Category Archives: integrated farm management

LEAF Marque delivering added value to members

The results of independent research into the added value of LEAF Marque certification were released last week.  The study, commissioned by LEAF and carried out by CCRI (The Countryside and Community Research Institute), reveals that LEAF Marque certification can offer significant financial, environmental and social benefits for farm businesses both in the UK and overseas.  Kathryn Green, LEAF Sustainability Manager, explains more.

The provision of robust, transparent and independent evaluation to support the claims we make about the benefits of LEAF Marque certification, are a vital part of our continual improvement.  This new study, carried out by The Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI), showed that for many businesses the value of participating in the LEAF Marque assurance system reached beyond their initial motivations for joining, which were predominantly financial, and helped them develop their businesses in ways they had not previously considered.

This independent study, carried out exclusively with LEAF Marque certified businesses builds on previous work the CCRI carried out in 2010 which looked more broadly at the benefits to farmers of LEAF membership. Key findings of the report include:

Improved market opportunities

97% of those surveyed reported that LEAF Marque certification had helped secure access to new market opportunities, with 23% reporting receiving a price premium for their LEAF Marque certified product. LEAF Marque certification was also reported to help farms qualify for other income streams, such as agri-environmental schemes.

Improved financials

36% of participants reported significant extra income as a result of being LEAF Marque certified.  Focusing on LEAF’s Integrated Farm Management principles, which underpin the LEAF Marque Standard, was also shown to make operations more efficient in areas such as energy, soil, biodiversity, water and crop health. In energy efficiency, for example, more than half of participants reported making savings of between £10,000 and £17,000 per year.

Improved biodiversity

66% of farmers who took part in the study reported increased biodiversity with many noting marked improvements in observed farmland birds, insects and mammals.

 

Improved community engagement

71% reported improved relationships with the public from being LEAF Marque certified, through hosting farm visits, maintaining footpaths and having a strong social media presence. An improved engagement with the wider agricultural sector was also reported by 47% of participants. Participants were unanimous in their support for the way LEAF promotes public engagement with many seeing this as of strategic importance for their business.

The study also supports LEAF’s ongoing commitment to adhere to ISEAL’s (International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labelling) Codes of Good Practice. As a Full Member of the ISEAL Alliance, we are committed to systematically monitoring, researching and reporting on the outcomes of the LEAF Marque assurance system.  LEAF’s monitoring and evaluation programme helps inform stakeholders and drive change and improvement.

These are very encouraging results which clearly show that LEAF Marque certification is delivering tangible economic, environmental and social benefits to farm businesses. All the participants in the study found value in being LEAF Marque certified.  The attention to detail required in implementing LEAF’s Integrated Farm Management principles, which underpin the LEAF Marque Standard, is empowering farmers to make positive changes towards more sustainable farming.

The provision of robust, independent studies of this type allow us to evaluate the impact of LEAF Marque certification and ensure that it continues to deliver meaningful benefits to growers and consumers alike. The results of this research clearly indicate we are heading in the right direction.  We will build on the findings and look to extend the reach and impact of LEAF Marque certification across the globe. We are brilliantly placed to inspire and empower farmers on their journey to more sustainable farming and look forward to continuing to help them do it.

The full report ‘The effect and impact of LEAF Marque in the delivery of more sustainable farming: a study to understand the added value to farmers’ can be downloaded here together with the report summary, LEAF’s response and key highlights.  If you have questions or comments about these reports, we would like to hear them. Please email: enquiries@leafuk.org

 

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Touching on the Technology of Sustainable Farming

On the 25th May, LEAF will hold its second Integrated Farm Management (IFM) Conference at FERA Science Ltd, York, kindly supported by Bayer. Titled, Technology and Progression in IFM, the conference will draw on research and demonstration activities of the LEAF Network to explore the current role of  technology  in IFM and how technology will shape and progress IFM moving forwards.  For more information and to book on, please click here. Ahead of this, we ask Caroline Drummond, LEAF Chief Executive to reflect on the rise of technology in farming, how it has shaped the farming landscape and its future role.

Technology is integral in providing healthy food to people and has helped to increase yields and improve the management of farms throughout the UK and the world.

The FAO states that food production will need to increase by 70% by 2050 to feed the projected 9 billion people living on earth. Agri-technology has a significant role to play in this, in terms of optimising food production as well as continuing to improve the positive effects of farming on environment and people’s health. The importance of this role is reflected in the support given to agri-technology through the four UK’s Agri-tech centres, and LEAF is pleased to be working with these centres as they develop their partnerships and activities.

Marginal Gains

Much on-farm technology is focussed on adding relatively small proportional changes in farm output. However, together  these  small incremental improvements can equate to significant advances on-farm. This ‘marginal gains’ approach is central to the principles of Integrated Farm Management where attention to detail is key to optimising efficiency.

Information and technology has an important role to play in IFM and we will be exploring new advances in Precision Farming at our conference and assessing opportunities and barriers for farmers in this area.

Information Technology

With technology, comes information, or more accurately ‘data’. Interpreting this data, managing it and using it to improve practices can be a challenge. Indeed, there is a saying ‘we are drowning in information and hungry for knowledge’.

The afternoon session of the conference will focus on the interoperability and user-friendliness of some of these technologies, what the barriers are when using them on farm in a variety of sectors and looking ahead to any potentially unforeseen consequences. The LEAF Demonstration Farmers are inherently early adopters and we will be learning from their experiences.

Precision Management

LEAF Demonstration Farmer, Andrew Francis from Elveden Farms will highlight the use of precision farming methods in large scale vegetable production

Over the last 30 years Precision Farming has developed significantly across all sectors, whether  managing soils in a more targeted way or individualising herd management.  Our IFM Conference speakers will discuss the development and use of many of these technologies. Professor Mark Rutter from Harper Adams University, a LEAF Innovation Centre, will examine strategies to monitor animal behaviour and what this can tell us in terms of disease risk and time-saving opportunities.  Andrew Francis from Elveden Farms, a LEAF Demonstration Farm, will highlight his work on the wide range of vegetable crops grown at Elveden, bringing a whole new level of complexity and required precision when applying new technology to individual and often specialist crops. Greater precision around pesticide application and disposal will also be discussed by Alice Johnston from Bayer, also a LEAF Innovation Centre, as well as some of their new developments.

Precision and continual assessment and improvement is an integral part of a good Integrated Farm Management system and technology offers opportunities for greater accuracy here.

Robotics

In recent years’ robotics and autonomous machines have become areas of interest in farming gaining significant attention in the media.  Automated trackers follow pre-programmed routes and release chemicals at set times, reducing human error and improving on-farm management. These machines have the potential to help manage crops, save energy and reduce pollution and wastes.  Drones can be used to help measure the health of a crop and a field’s soil conditions. This information is then relayed to the farmer who can solve issues in crop or soil health accordingly for example only applying fertiliser in areas where it is needed.

LEAF is proud to be at the forefront of the development of IFM through our LEAF Network as well as our involvement in various UK and EU wide projects. Creating partnerships through projects and farming networks allows LEAF to lead the way to collaborative, innovative and effective solutions to current problems in agriculture and challenges of the future.  We look forward to exploring strategies to drive change in farming practices, the adoption of technology and the development of cutting edge innovations at our IFM Conference on the 25th May. For more information and to book your FREE place, please click here.

Our grateful thanks to Bayer and Fera for supporting this year’s IFM Conference.

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