enhance it whilst producing food to the highest welfare and environmental standards.  “We are also passionate about bringing people onto the farm, to share what we are doing and help to break down some of the barriers that exist between producers and consumers.”

Frogmary Green Farm was officially welcomed to the network during yesterday’s event which included the planting of a large leaved lime tree by Lord Cameron of Dillington who spoke of the great work Nick and Claire are doing.

A short tour of the farm included a visit to one of the chicken houses, where one of Frogmary Green Farm’s main ‘crops’ can be seen through a viewing gallery. Nick and Claire were the first to install a biomass woodchip boiler for heating chicken houses, utilising locally sourced timber. Other discussions included potato production and more about their ongoing commitment to environmental enhancement such as through the planting of some 4 kilometres of hedgerows and over 500 trees since 2002. Pollen and nectar margins to provide extra habitat for bumblebees and other insects have also been established.  This has resulted in a huge variety of wildlife making its home at Frogmary Green Farm including cuckoo, linnet, song thrush, swift and whitethroat.

Nick and Claire Bragg Frogmary Green Farm, LEAF's latest demonstration farm

Nick and Claire Bragg,  Frogmary Green Farm, the latest LEAF Demonstration Farm

As a LEAF Demonstration Farm, Frogmary Green Farm will act as a ‘living classroom’ demonstrating and promoting the principles of Integrated Farm Management to opinion formers, educationalists, politicians, consumers and conservation groups as well as to community groups and local schools.

LEAF Demonstration Farms play a hugely vital role in sharing best practice amongst farmers as well as being a great way to help educate the public about how modern food production can co-exist with protecting nature and the countryside.  Frogmary Green Farm is an excellent example of sustainable farming in action and represents what Integrated Farm Management is all about.

If you are interested in visiting Frogmary Green Farm, or another LEAF Demonstration Farm, to learn more about Integrated Farm Management in practice, please get in touch with the LEAF office:

EISA Farm Visit to Saxony-Anhalt, Germany

Paul Hayward - Cold Harbour farm (credit Adrian Legge)

Paul Hayward – Cold Harbour farm
(credit Adrian Legge)

Paul Hayward, farms Cold Harbour Farm, at Bishop Burton, East Yorkshire and was one of the first LEAF Demonstration Farms, engaging people with Integrated Farm Management since 1993, soon after LEAF was founded. Paul recently took part in an EISA (European Initiative for Sustainable Development in Agriculture) visit to Germany and here he tells us more about what he saw and learnt.

Last month, I was privileged to join the EISA visit to Germany as an observer for LEAF along with Patrick Wrixon (LEAF Board member) and Nick Tilt (LEAF Demonstration Farmer). The whole event was perfectly organised by Andreas Frangenberg and Anton Kraus from EISA.

We attended the DLG field day, an event targeted at crop production professionals, of note it was targeted at the top 20% of farmers. The following link gives a very accurate resume of the visit.

IMG_1910 (3)

Credit Helena Elmquist

It was a fascinating visit with some excellent and very informative presentations and I left wanting to explore the issues much further. Representatives from the agrochemical companies seemed to position the farmers as requiring a complete production package including biodiversity rather than recognising them as land managers with good knowledge. We were privileged to be joined by Professor Olaf Christen (agronomy and organic farming) of Halle University, obviously a talented academic with a good practical understanding of European crop production.

The following day we were given a guided tour of the BASF Biodiversity Farm at Quellenhof by Dr Markius Gerber. A project started in 2012 on the 10, 600 hectare farm which had lost much of its natural habitats in the East German era. Work on a range of measures had started with some impressive results. However, with fields of 250 hectares, there is much still to do.

 

The group enjoyed a wide range of discussions, benefitting from the diversity of the area and the interests of individuals within the group.

For more information on EISA, please visit http://sustainable-agriculture.org/

Counting Farmland Birds – getting involved in the Big Farmland Bird Count

Kathryn Mitchell, LEAF's IFM Development Manager

Kathryn Mitchell, LEAF’s IFM Development Manager

LEAF’s Integrated Farm Management Development Manager, Kathryn Mitchell, spent Tuesday morning spotting birds in a local field. It was all part of the first annual Big Farmland Bird Count, ending on 7th February. In this post, Kathryn gives an account of her experiences and some results she collected!

There is much talk of the decline in farmland birds across the UK, yet the fields don’t seem devoid of birdlife and many farmers do lots of good work to encourage wildlife, including birds. The Big Farmland Bird Count is a great chance to champion that and see what’s about on some fields near where I live.

Tuesday morning seemed one of the best mornings amongst a week of fairly wet weather. The dark cloud lifted to a beautiful sunny, if cold, morning and we set off with paper, pen, binoculars, camera and much appreciated provisions: tea and bacon sandwiches!

Big Farmland Bird Count

The Big Farmland Bird Count

Some less productive areas of the farm are now exclusively managed for wildlife purposes with fallow, wild bird cover, grass margins surrounded by hedges with some trees. The wildlife is always there, but our vehicle isn’t, so we took up our post early and paused for a while. A wonderful time to sit and watch the surroundings change with the light. So, onto the counting part: 30 minutes overlooking 2ha of wonderful Gloucestershire countryside.

Whilst some of the species were easily identifiable by sight, backed up by their calls, we soon realised that whilst we could count, bird identification at a distance wasn’t our strong point! In addition to the pheasants, rooks, crows, pigeons (as well as hare and deer), we scribbled notes of descriptions and tried to remember the sounds.

It was a great to start to the morning!  Back in the LEAF office, following a short while with some farmland bird reference books, internet searches and phone calls, we’re much more confident that our ‘little brown birds’ are correctly identified as reed bunting, dunnock and many linnets.


Find out more about the Big Farmland Bird Count here >

2012 – not the wettest year?

Dave RobertsGuest post from Dr. David Roberts, Crichton Royal Farm, Dumfries, Scotland – SRUC Dairy Research Centre, a LEAF Innovation Centre.


Crichton Royal Farm is a 252ha farm which, as the SRUC Dairy Research Centre, aims to develop, implement and provide information from sustainable breeding and management systems for dairy cattle. Some of the key objectives include finding ways to improve the health and welfare of UK dairy herds and measuring different systems’ effects on the environment.

Although 2012 was a very wet year with 1358mm of rain, there was actually more rain in 2011 (1433mm). Figure 1 shows the annual rainfall for the last 9 years. The average rainfall for the 33 years (1954 – 1986) was 1041mm, the average for the last 9 years has been 14% higher at 1189mm.

Figure 1

Figure 1

It is not just the monthly average which is important but the rainfall in any one day. The five highest rainfall days for 2012 were:

  • 11th October 34.7mm
  • 20th December 33.7mm
  • 24th September 30.6mm
  • 15th June 30.2mm
  • 24th December 29.9mm

There were another 9 days with over 20mm of rain. These are a long way short of the wettest day on record when almost 100mm of rain was recorded on 30th October 1977.

Comparing 2012 with 2011 (Figure 2) June onwards was wetter in 2012 but 2011 had a very wet January, February and May.

Figure 2

Figure 2

These variable weather patterns provide challenges for managing agricultural businesses. How will 2013 compare?

Mother Nature has always been unpredictable – whilst we can’t control her disposition or the effects thereof, there are certainly important lessons to be learnt from tracking weather patterns. The key thing is to ensure farmers are armed with the right tools to address these challenges through smarter, more integrated, management practices. Integrated Farm Management helps us do just this.

[Note: for an alternative viewpoint at Loddington, Leicestershire, please see Phil Jarvis’ blog here – Met Office v Loddington

Practical Measures for Improving Water Quality – New videos available!

Farmers looking at ditch and sediment trapFollowing our Practical Measures for Improving Water Quality events at Midloe Grange Farm in Cambridgeshire (22nd March) and Stratton Farms in Somerset (28th March), videos filmed at the events are now available.

The videos, supported by Catchment Sensitive Farming, look at ways of improving how your farming practices impact water quality. Including:

  • Background information from Catchment Sensitive Farming on some of the issues of diffuse water pollution from agriculture through surface run-off
  • Interviews with LEAF Demonstration Farmers, David Felce and Jeremy Padfield, on the measures they have put in place on their farms to mitigate surface run-off

The videos are available below and on LEAF’s YouTube channel – subscribe to be the first to see LEAF’s new videos!

Sustainable, Profitable Potatoes

Recently, Philip Case wrote for Farmer’s Weekly on the recent comments from Eric Anderson, senior agronomist at Scottish Agronomy, about the carbon footprint of potato crops. Urging potato growers to look closely at their carbon footprint, by paying close attention to water and soil management can pay dividends for crop profitability.

We know of several LEAF members doing exactly this. Whitewater Potatoes Ltd. supply their LEAF Marque potatoes to Walkers amongst many more, below you can see Gavin Janaway of Lodge Farm (Whitewater Potatoes Ltd.) talking about sustainable potato farming for the PepsiCo UK sustainable farming report 2010.

Another leading example is Jon Hammond, of T Hammond & Sons, a fresh produce grower on the outskirts of Nottingham producing potatoes among a variety of other crops. Using the LEAF Audit, they have been prompted into introducing trickle irrigation systems and seen a 30% reduction in water use.

T Hammond & Sons are currently planning a major development that will result in a fully sustainable manufacturing facility and fleet of vehicles that run on Bio Diesel.As Eric Anderson has pointed out, there are costs to be saved in looking at water and energy use, making a more profitable crop. The Hammonds have developed an energy policy which looks to save costs and reduce environmental impact. They’ve introduced boreholes and cold stores, use light sensors and produce a range of farm grown sustainable fuels to reduce their carbon footprint. They now run five vehicles and produce power for the packing plant on pure plant oil. Minimising environmental change is central to their business plan, of which LEAF membership, in particular the LEAF Marque, is key.

Producing potatoes, or any produce, sustainably is essential for the future of your business and for the environment. It’s a rising challenge which LEAF members like Jon and Gavin are tackling head on. Anthony Goggin, LEAF Marque Technical Manager, has recently been at some of the regional potato days and will be attending the East England and North England days in September – get in touch if you would like to meet up with him.

Strengthening Our European Links

It was great to get together with some of our European EISA partners earlier this month for a two day study tour to the UK.  Representatives from Germany, France, Luxembourg and Austria and the European Crop Protection Agency (ECPA) joined us in the East of England for a busy two days of farm tours, discussion and lively debate. Continue reading

Come and see us at Cereals!

Preparations are well underway ahead of Cereals 2011 on the 15-16th June. The event is at Boothby Graffoe, Lincolnshire this year and you can find us on stand C432.

Please pop in and say hello. Find out more about our new Simply Sustainable Soils brochure – including live drop shatter tests with leading soils expert Dr Alastair Leake, Chairman, Soil Management Initiative, on the stand from 1 pm each day. Learn about what LEAF  can do for you and your business and all our activities and opportunities including the LEAF Audit, Green Box, LEAF Marque, Demonstration Farms, Let Nature Feed Your Senses, and much more.

We look forward to seeing you all and hearing your Open Farm Sunday stories.

Simply Sustainable Soils: Monitoring earthworms

This week we have launched ‘Simply Sustainable Soils‘ in partnership with Asda, a hands-on guide to help farmers get the most out of their soil, looking at soil texture, structure, drainage, compaction, nutrients and biological health. Continue reading

LEAF Demonstration Sites, Summer Event

LEAF Demonstration Farmers, Innovation Centre representatives and LEAF supporters, gathered together last week for our annual summer training event, based this year near Bristol. Continue reading