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. 

Sharing, shadowing and satisfaction through the EA’s Agriculture Placement Scheme

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Robert Iles, Senior Environment Officer (Agriculture)

Earlier this year, seven LEAF Demonstration Farmers took part in the Environment Agency’s Agriculture Placement Scheme.  The pilot scheme enabled EA officers to shadow farmers and learn how their businesses work in order to increase their technical and practical farm business understanding.   The trial worked well with great feedback from the Environment Agency and LEAF Demonstration farmers.  Here, Robert Iles, Senior Environment Officer (Agriculture) at the EA, shares with us his time at High Meadow Farm, Shropshire…

I arrived at High Meadow Farm, nestled in a beautiful valley just a stones through from Ludlow in Shropshire, full of anticipation and not really knowing what to expect.  Nick greeted me with warmth and humour and we immediately set off for a tour of the farm. From the yard I could see a majority of the farm down in the valley bordered by a wooded valley side opposite. A spectacular landscape leaving me excited by the challenges that lay ahead.

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High Meadow Farm in Shropshire – one of the seven LEAF Demonstration Farms taking part in the Environment Agency’s Agriculture Placement Scheme

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Clearing brush on Ledwyche Brook

I got to work straight away cleaning plastic wrap and feed bags from the cattle yard, checking hedges and cleaning an old shed which was to be used as my rest room. The majority of my week with Nick was divided between the Ledwyche Brook – a steep sided tributary of the River Teme which was constantly carving its own sandy banks or in the valley below the farm. Tasks included clearing the brush from 60 bankside trees which Nick had chainsawed and from a log jam in the Brook and putting in 400 fence posts around newly planted fruit trees (a project Nick had initiated to reinstate a historic orchard). All hard, physical non-stop work, which was hugely rewarding and it was great to see I was making a real contribution.

The work was hugely varied with a trip on the sprayer, filling and washing the old cans in the induction hopper, a meeting with the local water company to apply for a grant, a trip to buy some oak trees to screen the new chicken sheds, and homework each night with the Ranger magazine report on implications of Brexit for egg producers. Nick had instigated a new business for 38,000 free range chickens and work was all go with daily deliveries, problems to solve and site checks to get the buildings complete before the chicks arrived.

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LEAF’s Integrated Farm Management

There was never a dull moment but there was enough time to appreciate my wonderful surroundings and the effort being put in by Nick and his family to run a profitable farm using the principles of LEAF’s Integrated Farm Management. Each night I went to bed tired from the activities of the day but with a huge sense of satisfaction in what I had contributed to.

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Replanting and replacing tree guards on black thorn whips

The most memorable moments came when I was asked to replant and replace the tree guards of several 100 meters of black thorn whips. The weather was warm and as I worked the valley was a riot of noisy field fares, robins and wrens singing as they combed the fields for dropped seeds or hopped through the hedgerows of this ancient landscape. But even more satisfying was the group effort of escorting a cow from the barn to the crush. While I held up her tail, Nick and his farm worker dealt with her ingrown toe and foot ulcer. She kicked and grunted but afterwards trotted back to the barn clearly a much happier cow.

I left High Meadow Farm (and Shropshire) reluctantly. Farming seems an ideal lifestyle but requiring considerable energy and constant movement mixed with considerable worry. The activities had been worthwhile and satisfying and the tremendous effort being made to maintain the environment for the future was clear to see. Reflecting on my experience now that I am back in my Environment Agency role, I certainly have a renewed respect for farmers who are true multi-taskers but I also now know a bit more about what we as an organisation can expect from these custodians of the land.

Coming soon! LEAF Demonstration Farmer, Philip Huxtable from JSR Farms Ltd, will be writing a blog about his experience of the EA Agriculture Placement Scheme from a farmer’s perspective.

 

Not buffed, but buffered

Cedric PorterCedric 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 to-date…

I’ve hit a bit of a buffer in my quest to lose 25lbs in LEAF’s 25 years. I’ve held my weight at around the 15 stone or 210lb mark that I last reported but haven’t made much progress in losing the next 15lbs I need to lose to reach my target.

I’m still walking my 10,000 steps a day and adding in an occasional run too, but I fear that I’ve got to a stage that I’m still eating too much and what I’m doing is not burning off enough of the calories that I’m consuming. To me there seem to be two options, one is to cut out the naughties in all meals, but I’m one of those people who does enjoy my food and the prospect of cutting out the sugar, cream and occasional fried potato product from my diet does not fill me with any joy.

PeasSo the I think I’ll try the other option – the 5 2 Fast diet where for 70% of the week I can eat almost what I want, leaving me to consume a Monastic 600 calories on the remaining two days of the week. On those two days I can still have the odd portion of yoghurt, plenty of fruit and veg and I’m quite looking forward to a lunch of crushed peas, shoots and new potatoes (minus the butter, of course, but with eggs). The picture is taken from http://www.goodtoknow.co.uk/ my version will not be quite so impressive, I’m sure, but I’ll take a photo of it and it will contain lots of LEAF ingredients.

A diet conundrum

chart 1My new-found interest in weighty matters, has led me to look at food intake in the UK. Given the headlines and concerns over obesity, you would think that we are eating more food than ever. But figures from Defra tell a different story. For the last 70 years Defra and its Min of Ag predecessor have been monitoring food consumption through a large scale survey of ‘typical’ consumers. This shows that in the last 20 years the average calorie intake per person has dropped by a whopping 14%.

But other figures from Public Health England show at the same time, the levels of obesity have continued to rise. So 20 years ago around 14% of the male population were obese, now the figure is 25%, a rise of 79%. Similarly the level of female obesity has increased from 17% to 25%, an increase of 47%

chart2So what is behind this apparent conundrum, that while we have reduced our calorie intake as a nation we have got fatter?

There has to be an element of physical activity in the equation. The last 20 years has seen a continuation of a long-term trend away from manual work. From mining to engineering to much of farm work, automation has replaced hard physical labour. That means fewer calories are burnt. Figures from the www.thefastdiet.co.uk website show that a 40 year old 14 and a half stone man burns off 3550 calories a day doing heavy exercise or a physical job, but the same person who does a non-physical job with little or no exercise burns off just 2250 calories.

The type of food that we are eating may also play a factor. As well as eating more sugar, we are eating more processed food. One theory is that what this processing does is part digest food allowing energy to be taken in more readily by the body and converted into fat if not burnt. As one who is struggling to get the pounds off, it is a theory that should be looked into a little more closely.

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.

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.

Driving forward more sustainable soil management through

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

Anthony Pope

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