Open Farm Sunday and Me!

Polly Davies and her family manage Slade Farm a mixed organic tenant farm near Bridgend in Glamorgan, South Wales.  The farm has a small butchery and meat box delivery business, which supplies the local community with beef, lamb, pork and Mutton. Here she talks about helping people become ambassadors for locally produced food through Open Farm Sunday

We have been opening the farm for Open Farm Sunday for about ten years.  We get around 1000 people coming from right across South Wales. Opening the farm has made me realise that not many people know what farmers do or where their food comes from.  I think this year, with Brexit and the salad shortages, it is more important than ever to engage the general public in food and farming.

Engaging the public in food and farming is more important than ever

I really believe that giving people an insight into what we do and raising their awareness of the benefits of eating locally and seasonally, will help them become ambassadors for Welsh farming and food.  LEAF and the Open Farm Sunday team make opening much less daunting.  The Host Farmer Handbook, particularly the Risk Assessments included within it, take you through the potential Health and Safety issues in a very accessible way.

We are a working farm not a farm park so for a week before Open Farm Sunday, we focus on tidying up the farm to make it really visitor friendly!  We pull in help from our local  Scouts and Adventure Scouts groups, which is a great resource to draw on.  They also do a fantastic job supporting us with car parking and entertaining our visitors with additional activities.  I also rope in all our friends and family, as you cannot have too many volunteers!

ofs-colour-2017-datedLEAF Open Farm Sunday is farming’s annual open day and takes place on the 11thJune 2017.  Register your event and order FREE resources here .  To find a farm that’s open near you click here

Drilling down into the science of soil

ARTIS provides training to growers, farmers and managers in the food supply chain to boost productivity through applying the latest agri-tech knowledge and research.  Earlier this year, they teamed up with LEAF and hosted a course at JSR Farming Ltd, a LEAF Demonstration Farm which introduced some of the farm’s soil management practices and included a farm tour led by Andy Morton, Assistant Arable Farms Manager at JSR Farms Ltd.  Here, Andy shares his thoughts on the day and how it has helped him put soil science into practice …

Over the last year, I had heard a lot about soil management from a structural and conditioning point of view. This course was different. What appealed to me was its focus on the science behind soil management – the ‘why’ rather than the ‘how’.   I thought I knew quite a bit about soil but this took me to quite another level!   It really drilled down into the specifics, looking at the soil profile in terms of bacteria, fungi, microscopic species and how different cultivation systems effect the biological diversity of the soil.

Another key focus of the course was soil organic matter. As a business, we apply a lot of organic manure and it was great to get a more in-depth perspective on what benefits this has and how to optimise its use.  For example, we learnt how carbon provides energy for the soil biology to work off and how organic manure can improve the porosity of the soil by opening up structure.

The course really made me think about how we could target our organic manure applications more accurately and start to build a better picture of how our fields are performing through, for example, mapping particular zones in fields and correlating this with percentages of soil organic matter and yield data.   I have also been thinking about our cultivations and the importance of continually questioning whether we are doing the right thing.   For example, we talked about the environmental and cost benefits of a direct drilling system to maintaining the diversity of soil biology which could, in turn, reduce cultivations as the soil is much easier to manipulate.  This ‘attention to detail’ approach is all part of LEAF’s Integrated Farm Management so it was good to focus in on specifics.

With some 90% of food produced globally being grown from the soil and two thirds of global food production lost to pests or disease, it is our job as farmers to ensure we protect, nourish and enhance this precious resource, now and for future generations.   I look forward to building on the insights, knowledge and expertise I gained from this hugely valuable training course.

LEAF provides practical guidance on sustainable soil management, based around the principles of Integrated Farm Management.  Click here to find out more.

ARTIS provide a range of training courses aimed at developing practical skills through to translating science and research into on-farm practices. Find out more here

Put Yourself in Their Shoes

David Jones is a farm manager for Morley Farms Ltd in Norfolk growing 800 hectares of combinable crops and sugar beet.  The farm also hosts about 35 hectares of field trials for NIAB TAG, the John Innes Centre, Agrovista and others. Every year the farm has about 800 visitors including school children, students, farmers, consultants and international groups. David has helped and co-hosted several Open Farm Sunday events and in 2013 became the Open Farm Sunday Regional Coordinator for the East of England.

One of the key things to remember when organising your event is how to make it memorable so that your visitors go away with a positive memory of their visit to your farm.  The general rule is that people remember:

  • 10% of what they read
  • 30% of what they see, but
  • 90% of what they say and do
  • 20 minutes is the average attention span of an adult, less for a child

So engaging visitors in a range of short activities is advised.  One idea is to run a little competition or game.  For example, fill some jars with seeds (wheat, barley, grass seed, clover etc), then have some plants growing in pots and display the foods that the crop produces.  The game is to match the seed to the plant to the food. It’s something for the kids to do with their parents help and probably grandma knows all the answers! My thought is that as long as people make an effort they get a prize, it could be a lollipop, sticker, pen, key ring, it works for kids of ALL ages. This is a great way of breaking the ice and to start a conversation about crops and the foods they produce.

Virtually everyone loves sitting on tractors and machinery. The other thing that kids of all ages like is a spot the difference competition. Instead of two photos, why not have two real tractors! If you ask someone nicely it may be possible to have two tractors virtually the same. It could be simple things like take a light off or remove the toolbox. This gives people the chance to really look at the tractor rather than just sitting in it and you get lots of questions – What does this bit do? What it this for? We found that some spotted the simple differences but others noticed there was a wrong colour washer used underneath the mud guard. The point is that it is not just sitting on a tractor and if you have made an effort you get a lollipop!

Spot the difference tractor competition appeals to kids of all ages

There is nothing worse than a person standing behind a table with a banner and a few leaflets. It can be intimidating for people on both sides; so as a visitor with children, how do you make conversation?  Is it interesting for me?  For my 2 year old?  For my 6 year old?  And how do I break the ice?

Share the magic of farming this Open Farm Sunday!

So often I have been on visits to other businesses where people tell you about how many widgets they produce, how many million man hours they use but rarely do I find out what they actually do. Put yourself in your visitor’s shoes, think about what will interest them and, more importantly, what they are likely to remember next week, next year.

  • Use facts that are memorable to adults and children. For example, 1 square metre of wheat could produce 1kg = 1 loaf of bread. NOT ‘we get a yield of 10t/ha which makes 10 000 loaves of bread’. What does a tonne look like? What is a hectare and 10 000 loaves would make me sick!
  • Avoid jargon and acronyms so explain what you mean when you say ‘the cows are served’ or ‘the barley is drilled’ and explain who and what is LEAF – the organisers of Open Farm Sunday
  • Use props, if talking about silage, stand next to some or have some in a large bucket so your visitors not only hear and see but also smell and feel. If you are explaining part of a cycle or system like how you make hay, if the machines are not to hand, why not get some toy tractors to show the process.  Simply use a white board to show the life cycle of a sheep flock (it works for school teachers).
  • Can your visitors hear you? Consider getting a microphone or simply manage the group size.

Use props and talk about farming in ways that children and adults will remember

To help farmers and others get better at sharing their experiences, there are lots of tips and ideas on the Open Farm Sunday website.  Another great resource is a website called Farming is Magic which is a collection of short films that give lots of tips and techniques on how to make your presentation more memorable. Have a look for yourself here www.farmingismagic.co.uk

So when you have registered your Open Farm Sunday, you are preparing your event, you have cut some grass, swept the farm from the sheds to the stables, banners are up, handed out invites, developed a car park with an elaborate one way system.  First car arrives. It’s the June 11th Open Farm Sunday is GO!

Please don’t TELL your visitors… engage them:

SHARE your farm

SHARE your experiences

SHARE what it’s like throughout the year

SHARE the life of your crops and your animals

And good luck sharing some of the magic in farming!

ofs-colour-2017-datedLEAF Open Farm Sunday is farming’s annual open day and takes place on the 11thJune 2017.  Register your event and order FREE resources here .  To find a farm that’s open near you click here. Remember to tune into our OFS Bitesize webinars  for ideas, information and top tips on hosting a great event.

Open Farm Sunday In Scotland

jane-craigie-marketing-055-002-new-2017-rebecca-imageRebecca Dawes took on the role as LEAF’s Open Farm Sunday Scotland Co-ordinator in January 2014. Rebecca lives in Kinross, Scotland on the family farm which comprises of beef, sheep and a little arable. The family moved to the farm in 2013 after selling their farm in England.  This will be the 10th year that they have hosted a LEAF Open Farm Sunday event and here Rebecca shares with us her experiences 

Our family have been involved with Open Farm Sunday nearly from conception, with events ranging from a few hundred to several thousand. But every year it gives us a different experience and the excitement of the visitors certainly makes it all worthwhile.  Having packed up our machinery and livestock and moved 400 miles, north from Oxfordshire, this year will be our third event here in Scotland, so we are all hoping for a nice sunny day on 11th June!

I’m convinced more people would buy home-grown produce if they could visit their local farm and see where their food comes from, and Open Farm Sunday is the perfect opportunity.

Help and Support at Hand

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Opening your gates for Open Farm Sunday is great for any size farm – you can plan your event to fit around you and your farm.  Fear not, help and support is always on hand. Apart from the brilliant resources you can order from the LEAF Open Farm Sunday website there are many local groups, organisations and clubs that are pleased to come and give you a hand, this spreads the workload making holding such an event less daunting.

We involve the local Scottish Young Farmers Club who help with the car parking.  We are also lucky in having a Kinross Local Event organisation who take over the responsibility of teas and coffee – in your area a Women’s Institute or local Scouts/Guides group or similar, will I am sure help. This then leaves you to concentrate on the farming element.

Think of all the jobs you do in a day or week and although you may not think they come under the category of fun or interesting, you will be amazed to see the positive reaction from visitors.  For the public, who have never seen sheep being weighed through a handling system, tags put in ears or even feet being trimmed, this is a whole new world and gives a fascinating insight into farming.

Sharing our Farming Story

Here are a few more examples of how we share the farming story on the day:

Sheep/Wool – This is the main enterprise on our farm, a lop1040628-rebecca-dawescal lad comes in and shears some sheep and another farmer gives a running commentary explaining the process and getting the visitors involved in touching the fleece/wool and interacting with a board where people write up anything made from wool – you will be amazed at the suggestions! People can watch spinning and weaving enthusiasts take the fleece and convert it into something in front of their eyes.

Arable or Grassland – Nothing is nicer on a dry day than going for a walk around a field, or if your farm does not have arable crops, perhaps ask your local corn merchant to set up a stand with samples of different crops; he can then explain what it is used for, from animal feeds to our everyday breakfast products. Run a simple competition to guess how many acres of corn converts into a certain number of packs of breakfast cereal – the host farmer handbook has some mini-field statistics for you to use. People love a challenge and a local supermarket might give a voucher or hamper as a prize.

Milking – We do not milk cows at our farmp1040624-rebecca-dawes but we borrow a life-size fibreglass milk cow and set this up in one of the barns; children and adults can sit on the stool and milk the cow; we ask a local dairy farmer or one of his family to come along and tell the milk story

Woodland/Environment – Arrange a small walk or tour; either put up information posters at significant points or ask a few experts to give talks about what visitors can see or take groups around.

Horticulture – Whether it is fruit and vegetables or growing herbs and plants there is always a story to tell.

The star of the day is you!  People just want to talk to a farmer or grower, sometimes ask questions and find out a little more of what goes on behind those closed gates.  So, if your farm has all or some of the above and attracts a couple of hundred visitors, or maybe you have a polytunnel growing herbs which appeals to twenty people, just remember, your visitors will have a smile on their faces – just like you.

A Word About Safety

box-tt-j-deere-small-rowley-farm-2012Safety will no doubt be the number one topic on your list to sort. Just take a walk on the same route visitors will go, take a family friend with you, two eyes are better than one, it is not as frightening as you may have first thought. Make sure all machinery you don’t want visitors to see is parked in barns or away from public access.  This also applies to those odd rolls of barbed wire or equipment that potentially might cause an accident or someone could harm themselves.  Lock any shed you do not want the public to access, a cheap padlock is all it takes to make the area out of bounds.  It’s all common sense and the Host Farmer Handbook has lots of information and a template risk assessment form you can use.

Have a great day, smile and enjoy – remember to encourage as many others as you can to be involved – what is it that they say about ‘many hands make light work …’

ofs-colour-2017-datedLEAF Open Farm Sunday is farming’s annual open day and takes place on the 11thJune 2017.  Register your event and order FREE resources here .  To find a farm that’s open near you click here. Remember to tune into our OFS Bitesize webinars  for ideas, information and top tips on hosting a great event.

Publicity for your Open Farm Sunday event

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Jo North and her family are third generation tenants of a farm in the South Downs National Park, and they regularly host Open Farm Sunday events. The farm is just shy of 1,000 acres – mixed dairy and arable, with small beef and sheep enterprises; their milk is sold to Tesco, via Arla.  Jo is LEAF’s Open Farm Sunday Regional Co-ordinator for the South East and here she considers publicity for Open Farm Sunday events.

For many farmers, their biggest worry is either not having enough visitors or being overrun by too many people on the day.  The weather plays an important part and will undoubtedly impact on visitor numbers, but one thing which is in your control is publicity and how you promote your event.

So for me there are two key parts to publicizing and promoting your event:

  • Promoting your event to get the number of visitors you want, plus
  • Being clear about what visitors can do at your event so that they come prepared!
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Be clear about what visitors can expect at your event

Last year, 22% of Open Farm Sunday visitors had never been on a farm before – so what is obvious to you and me, may be fairly alien to your visitors! If your main event activity is a farm walk which is likely to be muddy, ask visitors to come ready to walk, know to wear wellington or walking boots, and to come with sun tan cream or waterproofs!

Start at the end!

It sounds strange, but the best way to tackle publicity is to first decide what you want to achieve:  how many visitors do you want; where they might come from; and how you are going to reach them.  Once sorted, then you can plan your communications accordingly.

FREE resources

Thanks to the national Open Farm Sunday sponsors, LEAF is able to produce a range of resources for you to promote your event.  Order them free of charge via the website www.farmsunday.org – you will need to log in to the system to place an order.

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Tailor your publicity to the scale of event you are organising

Size is everything!

You will need to adapt your publicity to the scale of event you are organising.

Small events:  If you want to host a very small event for a select group of people, opt to ‘hide’ your event so it does not appear on the Open Farm Sunday website.  Order the FREE Open Farm Sunday postcards which you can use to personally invite friends, neighbours, local interest groups, parish councillors, etc. Ask people to RSVP to give you an idea of how many people will attend.

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Use local networks to promote your event

Medium sized events:  Promote your event in the parish magazine, on village websites. Order FREE Open Farm Sunday A5 flyers and A4 posters to overprint with your event details and distribute locally. Use local networks such as the Scouts, WI, Rotary Club, conservation groups, etc.  Contact local primary schools and ask if you can provide promotional text to go in the school e-newsletter to parents or if they will put an event flyer into each child’s school book bag.

Larger events:  You will need to start early and carry out plenty of promotional activity. Use the Open Farm Sunday flyers and posters and distribute them widely.  Promote your event in local ‘What’s on guides’.  Adapt the template press release and distribute it with a great ‘on farm’ photograph to local and regional newspapers and magazines, your regional TV and radio stations.  Put up Open Farm Sunday road-side banners a couple of weeks before the event.  Use social media to reach out to local communities and spread the word.

Make sure you do enough!

As a general rule, invite twice as many people to get the numbers you want.

A clear event description

When promoting your event on posters, websites, etc, give visitors a clear idea of what to expect.  They will want to know what they can see and do on the farm. If refreshments will be available or if they can bring a picnic.  If dogs are welcome or not.  Whether your event is wheelchair friendly.  Will there be any charges or is the whole event free.  Most importantly, if it rains will the event go ahead and how much will be under cover.

Of course, don’t forget to use some marketing flair:  a farm walk can be packaged as a ‘Farm Safari’!  A fun photograph of a cute animal will appeal to many.

Planning

Don’t forget some publicity tactics require long lead times, such as adding an entry to a ‘What’s on’ guide in a monthly magazine, or getting a feature into a parish magazine.  Other activities are more immediate – it can take minutes to set up a Facebook, Twitter or Instagram account and you can tap into the power of social media to swiftly have your event promoted, shared and liked by hundreds of people.  It is conceivable that if you unwittingly post something that is far more of a draw than you imagined, you could end up with more people than you bargained for.  However, in my experience this has never happened – but consider what you post before clicking ‘post’!

ofs-colour-2017-datedLEAF Open Farm Sunday is farming’s annual open day and takes place on the 11thJune 2017.  Register your event and order FREE resources here .  To find a farm that’s open near you click here. Remember to tune into our OFS Bitesize webinars  for ideas, information and top tips on hosting a great event.

 

Getting started with LEAF Open Farm Sunday

phil-gorringe

Doing LEAF Open Farm Sunday for the first time can seem daunting.  But it doesn’t need to be. With a bit of planning, help on the day and support from LEAF, opening your farm to visitors can be hugely rewarding.  Philip Gorringe, OFS regional co-ordinator for the West Midlands and experienced host farmer explains more…

In the cold light of January, while the memories of mince pies and mistletoe are fading, the decision to register the farm for Open Farm Sunday can feel something of a challenge.  Farms rarely look their best at this time of year and mine is no exception.  However, starting to plan the day and putting my thoughts in order soon combats the doubts.

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Farms come in all shapes and sizes. With some basic planning all are suitable for a public visit.

For me, collaboration is the key tool in clarifying what needs addressing and how. By talking to other farmers and friends, some of whom have opened their farm successfully before, my confidence is soon restored.  My perception that everyone else’s farms are brand new, perfectly manicured examples of model farmyards is soon dispelled. Farms come in all shapes and sizes and the vast majority are, with some basic planning, entirely suitable for a public visit.

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Collaboration is key to a successful Open Farm Sunday event

In my experience, the two most common anxieties seem to be health and safety and ‘Will I be overwhelmed with visitors?’.  I find it helpful to remind myself that Open Farm Sunday is an opportunity for the public to visit my farm on my terms rather than theirs.  Although it is important to keep visitors safe, we all have areas on the farm that we would rather they don’t see or are impossible to make safe.  My ‘in stock’ spare machinery, (some may say scrap), is unsightly and potentially hazardous if people had access to it.  My chemical shed and workshop are not ideal and my concrete yard should have been completely resurfaced ten years ago.

However, it is perfectly acceptable to restrict the areas that visitors have access to.  I have found that they are not necessarily expecting the ‘brochure’ farmyard, they are just keen to hear my story about my farm.  They fully realise it is a working environment, not designed in the first instance for public access.

I also find the impetus that Open Farm Sunday gives me to instigate some tidying up is a positive one.  Remember also that while the farm can look a bit glum in January, by June it is green and hopefully with a sunny day, the whole outlook is changed.  In my experience, some time and thought is very well spent in planning food, hygiene and the order in which people are directed around the farm.  The guidelines provided by LEAF make this easy and inexpensive.  Again, I have found collaboration to be key; by getting the local WI to provide teas and cake for charity, I fully complied with legislation and raised some money for a local good cause.  Engaging friends and neighbours to help with parking, contingency plans and so forth all help to spread my workload on the day.

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Organise your Open Farm Sunday event to suit you and your farm

In terms of the fear of being overwhelmed with visitors, I talked to other host farmers and OFS staff and found their knowledge and experience invaluable. LEAF’s Host Farmer Handbook is full of useful information on the right level of promotion for the number of likely visitors.  I was able to arrange contingencies for parking and traffic to give me a reasonable margin of error and talking to others, reminded me that  problems in this area are extremely rare and really only apply to TV celebrities!

My insurance company were very supportive and also had a wealth of helpful information as did most of our suppliers and contacts who were keen to help and offer advice and experience.

Overall, my main piece of advice to anyone doing Open Farm Sunday for the first time is: start small and organise your event to suit you and your farm.  Then give yourself time and space to enjoy the experience. By accepting help from others, I found I thoroughly enjoyed telling my own story to people who were fascinated by my world without having to worry whether the cake had run out or someone had mislaid their car keys!

ofs-colour-2017-datedOpen Farm Sunday is on the 11th June 2017. Register here to find out more and get involved and tune into our OFS Bitesize webinars  for ideas, information and top tips on hosting a great event.

About the author:

Philip runs the family farm in west Herefordshire. The farm specialises in herbage, cereal and vining pea seed production and has a herd of single suckler beef cattle. Philip’s wife Heather runs a mail order birdseed (all supplied and packed by the farm) and ancillaries business, Wiggly Wigglers together with a mail order florist, The Great British Florist, supplying UK grown flowers only, some of which are grown on the farm.

 

Open Farm Sunday – planning, preparation and perfect memories

padfieldJeremy Padfield runs the family farm close to the Mendip Hills in Somerset.  It is predominantly arable but also has a beef and equine business.  The farm is involved in lots of conservation work and has opened for eight out of the ten years since Open Farm Sunday began.  Here, Jeremy shares with us his top tips on how to plan and organise an engaging and memorable Open Farm Sunday event. 

To make your Open Farm Sunday event successful and enjoyable – the key is in the preparation.

It is important at the outset to decide how, what and where you would like your visitors to experience a great day on your farm.  Using a map that shows an aerial view of the farm and buildings is a good way to get an idea of where your visitors can park and then to organise a ‘flow’ to areas of interest and maybe areas that you would prefer to keep out of bounds.

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Decide at the outset what you would like your visitors to experience

There are so many different people that you will find are very happy to come along and help whether that is friends, family and staff through to neighbouring farmers, young farmers, vets to wildlife groups.  A good start is to make a list of all the people that could be a great help on the day.  Open Farm Sunday caters for all size of events whether that is inviting a handful of people and taking them out on a farm walk, through to a couple of hundred visitors and then even larger events again.

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Consider how many visitors you feel comfortable with

It is good to decide how many visitors you feel comfortable coming along on the day and then start asking from your list of helpers if they are free and get them to put the date in the diary.  If some cannot help on the actual day, see if they are available before the event as there is always plenty to do!  It is better to have more help than you need so that everyone can have a break on the day and see the event too!

Now that you have some help organised, have a plan of activities and an idea of prospective numbers, register your event on the OFS website if you haven’t done so already and start to look at some of the opportunities to learn more through the OFS Bitesize webinar programme.

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Engaging visitors with your farming story

There are lots of top tips on all areas of staging the event and the OFS Checklist is a good way to make sure that you are on track with the preparations.  Depending on the size of your event, promotion of your event is an important job and there are many avenues available from local village newsletter, postcards into local schools to social media.  Much of this will take place on the weeks leading up to 11th June but it is worthwhile thinking how best to promote your open day.

My top tip as you organise your event is to think about the memory that you would like your visitors to walk away with, remember and share with their family and friends – whether it’s one day, one month or even one year after the 11th June.  Planning your event so that your visitors go away with this memory is the key to success.  Enjoy your preparations and here’s to a great day in June!

Open Farm Sunday is on the 11th June 2017.  Register here to find out more and get involved and do tune into our OFS Bitesize webinars  for ideas, information and top tips on hosting a great event. 

LEAF Marque – driving forward more sustainable farming and stronger supply chains

ian-finlaysonAs the LEAF Marque Standard version 14.1 came into effect on 1st January 2017, Ian Finlayson, Chairman of the LEAF Marque Technical Advisory Committee shares his thoughts on the role of assurance systems in driving forward more sustainable farming and stronger supply chains…

Food labelling is vital to our trust in the products we buy and consume. Without robust auditing the trust in labels and our food system fails as shown by food fraud scares.  Our food systems are complex and can obscure the exact origins of our food. Understanding where our food comes from and how it has been produced underlines assurance schemes such as Red Tractor, RSCPA Assured, Organic and of course, LEAF Marque.  In essence, they provide the means to better understand our food.  To know that is has met a certain benchmark of safe and/or sustainable production. This is great for us as consumers but also for farmers as it provides recognition for their work in these areas. For LEAF Marque, it demonstrates farmers’ environmental commitments with the potential to increase farm profitability through improved management and expand market opportunities for certified product.

Why do we need assurance schemes?

Today’s consumer is more informed than previously and they want to learn more. Our digital era has played a huge part in this thirst for knowledge.  Furthermore, social media offers immediate communication between farmers, retailers and consumers and is fuelling demand for complete transparency in the authenticity of the products we consume.

john-saul-cauliflower-gnp_7341_16011511355300001Certification is key to creating more transparency.  It helps to prove the high quality of products in a credible way, making them stand out and offering public assurance that they  have been produced safely and to a certain standard of quality.  For farmers, certification enables them to show the integrity of their products and helps to secure the trust of their customers which can, in turn, push up sales.

How do we achieve transparency?

Public trust and confidence in assurance schemes is dependent on the authenticity of the schemes themselves. As standard setters and developers, our duty is to ensure our standards are robust and they deliver on the sustainability promises we make. We do this in a number of ways:

  • Good governance – our LEAF Marque Technical Advisory Committee overseas the ongoing development of the LEAF Marque Standard which is underpinned by LEAF’s Integrated Farm Management. It brings together experts from a diverse range of backgrounds including farmers, retailers, conservation groups, government and industry bodies. They ensure the LEAF Marque Standard continues to evolve to respond to user comments, industry developments, the rise in new technologies and consumer trends.
  • Collaborating – We are proud to be a Full Member of the ISEAL alliance which works to strengthen sustainability standards systems and encourages dialogue between all its members in order to innovate and drive the sustainability standards movement forward.  LEAF Marque has also been benchmarked to Gold Level against the SAI Platform Farmer Self Assessment with appropriate baseline systems.
  • Listening – The LEAF Marque Standard is underpinned by the ISEAL Codes of Good Practice and its credibility principles which set out the approach that is essential for standards. cp-infographic-roll-over-image_2 At the very core of these is consultation.  We regularly seek the views of our farmers and growers, members and wider stakeholders to ensure the ongoing development of the LEAF Marque Standard.

The LEAF Marque Standard – what’s new?

leafmarqueFollowing our most recent consultation process, the latest version of the LEAF Marque Standard (version 14.1) is effective from the 1st January 2017.  We have refreshed its design and layout and made a number of other changes including the addition of six new Control Points covering energy, recording habitats and Chain of Custody.  Mandatory control points are now referred to as ‘Essential’ control points rather than ‘Critical Failure Points’.   These changes and the new design and layout offers our farmers and growers increased clarity.   We have received positive feedback from our growers in support of the changes.

How will the LEAF Marque Standard have to evolve?

Farmers face huge challenges as they try to find sustainable solutions to feed the world’s growing population without depleting its natural resources. This, coupled with more volatile climate patterns, political priorities and ever-changing consumer demands, will call for innovative and joined-up solutions.  There is no question that the growth for certified, traceable, sustainable products will continue.  This provides a global opportunity for farmers.  LEAF have three key priorities over the next five years:

Improving our outreach to consumers: Whilst awareness of the LEAF Marque is growing, we still have a long way to go. We will harness the power of social media, increase the number of LEAF Marque certified farmers reaching out to the public, through for example, LEAF’s Open Farm Sunday in order to increase public understanding, recognition and demand for sustainably produced food.

Building closer links: We will strengthen our links across the food industry to work together to ensure the LEAF Marque Standard continues to evolve and drive forward improvements in sustainable farming.

ifm-wheel-words-largeIdentifying partnerships: We envisage the role of sustainable farming as one of the solutions to the world’s growing health and obesity problems will be a key area for us.  We are determined to ensure that LEAF Marque and the principles of Integrated Farm Management are at the heart of this debate.

Conclusion

Independently-verified assurance schemes have a critical role to play in the future.  They help to generate higher revenue for farmers, contribute to stronger and more stable supply chain across the entire food industry and can deliver meaningful economic, environmental and social impacts.  The key is to ensure they themselves have integrity.   There is a powerful and growing wave of momentum behind sustainable food.  We are firmly focused on strengthening LEAF Marque as the leading environmental assurance system recognising sustainably farmed products.

The LEAF Marque Standard version 14.1 is effective from the 1st January 2017 and can be viewed here.  It is available in French, Spanish and Italian here.

About the author:

Ian is Managing Director of the Practical Solutions International, an independent consultancy company specialising in sustainable, ethical and safe food production. Ian headed up the work at Sainsbury’s on pesticides for many years and was a member of the Pesticide Residue Committee (now PRiF) for 8 years. More recently has been technical director for a number of fresh produce and cut flower companies and Chair of the Fairtrade International Standards Committee.   Ian became Chairman of the LEAF Marque Technical Advisory Committee in January 2016.

Improving soil biology for better yields

keith-gouldingSoil biology plays a vital role in maintaining healthy, sustainable soils and increasing it a key part of LEAF’s Integrated Farm Management.  Professor Keith Goulding, Sustainable Soils Research Fellow at Rothamsted Research, explains that providing growers with a greater depth of knowledge on the physical, chemical and biological complexity of the soil environment is key to addressing the current threats to soil sustainability.

Healthy soil is fundamental to food security, ecosystems and life.  90% of all the food we eat is grown in soil, feeding a global population that has increased to 7.3 billion people. Healthy soils provide a variety of vital ecosystem services such as nutrient cycling, water regulation, flood protection, and habitats for biodiversity.

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Soil biology is essential for healthy and sustainable soils.

The conservation and improvement of soil is among the highest priorities of any farm. Routine analysis, maintenance and improvement of physical, chemical and biological soil health helps ensure soil’s long term fertility and builds organic matter, while reducing the risk of erosion, structural degradation, compaction and associated environmental concerns, such as flooding and drought. Good soil husbandry increases yields and profitability.

Soil biology is essential for healthy and sustainable soils.  Helping growers get a better understanding of the role of soil biology in key processes vital for growth of plants such as nutrient cycling (decomposition, mineralisation, immobilisation and denitrification) is vital to the way they think about, manage and protect soils.

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The conservation and improvement of soil is an essential part of Integrated Farm Management

What is soil biology? What is soil organic matter and why is it important to soil biology? How can we measure and increase it?  These are all questions that I’ll be addressing at a one day course, run in partnership with LEAF and Artis Training.  Aimed at advanced practitioners, the course will help growers get a better understanding of the factors affecting soil biology, and the role of soil organic matter in improving soil structure, aeration, water and nutrient supply.  We will also provide practical strategies to help growers measure and maintain soil organic matter, exploring sampling and tillage.

Providing growers with a greater depth of knowledge on the physical, chemical and biological complexity of the soil environment is key to addressing the current threats to soil sustainability and the protection of this precious resource.  It’s an exciting and challenging area where farmers have a central role to play.

About the author:

Professor Keith Goulding is the Sustainable Soils Research Fellow at Rothamsted Research, a LEAF Innovation Centre. He joined Rothamsted Research in 1974 and gained his PhD at Imperial College in 1980. His research has included the supply to crops of potassium and phosphorus from the soil, ion exchange, acid rain, soil acidification and liming and nutrient, especially nitrogen, cycling.

‘Improving soil biology for better yields’ is a one day course run by LEAF and Artis Training, aimed at accomplished practitioners.  It takes place on 18th January 2017 at JSR Farms Ltd, a LEAF Demonstration Farm.   The course costs £240 (inc VAT) but LEAF Members qualify for a 15% discount making the course £204 (inc VAT). For more details and to book click here

 

 

Insights, inspiration and information exchange

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Philip Huxtable, Director of Arable Production at JSR Farms and LEAF Board member, was one of seven LEAF Demonstration Farmers who took part in the Environment Agency’s pilot Agricultural Placement Scheme earlier this year.  Here, Philip shares with us his thoughts on the scheme and its wider role in relationship building…

 

Information Flow
Knowledge generation and exchange is a key part of being a LEAF Demonstration Farmer.  It’s essential to keep things fresh and moving forward, to ensure a constant flow of experience, skills and information. This is exactly why I was keen to take part in the pilot scheme run by the Environment Agency offering agricultural placements for their officers.  A great opportunity to share what we are doing here, as well as to strengthen our working relationship with the Agency.

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IFM in practice

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Helen Dale, Environment Officer

IFM in practice
Our EA officer was Helen Dale, an experienced Environment Officer based in Lincolnshire who joined us in February and March.  The first visit was very much office based, focusing on the theory behind what we are doing here, how we plan and document our farming operations – covering nutrient management and applications as well as our traceability systems.  In March, it was all about getting out on the farm to see it all happening in practice.   Helen shadowed our slurry spreading team and spray operators, saw grass strips being drilled, potatoes being graded and joined our ploughing and fertiliser spreading guys so she could get to grips with precision farming and satellite navigation.   A very varied few days which gave her a great overview of the whole business and how we are implementing Integrated Farm Management (IFM).

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LEAF’s Integrated Farm Management

Insights, inspiration and information exchange
As farmers, it is absolutely critical that we are open to new ideas, share our experience and knowledge and keep an eye to the future.  The scheme gets a definite ‘thumbs up’ from JSR.  We were delighted with the way Helen interacted with staff, her enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge. Having the right calibre of placement is essential for staff to feel comfortable and ‘open up’.

The insights and practical knowledge that Helen picked up from her time with us, can only have had a positive impact on the support and advice she offers to other farmers in the future.

In addition, the scheme provided us, as a business, with a hugely valuable vehicle to build on our relationship with the EA.  The more we can do to enhance this partnership and to demonstrate the professionalism of our business, the better. I have always viewed the Agency as an additional resource on which to draw upon – working together with them and not against them.  It’s a bit like your bank balance – the more you can put in, the more resources and good will there is to draw upon when you need it!

The Environment Agency’s Agricultural Placement Scheme will run again in 2017.