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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.