Delivering more sustainable farming through knowledge generation and exchange

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Alice Midmer, LEAF IFM Manager

Alice Midmer, LEAF’s IFM Manager recently returned from Scotland, where we held our 25th anniversary Scotland dinner for members and supporters and ran a Farmer Technical Day in partnership with The James Hutton Institute.   Here, Alice reflects on the events and shares her highlights.  

LEAF has a strong and vibrant presence in Scotland with four Demonstration Farms, two Innovation Centres and many LEAF Members. We are very proud of the partnerships we have developed and are determined to build on our activities across the border to strengthen LEAF’s reach, increase awareness and uptake of Integrated Farm Management as well champion public understanding and engagement in sustainable farming.

It was a privilege to meet with Scottish Demonstration Farmers and supporters at our 25th anniversary dinner which we held prior to the Farmer Technical Event.  It was a great opportunity to meet socially with so many supporters across the region, share experiences and map out priorities for LEAF’s next 25 years.  Professor Colin Campbell, Chief Executive of the James Hutton Institute, which was LEAF’s first Innovation Centre, gave an engaging overview of the role of JHI in pushing forward the boundaries of sustainable farming, their commitment to ensuring cutting edge research reaches out to farmers and how their role as a LEAF Innovation Centre plays a central role in making this happen.  This led on to a lively discussion about what sustainable farming means in practice, the challenges facing farmers and the potential of Integrated Farm Management to address them.  It was a great evening full of laughter, friendship and lots of ideas on how we can build on our work in Scotland.

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IFM in practice at our Technical Day for Farmers held in partnership with LEAF Innovation Centre, the James Hutton Institute

The sun shone brightly the next day for our Farmer Technical Day at JHI, where we were joined by SRUC and SoilEssentials who work closely with JHI on a range of research projects and wider work .  The day had a very practical focus with guided tours providing farmers with a great opportunity to talk directly to researchers at each stop.  The day covered a broad range of topics from cover crops, Integrated Pest Management, Precision Farming, Eco-engineering through to improving phosphorus use and whole-system models and decision aids.  One of the stops on the tour was run by LEAF Members, SoilEssentials who talked about how precision farming data can be used to lower environmental impact and increase profits.  It was also interesting to hear Ewen Mullins, from Teagasc, the Irish Agricultural and Food Development Authority talk about the environmental impact of GM blight-tolerant potatoes.  Other highlights were LEAF Demonstration Farmer, Edward Baxter providing a fascinating overview of his PhD field headland research and JHI’s Farms Director, Euan Caldwell explaining about his wonderful Magic Margins.

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Caroline Drummond, LEAF Chief Executive and Euan Caldwell, Head of Farms, James Hutton Institute show IFM in action at Farmer Technical Day

As LEAF embarks on its next 25 years, we are excited about the potential to grow our activities in Scotland. Our new five-year strategy looks to identify partnerships with the food, farming, environment, health and education sectors to drive forward our mission of ‘a world that is farming, eating and living sustainably.’

Knowledge generation and exchange is at the heart of IFM.  It is events like this that bring farmers and researchers together to inspire and learn from each other that will progress the development and uptake of more sustainable farming.   Our thanks to everyone who was involved in the day.

Stepping up the action

CedricCedric Porter, LEAF Trustee and Supply Chain expert, embarked on a weight  loss challenge to support LEAF’s 25th anniversary theme ‘delivering healthy food and farming fit for the future’.  Cedric updates us on progress so far…

There has certainly been progress since I started my lose 25lbs for LEAF’s 25th anniversary, as part of the promotion of healthy food and farming – fit for the future.  At the beginning of the challenge I weighed 220lbs with a target weight of 195lbs. I’m now down to 15 stone or 210lbs so I’m 40% there – yippee!!

Most of the loss seems to have come from exercise as I’m sticking to my target of walking at least 10,000 steps a day – so far the record is more than 23,000 steps on a day walking along the coastline at Winchelsea and Rye. Walking is great as it allows you to see what you normally miss, but I do feel a little self-conscious pacing the streets late at night as I try and do the last few hundred steps before my phone rings up the 10,000 mark.

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Eating sustainably is getting easier – some 33% of UK grown fruit and vegetables is produced on LEAF Marque certified businesses

Although I need to step up the steps and even dust down the trainers and move from walking to running, I know my attention needs to shift to what I eat.  So far my strategy has been to try and hold back, sometimes with limited success, but the calorie counting needs to begin in earnest. Exercising and eating in moderation is important but it is also about consuming the right food and this is where LEAF Marque really comes in. Fresh fruit, vegetables and meat produced sustainably with care for the environment, what could be better?

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The basic rule of weight loss: cutting down on processed sugar combined with exercise

Losing weight is in fashion, but with attention comes confusion. This included the National Obesity Forum’s criticism of the national obesity control strategy, which was then disowned by some of the forum’s own members. The danger is that the confusion turns people off controlling their weight as they try and take in the latest piece of advice. It’s one thing losing the weight, but one of the hardest parts will be keeping it off.

For me, the official advice based on the Eatwell Plate seems the best and cutting down on processed sugar in particular seems very sensible. I am also trying to eat as much LEAF Marque produce as possible which is becoming increasingly easier with some 33% of UK produced fruit and vegetables coming from LEAF Marque certified businessesIf anyone has any weight-loss tips that have worked for them, they are gratefully received.

If you would like to support my cause for LEAF’s 25th anniversary, please donate to my JustGiving page or you can text the amount you wish to give and ‘LEAF16’ to 70071.

Continuing LEAF’s 25th anniversary theme ‘delivering healthy food and farming fit for the future’, LEAF is organising a sponsored bike ride – click here to sign up and keep up to date with all our 25th anniversary news and events here

LEAF Marque Standard Public Consultation – helping deliver robust, transparent and resilient supply chains

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Anthony Goggin, LEAF’s Certification and Assurance Manager

LEAF members and stakeholders are being invited to take part in a public consultation of the LEAF Marque Standard. Anthony Goggin, LEAF’s Certification and Assurance Manager, sets out why engagement in the consultation process is so critical to help drive forward more sustainable food and farming. 

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The principles of IFM underpin the LEAF Marque Standard

LEAF Marque is an environmental assurance system recognising sustainably farmed products.  It offers farmers public recognition that products have been grown sustainably with care for the environment, following LEAF’s Integrated Farm Management (IFM).  Ensuring the LEAF Marque standard continues to evolve in order to meet the world’s ever changing sustainability challenges is absolutely critical.   A fundamental part of this is reaching out to our members and wider stakeholders to seek their views on how the LEAF Marque standard evolves, its priorities and future direction. Fundamentally, this ensures the LEAF Marque standard remains robust, practical and critically, contributes to LEAF’s vision of a world that is farming, eating and living sustainably.

Evolution and Innovation

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ISEAL’s Credibility Principles represent the core values upon which effective sustainability standards are built

The world’s sustainability challenges are ever growing.  The LEAF Marque standard must continue to evolve and innovate in order to effectively address these ever changing social, political and environmental issues.  As a full member of ISEAL, we work within the framework of their Impacts Code of Good Practice and are committed to their ten Credibility Principles which represent the core values upon which effective sustainability standards are built.

Similarly, being part of a global membership association for sustainability standards helps drive forward our monitoring and evaluation objectives, so we can demonstrate what impact LEAF Marque certified businesses are making to the delivery of more sustainable farming.  Our latest global impacts report highlights some really encouraging progress.

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LEAF Marque certified businesses across the globe delivering more sustainable food and farming

It’s all about engagement

We want the LEAF Marque standard to have maximum impact to delivering more sustainable food and farming.  It will only do this if it responds effectively to the needs of farmers, the wider food chain and the needs of consumers.  This public consultation provides our members, stakeholders and anyone with an interest in sustainable farming, with an opportunity to shape the future direction of the LEAF Marque Standard.  Providing meaningful opportunities for everyone to engage and contribute to its continual improvement, will help to drive forward lasting change to address serious global challenges.

Get involved in the current LEAF Marque Standard public consultation here, which runs until the 8th July 2016.   We look forward to hearing from you.

Magic Margins

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Euan Caldwell, Head of Farms, James Hutton Institute

Next week we will be holding a Technical Day for farmers in partnership with one of our leading Scottish LEAF Innovation Centres, The James Hutton Institute. The event includes guided tours and indoor displays covering a diverse range of Integrated Farm Management topics such as cover crops, Integrated Pest Management, precision farming and sustainable cropping.  Ahead of the event, Euan Caldwell, Head of Farms at JHI, tells us more about one of the areas being featured – ‘magic margins.’

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The Magic of Margins

Over the last year, we have been busy sowing some new field margins at Mylnefield and Balruddery Farms. Like our existing buffer strips (habitat margins next to water courses), beetle banks and field margins, these new field margins are part of what are now termed Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs). All arable farms in Scotland have to commit at least 5% of their total arable area to EFA. Like many LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) Innovation Centres and  Demonstration Farms, we only had to make small adjustments to the habitat and wildlife corridors we had already created around our farms, to meet our new obligations.

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Blair McKenzie’s Tramline Run-off Experiment

Some of our field margins have been established in what could look like potato drills. These are innovative field margins described by some of our visiting farmers as ‘magic margins’. The initial inspiration for developing our ‘magic margins’ came about through our involvement in Blair McKenzie’s Tramline Run-off Experiment which the James Hutton Institute and others undertook in 2011-12 at Balruddery Farm.

It was an amazing project that opened my eyes to how a relatively shallow slope could generate significant water run-off (and nutrient loss) and to see how fragile and susceptible to erosion our sandy loam soils really were.

Well established Magic Margins

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LEAF’s IFM – working to deliver more sustainable food and farming

We have used the same drills and tied ridges to effectively create a barrier at the bottom of a sloping field. There is also no reason that this same effective field margin couldn’t be used as a beetle bank mid-way down a field and again at the bottom to further reduce the momentum of run-off and erosion. The mini dams the Tied Ridger has created have captured the water at the point at which it has reached the margin, thereby preventing it from running to the bottom of the slope and then pooling at the single lowest point in the field. Once properly established, they look like every other EFA field margins but with hidden added value.

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Magic Margins are an innovative example of IFM working in practice

Other advantages we have seen is that the surface area of this field margin is greater than conventional field margins which helps promote the rate of evaporation. The margins have also been sown with wild grass and bird seed mixes providing valuable wildlife habitat (as part of our Ecological Focus Area). They also help persuade our farm and science staff that driving on our field margins would be a very unforgiving mistake and, in turn, this helps me protect our year round obligation to our Ecological Focus Areas.

In summary, our Magic Margins are an innovative example of IFM working in practice helping to deliver economic, environmental and social benefits to the farm.

The JHI and LEAF Technical Day on the 9th June is being held as part of LEAF’s 25th Anniversary.  It will provide a taster of some of the IFM research being carried out at JHI and feature a range of practical examples of how they can work on farmer’s own businesses. Click here for more details and to book. To join in the conversation before, during and after the event @JamesHuttonInst #LEAFTechDay. We look forward to seeing you!

IFM: A Framework for the Future

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Alice Midmer, LEAF IFM Manager

For the last 25 years, LEAF has been at the forefront of developing and delivering Integrated Farm Management (IFM). Last week, we held our first IFM conference which highlighted some of the latest research and thinking into IFM and its practical applications.

Here, Alice Midmer, LEAF’s IFM Manager, reports on highlights from the day and reflects on what the key challenges will be for Integrated Farm Management as LEAF embarks on its next 25 years.

LEAF's Integrated Farm Management

LEAF’s Integrated Farm Management

Knowledge generation and exchange

Farming systems are dynamic. They are continually adapting to ecological, environmental and social conditions, while achieving greater production and resource-use efficiency by the application of science and technology. Key to driving forward change and continual improvement is sound science firmly rooted in practical application out in the field.   Our network of Demonstration Farms and Innovation Centres make this happen.

Currently we have eight Innovation Centres, each offering unique insights into a particular area of IFM, covering, for example, sustainable crop production systems, dairy management, grassland livestock systems, energy efficiency, water friendly farming and biodiversity conservation. This research feeds into our Demonstration Farmers, which in turn, is shared amongst the wider farming community. This continual cycle of knowledge generation and exchange ensures IFM remains reactive, flexible and responsive.

Innovations and Inspiration

Phytobacs (or biobeds) helping to reduce environmental impact of agriculture

Biobeds helping to reduce environmental impact of agriculture

It was a privilege last week to bring together our Innovation Centres and Demonstration Farms to consider how IFM has developed, highlight the research work being carried out and hear from three of our Demonstration Farmers about how they make IFM work on their own businesses.

From our Innovation Centres we heard how LED lights could be used in the glasshouse sector to provide the ultimate growing conditions to maximise growth, plant quality, nutritional value and help to eliminate pesticide use.   We were told how drones are increasingly being used to take aerial pictures of crops to monitor and map areas using true colour, multispectral and thermal images, with data being used to improve yields. We learnt how biobeds and phytobacs could help to reduce the environmental impact of agriculture, the benefits of cover crops to farmers as well as wildlife and about selective dry cow therapy to help treat cows most at risk of mastitis. It provided a fascinating overview of the scale and diversity of research being undertaken and a reminder of the scope of IFM and its application across all farm sectors.

Making IFM work in practice

Making IFM work under glass

Making IFM work under glass

How farmers who are working with IFM at the sharp end are making these innovations work in practice was provided by three of our Demonstration Farmers.   Richard Kooijman, Production Manager at Eric Wall Ltd, one of the largest tomato nurseries in the UK highlighted how the principles of IFM help to guide many of the day to day management decisions including Integrated Pest Management strategies to control fungal problems, use of thermal screens to reduce carbon emissions and how the implementation of progressive staff incentives and flexible hours contracts are key to growing the business.

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Driving forward more sustainable soil management through IFM

Chris Baylis, Head of Farming and Estate Manager at Sir Richard Sutton Ltd in Lincolnshire and Berkshire described how the use of direct drilling, combined strip tillage, minimal cultivations and rotational ploughing were all helping to drive forward the estates determination to increase its environmental profile, reduce energy consumption and improve soil health.

The attention to detail demanded by an Integrated Farm Management approach was highlighted by John Renner, owner of North Belshill and Amerside Hill Farm in Northumberland and LEAF Marque producer. He told us about tailoring specific management techniques to improve soil management and fertility and enhance biodiversity, through for example, non-inversion tillage techniques, creation of no nitrogen and limited grazing areas, good record keeping, grass margins and sensitive hedge management.

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LEAF Demonstration network ensures continuing evolution of IFM

LEAF Demonstration network ensures continuing evolution of IFM

LEAF is at an exciting and important juncture.   As we look ahead and build on our core objectives and vision, it is clear that IFM offers farmers a powerful framework to meet challenges of population growth, climatic pressures and an increasingly demanding public. One of the main messages coming out of our first IFM conference was that ensuring the practices and developments of IFM continue to evolve, will call for joined-up research that takes an ecological approach, responds to people’s real needs and respects farmers’ know-how.

There are huge challenges ahead for farmers, but with the expertise, knowledge and experience within LEAF’s Demonstration network, the future looks full of potential.

Click here to see photographs from the conference.

For more information on the individual talks and research look out for the IFM bulletin going out to members next week.

Conservation Agriculture as part of Integrated Farm Management

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Anthony Pope, Conservation Agriculture Consultant

Conservation Agriculture is a practical concept, which when used as part of Integrated Farm Management (IFM) can improve productivity, profits, and food security whilst preserving and benefiting the environment. Anthony Pope, Conservation Agriculture Consultant, has been involved in farming on an international level for more than 40 years and here, he tells us about the benefits of Conservation Agriculture that he has seen first-hand.

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The UK is seeing increased soil erosion and degradation due to the increased intensity of rainfall

During my years of involvement in agriculture in many different countries around the world, my overriding concern has been to improve food security and agricultural sustainability.  Crop yields have been falling and will continue to do so unless steps are taken to reverse soil erosion, soil degradation and the decline in soil fertility. Indeed, here in the UK, generally low organic matter levels in the soil are being shown up by increased crop stress and wilting during the long dry spells that we have been experiencing, leading to poor crop performance.  At the other end of the scale, we are seeing considerably more erosion and soil degradation with the increased intensity of rainfall that we are experiencing.

Conservation Agriculture (CA) represents a potential solution to this downward trend – improving soil health and achieving better soil-crop-nutrient-water management, leading to ecologically and economically sustainable agriculture.

CA is characterised by three linked and core principles, namely:

  1. No or minimal soil disturbance – through the use of no-till seeding to enhance populations and activity of soil macro-biota such as earthworms and reduce soil compaction
  2. Permanent soil cover – from crop residues, planted catch and cover crops, and relay planting of main crops
  3. Diversified cropping systems – rotations, sequences and associations
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Conservation Agriculture complements IFM practices

CA facilitates good agronomy and improves overall land husbandry for rain-fed and irrigated production and is complemented by other practices promoted in LEAF’s Integrated Farm Management, including the use of quality seeds, and integrated pest, nutrient, weed and water management, etc.  It opens increased options for integration of production sectors, such as crop-livestock integration and the integration of trees and pastures into agricultural landscapes.

I recently visited a farmer in Lincolnshire who has adopted CA, and employed a no-till regime since 2003 on his three farms totalling 1,250 hectares.  He has found that CA crop production costs are around £130/ha compared with £266/ha for conventionally tilled crops.  Some of this saving is due to lower fuel bills as diesel consumption has fallen from 92 l/ha to 42 l/ha simply by adopting no-till; in addition, soil organic matter levels have increased as shown by soil organic carbon (SOC) which was 2.1% in 2003, 4.6% in 2007 and is now 6.3%.

Nick August, who also adopts CA at his 400ha farm in Oxfordshire, and has reduced his crop establishment costs by £70/ha through converting to no-till.  The switch from min-till to no-till has reduced diesel use from nearly 18 litres/ha to 4.7 litres/ha, and the time taken to drill has fallen from 54min/ha to 26min/ha.

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Zero tillage is a key part of Conservation Agriculture

The transition phase for conversion to CA usually takes about two to three years; however, the full benefits of the system often become visible only after five years.  Mechanical tillage is replaced by biological tillage (crop roots and soil fauna) and soil fertility (nutrients and water) is essentially managed through no-tillage, soil-cover management, crop rotations and weed management.  Some weeds and pests create specific challenges but the health and diversity of soil biota help reduce the incidence of weeds and maintain a reserve of natural predators. Improved soil life and cover has a dramatic effect on birds and other wild animals.

I firmly believe that radical changes to farming practices are necessary in this country and elsewhere, to ensure a balanced system with improved soil organic matter and soil biota levels which ultimately enhance the sustainability of soils and increase crop yields. I believe that Conservation Agriculture as part of Integrated Farm Management, by facilitating good agronomy, improved timeliness of operations and reduced variable and fixed costs, is the solution for the future.

First steps to losing 25 for 25

Cedric Porter, LEAF Trustee and supply chain expert

CedricWhen ideas for celebrating LEAF’s 25th anniversary, a year dedicated to Delivering Healthy Food and Farming – fit for the future were sought at a board meeting in a quiet moment I rashly said that I could be sponsored to lose 25 pounds with donations going to LEAF.

So the moment of truth has arrived. I’ve been to the doctors for a health update and weigh in. At six foot one and at 220lbs I have a BMI of 28.6 and am officially overweight. I should have a BMI of less than 25 and be between 10 stones and 13 stones 8 pounds so perhaps I should be a little more ambitious and lose even more than 25lbs, but let’s take things one step at a time.

I was not given any specific advice on what I should do to lose weight, but the main message appears to be: eat smaller portions, cut out most of the naughties and exercise more. I work from home which has plenty of advantages as well as dangers for anyone looking to lose weight. As Boris Johnson said: “We all know that working from home is basically sitting wondering whether to go down to the fridge to hack off that bit of cheese before checking your emails again.”

So losing weCP scales picture 16.04.21ight will take planning and discipline, not my strongest points. My basic plan is to eat porridge oats for breakfast, plenty of fruit and veg (as much of it LEAF Marque as possible, which hopefully shouldn’t be too difficult knowing that 33% of UK fruit and veg is LEAF Marque accredited) plus some protein at lunch and then a relatively ‘normal’ meal in the evening and certainly cut down on the booze – hide those large wineglasses!

I live in a town (Tunbridge Wells) which is pretty green and pleasant so there should be no excuse not to get out and walk or even run especially now the evenings are light. Technology is helping in the form of a phone app counting my steps and calories burnt. As I edge beyond 8,000 steps I can be seen walking the streets late at night trying to reach the magic 10,000 mark.

Losing more than 10% of my bodyweight is not going to be easy, but it is not going to be impossible. If you have any words of advice or encouragement please let me have them as they will be gratefully received. I must go as the fridge is calling, but rest assured I have the willpower to let its cries go unheeded.

If you would like to support my efforts then please feel free to donate via the LEAF JustGiving page #25FOR25 www.leafuk.org @LEAF_Farming

Integrated Farm Management: looking back and stepping forward

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Caroline Drummond, LEAF Chief Executive

On the 19th May, LEAF will hold its first Integrated Farm Management Conference in Waddesdon, Buckinghamshire. Titled, IFM: A Framework for the Future, the conference will examine the development of IFM, consider its strengths (as well as weaknesses) and crucially, as LEAF embarks on its next 25 years, its role in addressing future challenges.  For more information and to book on, please click here. Ahead of this, we ask Caroline Drummond our Chief Executive to reflect on where IFM all began, its development over the last twenty-five years and what is important moving forward.

Looking back to farming in 1991, the industry had successfully met many of the challenges that had been set to grow production capability. However, the realisation that some of these farming practices were having a big impact on the environment was beginning to dawn. This brought about a sharp realisation by many farmers who wanted to achieve a balance between production and environmental protection, by using the right practices and being much more focussed on the value of nature and habitats. Thus began an industry movement with farmers looking for whole farm approaches through Integrated Crop Management (ICM). Added to this, the wider industry was realising the potential damage caused by pesticides and fertilisers in the working place and this brought about more selective and better use of pesticides, improved products and better information on the environmental impact of fertilisers.

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For LEAF, ICM developed on the back of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies where crop health was the focus alongside the recognition that farmers do not make decisions on single issues but on a number of different factors, such as the weather, thresholds, land area and many more. Taking a concept developing in Germany, LEAF’s first five years was focused around the development and promotion of ICM.  For us, the selection of some of the best farmers in the UK as LEAF Demonstration Farmers allowed us to focus on the development of ICM, embracing traditional methods and modern techniques that enabled farmers to strike the balance between running profitable businesses at the same time as enhancing and protecting the environment. As we developed ICM, it became apparent that the integration of livestock was critical. Since 1996, LEAF has focussed on Integrated Farm Management (see Figure 1).

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LEAF’s Integrated Farm Management (IFM)

This broader focus was all the more important as the farmers/practice interface for research projects was evolving in projects like the LIFE project at Long Ashton Research Station, the focus on farming practice at Stoughton and work at High Mowthorpe as well as government priorities at MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Foods). This research identified the financial benefits of more IFM systems. Since that time, we have seen a tremendous amount of change in practices and priorities for farm businesses, volatilities in the market place and a decline in long term farm systems based research.

We have continued to expand our Demonstration Farm network as well as work with our Innovation Centres who have highlighted and developed specific areas of research that have fed into the development of IFM. These have been pioneered by our LEAF Demonstration Farmers and are being increasingly adopted by our farmer members. Furthermore, with the growth of the LEAF Marque assurance system, we have seen radical changes in the market place which have supported and accelerated these innovations and changes.

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The Sustainable Intensification Platform (SIP), Integrated Farm Management project is driving the development of innovation and testing of new approaches within IFM

Whilst farmer based research has not always been a priority across Europe, things are starting to change. We are delighted that the Sustainable Intensification Platform (SIP), Integrated Farm Management project is driving the development of innovation and testing of new approaches within IFM. Beyond this, it is initiatives such as the Agricology website that provides a fantastic platform for exchange of ideas and gives farmers the confidence to adopt novel approaches. This is why LEAF is pleased and proud to be a partner. The challenges facing the farming industry will continue but partnership approaches to find appropriate solutions are absolutely critical. This partnership approach will be seen in action at our IFM Conference on the 19th May when we will welcome a range of farmers and others in the industry to hear and discuss some of the most forward-thinking research and development from our Innovation Centres and its adoption by some of our LEAF Demonstration Farmers.

We would be very pleased if you could join us there. For more information and to book on please click here.

 

Putting research into action

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Melanie Wright, Grants and KEC Support Officer, at North Wyke

Knowledge exchange is key to delivering more sustainable farming.   Here Melanie Wright, Grants and KEC Support Officer, at the North Wyke site of Rothamsted Research, our latest Innovation Centre, tells us more about how they are communicating research and new technologies to farmers.

The highly successful NFU ‘Grasslands in Profile’ event hosted here at Rothamsted Research North Wyke last month provided the ideal occasion at which to launch North Wyke as the newest member of LEAF’s network of Innovation Centres.

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Driving forward more sustainable farming: on farm events at North Wyke enable researchers, technicians and students to present their research

Focussing on grassland soils, this joint event formed part of the NFU’s programme of activities for the international Year of Soils. Attracting over 70 attendees, the event was an excellent opportunity for researchers, technicians and students here at North Wyke to present their research and introduce visitors to the North Wyke Farm Platform Capability, the world’s most highly instrumented grassland livestock farm.

Despite torrential downpours throughout the morning, the Devon weather was on our side in the afternoon and visitors were treated to a tour of the farm platform with the sun streaming over Dartmoor in the distance. Robert Orr, Manager of the Farm Platform, was stationed in a windy spot at the top of the site from where he provided visitors with an overview of the farm platform and the three grassland systems being trialled on it.

Andy Retter, Instrument Technician on the Farm Platform, guided groups around through the working of one of the 15 flume labs located on the Platform which measure run off from the fields as well as a range of chemical and physical measures of water quality.

For the last stop on the tour Dr Rob Dunn introduced visitors to the research undertaken on the platform to measure greenhouse gas emissions from grasslands. Using state of the art LICOR chambers, researchers at North Wyke are measuring greenhouse gas emissions during grazing and following ploughing and re-seeding events to quantify the true impact of grassland livestock production on greenhouse gas emissions.

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The BBSRC supported Farm Platform National Capability at North Wyke is at the cutting edge of research into sustainable grazing livestock systems

The BBSRC supported Farm Platform National Capability at North Wyke is at the cutting edge of research into sustainable grazing livestock systems. However, we recognise that impact will only be achieved through the dissemination of this research to the farming community. The enrolement of the North Wyke site as a LEAF Innovation Centre and events such as ‘Grasslands in profile’ are part of our growing activities to aid the transfer of knowledge to our stakeholders to put research into action.

North Wyke launched as LIC

As a LEAF Innovation Centre, North Wyke will play a key role in showcasing sustainable farming methods, particularly in the area of grassland systems.

Looking to the future North Wyke will undertake an active programme of events that will promote the principles of sustainable agriculture and Integrated Farm Management (IFM) and promote the research undertaken here to identify the most sustainable means of rearing pasture-based livestock.

In 2016, North Wyke will be working closely with the newly appointment farming representatives on its Research Advisory Group to ensure that the research undertaken at North Wyke will deliver the maximum impact for the farming sector. We will be running a number of farm tours and working with partners including LEAF to host events to further share the research and knowledge coming out of our work at North Wyke.

Sharing information, ideas and insights at the LEAF Network Event

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Dave Rabbich, LEAF Intern

Bristol Port Company at Portbury, a Warburton’s factory and the Humble by Nature prototype aquaponics greenhouse provided a wealth of inspiration and a thought-provoking backdrop to our LEAF Network Event last week.  Dave Rabbich, LEAF Intern went along and tells us more… 

The two day event was designed to stimulate the exchange of knowledge and discussion between LEAF Demonstration Farmers and LEAF Innovation Centre representatives, based around the principles of Integrated Farm Management (IFM).

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The LEAF Network Event is a key part of continuous improvement

Events like these are a key part of continuous improvement. In addition to providing an opportunity for these volunteers to engage with each other, and share their expertise about farming, it allowed us to explore how businesses in the food sector working under different situations and scales, operate and strive to achieve their own sustainability goals.

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Exploring how the Bristol Port Company are addressing sustainability targets

The Bristol Port Company handles a range of products for import and export. As we toured the site, they were preparing to load 60,000 tonnes of grain onto a ship – around 2,000 lorry loads!  The scale of the operation was very impressive, and it was interesting to see how the combination of modern technology and long-standing methods is used to achieve their targets.

The Warburton’s bakery in Bristol manufactures 800g loaves, 400g loaves as well as wraps and thins. Their approach to quality control, attention to detail and flexibility has allowed them to gain 26% market share.

Our evening discussions revolved around how farms and zoos could cooperate to enhance biodiversity conservation and how consumers perceive the value of farming.

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Understanding different growing methods at Humble By Nature’s prototype aquaponics solar greenhouse

Humble by Nature is home to a prototype aquaponics solar greenhouse which was created to investigate the mutualistic relationship that can be formed between fish and plants. This pioneering project is making inroads into understanding these growing methods further.

Each operation we visited faces different challenges and each had an ingenious way of overcoming them. It was really interesting to find out more about these different businesses and from the many discussions that followed, it was evident that all of the farmers that joined us gained useful insights into how sustainability targets are being delivered in other sectors.

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LEAF’s Integrated Farm Management – delivering more sustainable farming

The range of businesses we visited revealed a breadth of solutions the food sector has used to overcome a number of issues. It also became apparent that to overcome future concerns, it will require the cooperation of all stages of the supply chain to continue to provide nutritious food as well as maintaining a healthy natural environment in a sustainable way. LEAF’s Integrated Farm Management, LEAF Marque and LEAF’s Open Farm Sunday will all have a large part to play in this.

To find out more about LEAF, LEAF Demonstration Farmers and LEAF Innovation Centres, please visit www.leafuk.org