Category Archives: Technical Top Tips

News and views on LEAF’s Integrated Farm Management (IFM), Audit and Green Box, as well as information on general farm practices and hot topics such as sustainable intensification.

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:

The biggest soil management challenges this year

This week we will be launching the first issue of our new service, LEAF’s Integrated Farm Management Bulletin. If you’re a LEAF member you will be getting this next week – keep your eyes on your inbox! The first issue is all about sustainable soil management, so we’re asking what you think will be the biggest challenge to your soil over the coming year. Please answer the poll below, we will be following this up in a future post.

SONY DSC Soil management is something of a hot topic for us at the moment, in our last blog post Alice Midmer, LEAF’s Projects Coordinator, wrote about our new sustainable soil management case studies, containing practical information on soil management practices and lots of soil data. You can download six sample case studies on our website here. A further 17 will be coming soon to LEAF members. For more details on LEAF membership click here.

New perspectives on sustainable soil management

Alice Midmer, LEAF

Alice Midmer, LEAF

Alice Midmer joined the LEAF team last year to produce some practical on farm background to the Simply Sustainable Soils booklet. In this post, Alice tells us about her experience visiting some of our members’ farms across the UK.

Fresh from two terms of an Environmental Bioscience Masters at Warwick University, I went straight in to a more practical experience of environmental matters and food production, with a three month placement at LEAF. My task: To produce some practical on farm background to the Simply Sustainable Soils booklet.

The first task was to assemble a list of ‘Reference Farms’ from which to take detailed soil data and site-specific soil management information. The project was run in partnership with Asda and the reference farms consisted of both LEAF Demonstration Farmers, LEAF members and Asda farms. Next a (lengthy) questionnaire was produced to ensure sufficient data collection. With that, the only thing left to do was get out there!

The fields at JB Shropshire, one of the six preview case studies available to download

The fields at JB Shropshire, one of the six preview case studies available to download

New to agriculture, armed with my Mini and some reassuring words from the LEAF team, I was off.  During July, I was lucky enough to visit 23 farms during what turned out to be the hottest, sunniest, loveliest month in years – what a joy (and contrast to the current weather)! The farms were located in a total of sixteen counties but the many Mini miles on the motorway were made worthwhile by the beautiful parts of the country I was able to visit and the fascinating and knowledgeable farmers I had the pleasure to meet (and no, none of them paid me to say that).

In addition to collecting valuable and vast amounts of data, these visits also provided me with a fantastic insight into soil management and Integrated Farm Management. After just a couple of visits, the complexities, compromises and trade-offs farmers face on a daily basis became apparent. Through seeing first hand some of the sustainable soil management techniques deployed by many farmers, I started to understand the real meaning of IFM and what this means to farmers across the board. This further understanding has made me incredibly keen to contribute all I can to the industry in terms of a fresh perspective, analytical experience and communicating farmers’ messages to the wider public.

Lower HighfieldThe opportunity to visit over fifteen LEAF Demonstration Farms, working effectively and producing a more sustainable food source economically, was an incredibly good introduction to agriculture. In addition, LEAF Demonstration Farms encourage technical visits from a wide range of farmer groups and so if seeing different aspects of Integrated Farm Management in practice sounds like something that might benefit your business find your nearest LEAF Demonstration Farm here. Alternatively, I compiled a case study for each of the farms I visited. To get a sneak peek into the Integrated Farm Management ethos of some of the farms I visited and see how sustainable soil management works in different scenarios take a look here.


soilsThe case studies consist of a number of different soil, farm and enterprise types and six are available to download from the LEAF website here, a full set of 23 will be available to LEAF members soon.

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 >

Notes from an Agricultural Tour of Kenya

Andrew being interviewed for local radio on day one

Andrew being interviewed for local radio on day one

Where in the world are the best examples of Integrated Farm Management (IFM)?  Following Susie Emmett’s post about why Kenya has lots to inspire us, Andrew Burgess, LEAF Trustee and Director of Agriculture at Produce World, shares with us his notes on the same tour. This is the second post in a short series of posts on IFM in Kenya, subscribe to receive them straight to your inbox!


Day 1

Every day’s a School Day
Set off to the airport to meet 3 other farmers at Birmingham, hadn’t a clue what they looked like.

Didn’t take long to spot the ‘Farmer on Tour Hat’ and we all met up. Then off to Amsterdam to meet the other 6 farmers in the team.  Sat next to Tony on the plane to Nairobi, we got chatting about each other’s farms and business, and the learning began.

The farmers on the trip are all of the ‘learned’ types, Nuffield scholars etc., so a pretty good bunch to bounce theories and ideas around, should lead to a stimulating and useful trip.

After a rough night on the plane and the rigours of Nairobi airport we were determined to stay awake so we went to the Elephant Orphanage and then onto the Nairobi branch of the Farmers Club for a good old fashioned colonial Sunday lunch.

Now arrived at the hotel to meet 2 local radio journalists, it’s a great time to be interviewed having now been up for 36 hours! Team building tonight!

Over and Out

Farmer Andrew


Day 2

Life after Pesticides

Real IPM with Real IPM
Wow, what a day, I thought my head would explode with new knowledge overload, I’ve seen some fantastic things today which give me great hope that there will be life after pesticides.

We met a fantastic and philanthropic couple (look it up) who hailed from Norfolk and have now made their lives in Kenya, both from an academic research background they have created 2 magnificent but intertwined organisations.

Firstly Real IPM Ltd
They have developed a menu of products to tackle nutrition, pests and diseases using beneficial insects and fungi. I won’t go into massive technical detail other than to say that I left the place hugely inspired and motivated to test these ideas on a field scale in the UK. I think they have the potential to be a big part of pest control in brassica growing and very interesting for Potato Cyst Nematode reduction. Henry and Louise Wainwright had huge credibility the way they explained the research, production and use of these products, which are used on outdoor field scale here in Kenya.

Secondly REAL Impact
Which is a charity, they have developed a range of simple and very low cost solutions to help small Kenyan farmers produce more food, highly nutritious, especially in Vitamin A & Selenium. 1m square vertical gardens, worm farms to recycle food waste back into fertilizers, mini AD plant to run your cooker and hot water, water harvesting & they are training people how to use these things alongside there very affordable bio solutions. (See pictures) This all fits in with their big purpose, which is based on the fact that Aids viral treatments don’t work unless the user has a good diet. To put that into perspective 30% of students at the local university are HIV positive.

There big issue is what to do next, they need capital to role out this fantastic work but they don’t want to sell out to un-ethical corporate business, how about an ethically based crowd funding campaign.

After a fantastic lunch on the veranda we travelled to an Avacodo farm, producing fruit for UK retail, it was out of season but still interesting.

We then crossed the equator en route to our overnight stop, in case you’ve always wandered the water goes clockwise around the hole 20m North and anti-clockwise 20m South and yes, straight down if you’re on the line itself.

I am staying in a tent in the bush 200m from the very remote lodge where the rest of the team is staying, it might be an interesting night!!

Over and Out

Farmer Andrew


Day 3

Farming in the Wild West
A very different day today, not so mind expanding but much more into farming on the edge.

We met Apollo who is Director of Agriculture and CSR for KHE, Kenyan Horticulture Exports. A very impressive man who was very passionate about his farm, his community and all things Kenyan; he never stopped smiling and laughing all day.

They grow Fine and Runner beans, tender stem broccoli, mange tout, baby corn and will shortly be into year round asparagus production. They export 95% of their crops mostly to UK.

We visited his plant nursery to start, all hand done, compost into trays, seeding etc., They make their own steam sterilised compost with only 30% peat added, so it can be done! Although the plants had a few unhealthy specimens among them.

Then to the fields, again hand planting and weeding, crops were good and it seems performance is improving on the back of new investment after 7 years of lean; it is biblical here!

photo[3]The highlight of the day for me was seeing the new Waitrose foundation maternity hospital, built in the middle of nowhere and servicing a community seemingly forgotten by its own government. They have also built a five classroom sized school and funded the teachers.

The Waitrose Foundation channels money from retail sales and distributors directly back to projects that the communities growing crops for them want. It seemed to me to be a very efficient way of doing good in Africa, little beaurocacy and little chance of people to fiddle a bit of cash for themselves.

We had a great debate about the rights and wrongs of exporting food from Kenya where 4 million people needed food aid last year, I’ll cover this on its own later in the week because I need to put both sides of the debate so you can decide.

Over and Out

Farmer Andrew


Day 4

Farming on Mount Kenya
Today we visited Finlay’s farm on the slopes of mount Kenya, although we were virtually on the equator we were also at 2300m altitude so the weather was fresher and suited to UK style cropping. The farm is managed by Marcus Rayner, who worked for Produce World before he moved here 2 years ago.

There has been a lot of investment in reservoirs, the Packhouse and covered growing. The farm felt like a happy place, lots of smiles and waves from the local workers, Marcus travels around the farm every day on a motorbike and is clearly connected to his workforce. He has also improved yields and productivity.

They grow Tender stem broccoli, sugar snap peas, mange tout, fine beans and runner beans, which have supplementary lighting to simulate UK Sumer day length.

Also a fast developing fresh herbs business, mostly in tunnels with bio pest control, the crops looked & tasted wonderful, especially the aniseed flavoured Thai Basil mmmm!

photo 1But it was also had a pioneer feel about it, triumph, (great looking crops) and disaster  (120 mm hail storm in 3 hours) are close cousins in African farming. We then set out on a long drive down a very rough track through some wild grazing country to our overnight stop, we heard a clunking noise so stopped to check and the wheel nuts were all loose, close shave!

Over and Out

Farmer Andrew


Day 5

Ladies like Orange Roses
A long day today, up at 5am for our first bit of R&R, we went on a short drive around a game reserve, saw rhino, giraffe, buffalo, Jackal and various bok. The scary bit was a big male baboon actually getting inside the van whilst some of the boys were still in it, we’re laughing now but could’ve been nasty.

We visited Ravine Roses today, a very impressive company, owned by a local family with a very philanthropic approach, we learned about rose production using tunnels (on the equator very hot) integrated pest management, producing their own predator bugs, Swahili name dudu.

We also learnt about Fairtrade, I now I finally get it. 10% of the ex farm price is put straight into the farms FT fund, this is administered and spent through a transparent and democratic process run by the workers and community.

To quote Khaled the CEO, it is equally as good as the Waitrose Foundation but run in a different way; in fact we then went to visit a couple of projects where Waitrose Foundation and FT had worked in a joined up way. We visited the nursery funded by the Waitrose Foundation (for infants to 3 years), which is due to be opened next week and the Kindergarten school next door (3-6 years) was funded by FT. We also visited the community centre with library, computer room, doctors and pharmacy, bank and relaxing room.

The business itself is nicely integrated and is LEAF Marque certified, they are rainwater harvesting and have a wetlands reed bed style water purification plant to recycle water from the pack house.

They have a new dairy herd, which to my eye looked very good. Simon our dairy farmer was impressed with the quality of the milking routine and the animal welfare.Ravine roses, dairy 30 cows > AD plant> power fridges & fertility for rose beds!

The muck from the dairy and the green waste from the pack house will be going into an AD plant (under construction) and the gas generated will power the refrigeration unit in the flower pack house, these guys know what they’re doing!

photo[6]I was also very impressed with the team that showed us around, all local and extremely well educated and trained, Peter for instance, as well as being a fantastic communicator, he has a degree in Horticulture, Masters in Agronomy & an MBA, that leaves me for dust!

Anyway folks what you’ve always wandered; Janice (the owner and marketing Director) took us through some UK market research on Roses; did you know that Ladies prefer Orange roses? Before you go rushing out to impress, they still want men to buy them red ones (passion), we suggested a mixed orange and red bunch to cover all bases!

Over and Out

Farmer Andrew

[Many thanks to Andrew for sharing his notes with us!]


Join Agri-Tour Kenya 2014: nine UK farmers wanted

If you would like to be considered for a place for the next tour of good agricultural practice in Kenya then contact Susie Emmett susie@green-shoots.org for details of how to apply for the next AgriTour Kenya (http://www.green-shoots.org/agri-tour-kenya-2014/) in March 2014.

Agri-Tour Kenya is organised by Green Shoots for Smiths Gore with financial support from RDPE.

Agriculture: Improving water quality for all

This blog post was originally posted on the 2degrees network here. We will be participating in a 2degrees webinar, “Agriculture: Where food and water meet” in December, you can apply to attend this here (you must register with 2degrees to apply for the webinar – free of charge!).


I recently read Cate Lamb’s blog post, Avoiding bluewash: How to move beyond efficiency and realize the business benefits of water stewardship, and I liked the definition of a good water steward:

“… good water stewards are those individuals, businesses and countries that have a deep understanding of the impact their activities have upon water resources and the risks this poses to their success”.

I think Cate has the definition to a T. I know of many farmers who are good water stewards by this definition and this is vitally important. The role agriculture has to play in water stewardship is a big one.

The conditions in the last two years in the UK have made water management a challenge for all.

The conditions in the last two years in the UK have made water management a challenge for all.

Agriculture accounts for around 70% of global freshwater withdrawals, even up to 90% in some fast-growing economies [1]. In the UK, drinking water for livestock is the biggest form of water usage accounting for 41% of the total, followed closely by irrigation (38%) [2].

On farm, water is one of the most important natural resources, whether sourced from rain, rivers or aquifers, too much or too little can cause major challenges.

Water is essential for all dimensions of life. Globally, 40% of the world’s population face water shortages and the quality of water in rivers and aquifers continues to deteriorate. With rising populations, it is predicted that by 2030 the world will need to produce 50% more food and energy [3], and by 2050 we will need 50% more water for food production alone [4].

Despite the need for more water to sustain a growing demand for produce, rainfall patterns in the UK have been far from average in the last few years. In the last two years alone we’ve experienced droughts and severe flooding. Sudden rainfall events can lead to increased soil run-off which will include the loss of nutrients and crop protection products. Not only will this loss be detrimental to the field and the crop, it will also be detrimental to the quality of water courses in the catchment.

At LEAF, we’ve been working with Catchment Sensitive Farming to help share some of the ways in which farmers have been improving the quality of the water on their farms. Some of the ways this has been done are very simple, for example, a well-positioned run off buffer can prevent the loss of up to an estimated 18 tonnes of sediment over a few years.

This video illustrates two methods of preventing run-off and improving water quality on farm; an off ditch wetland and a run-off buffer

Other methods for improving water quality involve slowing the flow of water through ditches on the farm to allow sedimentation, whilst adding reed beds can help capture extra nutrients that have escaped into the water course. It’s really about having various methods on the farm to help reduce run off at the source, minimise the pathways available for run off and reduce the direct entry of any run off into the water course, all of which can be very simple and cost effective.

The conditions in the last two years in the UK, from drought in 2011 to flooding in 2012, have made water management a challenge for all. However, to quote LEAF’s Chairman, Stephen Fell’s introduction to Simply Sustainable Water, “Water management is a global issue; however, the solutions must happen locally”.

References
1 – Beddington (2011) Foresight: The Future of Food and Farming
2 – Falkenmark, M. and J. Rockström: Balancing Water for Humans and Nature. The New Approach in Ecohydrology, 2004
3 – 4th UN World Water Development Report, 2012
4 – Defra (2011) Water Usage in Agriculture and Horticulture Results from the Farm Business Survey 2009/10 and the Irrigation Survey 2010

Precision Farming at Thrales End

We have a new video to share with you! Filmed with LEAF Demonstration Farmer, Ian Pigott, all about precision farming.  Precision farming has the potential to deliver both economic and environmental benefits, which makes it an option worth a look for any farmer looking to farm more sustainably.

In the video, Soyl’s Tom Parker explains what precision farming is and the benefits of the system. Then, Ian talks through his decision to take up precision farming, the benefits he’s experienced and the costs of getting started. Take a look below and let us know what you think about precision farming, and your experiences of it, in the comments below.

This is the first of a series of videos that we’ll be uploading over the coming weeks, subscribe to our channel on YouTube to get them direct to your inbox!

Feed Planning for Cattle and Sheep

A feed plan for your cattle or sheep can make your farm run more sustainably. There is potential for cost savings and greater profitability at the same time as improving the environment through reducing nutrient losses to the atmosphere and water. The feed planning approach can help bring things together on the farm, linking the environment with the health of your cattle and the profitability of your farm.

On a very cold day at the beginning of March I visited one of LEAF’s members, beef farmer Stephen Hobbs at Rectory Farm in Buckinghamshire.  The reason for my visit was actually related to the launch of the Tried & Tested ‘Feed Planning for Cattle and Sheep’ guide on Thursday at the Beef Expo (23rd May).  LEAF is one of the organisations in the professional nutrient management group and has been involved in putting together the new guide.

Stephen Hobbs

Stephen Hobbs, Rectory Farm

The guide has been designed to help farmers identify the energy requirements for animal groups and work through an energy balance sheet, accounting for what can be grown on farm and feeds that are bought in.  I was visiting Stephen to film a short video to illustrate how the guide works in practice and to showcase some of the benefits of this approach. You can see this video below.

We talked through the whole process from start to finish, taking a bottom up approach to feed planning by starting with the amount of energy required by the cattle and the amount of energy Stephen can produce on the farm.  The process revealed some interesting results, “After working through the process and the energy balance sheet, I found that I actually had a positive energy balance. This means I should probably be buying in less feed or looking to increase my stock numbers.”

“The Tried & Tested feed plan helps me with Integrated Farm Management by creating a ‘whole farm’ approach. This new guide fits nicely between the original booklets ‘Nutrient Management Plan’ and ‘Think Manures’.  It really is the meat in the sandwich!”

Copies of Feed Planning for Cattle and Sheep , alongside the other Tried & Tested nutrient management tools, will be available to farmers and advisers after Beef Expo via the Tried & Tested website, by emailing nutrient.management@nfu.org.uk,  or  by leaving a telephone request on voicemail by calling 02476 858896.

Bees, neonicotinoids and pollination: moving forward

So three neonicotinoid products are to be banned across Europe for two years from December 1st 2013.  It is evident that there are a range of possible reasons for a decline in bee populations, including diseases such as Varroa, issues surrounding breeding and sufficient food and habitat availability. In two years’ time there will be a review of the ban, but is that long enough to prove anything? I think we’ll just have to wait and see. There are some interesting views on the topic here.

Bee on knapweed

One thing the whole debate has stirred up is the need to do more for bees and other pollinators, and it has given much needed publicity to the importance of bees in the environment.

I spoke to Andrew Hughes, Farm Manager at Trinley Estates, where they’ve done a lot of work to help bees and other pollinating insects thrive on the farm. “I’m a strong believer that if you provide bees with a good variety of plants, populations will be maintained and healthy. We always want to improve the amount and variety of nectar sources with pollen and nectar mixes, wild bird seed mixes, grass strips and we also have a wild flower meadow.  By producing greater plant diversity then we can produce stronger and broader food chains that will rescue some of our most endangered insect and bird species.”

Through some good woodland management, with coppicing and maintaining the flora, there is also a thriving wild bee population in the woodland found on the farm.

Arable reversion meadow at Trinley estates

Arable reversion meadow at Trinley estates

Andrew has also been working with local natural beekeepers, “The aim is to keep bees in as near natural conditions as possible to promote health and vigour and the ability to cope with pests and pathogens”.  And it seems to be working, “Our beekeepers have mentioned that many of the hives around us haven’t been doing so well recently, but where we haven’t taken any honey from the hives in the last few years, they’re doing really well.”

Andrew has been recording the fauna and flora on the farm through photography on its own dedicated website. “Ultimately, I am interested in monitoring population changes from one year to the next. But what it’s really doing is making me much more aware of the species we do have on the farm”. I urge you to take a look – it’s great to see the diversity of wildlife and there are some cracking photos too, my favourites being the hare shots!

Perhaps we hear about this kind of wonderful work disproportionately at LEAF, because of the nature of our members.  At LEAF, we promote Integrated Farm Management, which is an approach delivering sustainable farming.  One part of this is landscape and nature conservation, which sits alongside other areas like crop health and protection. The point is that everything needs to be integrated on the farm, and lots of our members have that approach.

Bees are vital to farming. Integrating positive steps to provide food and habitat for pollinators into commercial farming is something we fully endorse.

What do you think of the neonicotiniod ban? Is there more we can do for pollinating insects or do you think we’re doing enough already? I’d like to hear your views – please comment below.

Further links:

LEDs: Lighting the future of sustainable horticulture?

For many years High Pressure Sodium (HPS) lamps have been the horticultural industry standard for lighting glasshouse production.  However, there has been steady growth in the uptake of LED lighting systems, with many growers now investigating the new opportunities they present.

LED lighting trials in an open glasshouse environment

LED lighting trials in an open glasshouse environment

One application of LED lighting is being investigated by researchers at Stockbridge Technology Centre (STC), a LEAF Innovation Centre in North Yorkshire, UK.  They have been looking at moving horticulture units into highly insulated enclosed warehouses lit by LED lighting systems, often called Urban Farms.

The benefits of production in this way all relate to control – control of the temperature, lighting, water and even to some extent, control of pests and pathogens due to the closed system.  Large savings can be made in heating costs in heavily insulated buildings, compared to glasshouses, and these savings are expected to outweigh lighting costs, especially as each decade LED prices have fallen by a factor of 10 while performance has grown by a factor of 20 (this phenomenon is known as Haitz’ Law).

However, LEDs don’t just have benefits in an Urban Farm system.  Lincolnshire Herbs and Swedeponic have been trialling LEDs extensively during the 2012/13 winter in Sweden and the Czech Republic on their herb crops in glasshouses.  They found that when LEDs were used at the same intensity as their conventional HPS lighting, they could make energy savings of 48%. This is a really significant saving so I was keen to ask Patrick Bastow, who ran the trials, whether there were any downsides to the system:

“No we didn’t see any downsides. Nor did we see the need to increase the heating in the LED crops to cope with the loss of infrared heat that you normally get with HPS.  However, this could be different for different crops.”

A current problem with LED lighting systems is the cost of the installation, although this is expected to fall in the coming years.  With energy savings of 48%, Patrick thinks it could still be several years before an investment would start to pay off.

“It’s looking at around 8 years before we get payback where we run lamps at 3,000 hours per annum such as in Sweden. When we run lamps for less, in the region of 2,000 hours such as in the UK, then payback will be higher. At this level of payback the technology is still a little away from commercialisation – but affordable for trials.”

There are benefits aside from the financial ones, however.  Light pollution is a major issue in planning permission and with local complaints. LED lighting is more directional, which means there will be less light spillage.  Although this hasn’t been proved on a commercial scale, in theory it makes perfect sense.  Of course, any light spillage means that light is not getting to the plants and is lost, so being more targeted could have benefits in efficiency too.

part of the LED4CROPS facility at STC showing the multi-tier growing racks illuminated with Philips Greenpower LED lights.

Part of the LED4CROPS facility at STC showing the multi-tier growing racks illuminated
with Philips Greenpower LED lights.

There are three colours of light (red, blue and far red) which efficiently drive photosynthesis and stimulate the plant to control morphology and flowering time.  LEDs used for horticultural applications emit these colours, but the amount of each colour and how many hours the lights operate can be varied according to ‘light recipes’.  Specific recipes for different crops are being identified in research at STC. Work already carried out in the facility has shown that plant morphology can be greatly altered by changing the ‘light recipe’.  However, controlling the ‘light recipe’ in an open glasshouse environment will need more work.  In Patrick’s trials they achieved almost the same results using three different ‘light recipes’.

So are LED lighting systems a sustainable solution? Patrick certainly thinks so, “Yes they will be. We also found that by using 16% more energy than we use with our current HPS system, we could get up to 250 µmols more light and grow the crop faster.  This will mean more production in less space and remove the need to build more production area.  This is still work in progress but it is another strong financial argument for LEDs on top of payback from energy savings.”

“I would recommend that all glasshouse growers buy a few LED lamps and run some trials, it’s an exciting new tool and growers need to start seeing what it can do for them.”

If you’re thinking of making the transition to LEDs in existing glasshouses or to Urban Farming systems, Stockbridge Technology Centre will provide UK growers with the expertise and knowledge needed to assess the potential benefits, contact Phillip Davis for more details.

What do you think? Do LEDs represent the future for sustainable horticulture? Let us know in the comments section below.

With thanks to Patrick Bastow and Stockbridge Technology Centre.