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.
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).
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.
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.