Category Archives: Members News

Our members are always up to something, whether it’s winning awards or appearing on TV, the members news blog will keep you updated on their activities.

A few days in the life of a LEAF Demonstration Farmer

Robert Kynaston Nature of Farming winnerGuest post from Rob Kynaston. Rob farms Great Wollaston Farm, a 240 acre mixed family farm in Shropshire. He joined LEAF in 1999, became a Demonstration Farmer in 2002 and is now LEAF’s Vice-Chairman.

Three visits in three days plus other things to stop me farming, apart from the weather.

Harper Adams sustainable farming MSc students with Martin Hare.

Harper Adams sustainable farming MSc students with Martin Hare.

Let’s start on a Friday just over a week ago. 5 students studying sustainable farming MSc and a lecturer from Harper Adams University came for a look at how Integrated Farm Management and sustainability worked together. It was a dry day but very wet under foot, in common with the rest of the country. The discussion revolved around modern farming and its reliance on finite resources and how to change.

Humans have been farming for about 10,000 years and for all but about the last 100 years have been sustainable; that is pretty well farming using only renewable resources. I must admit I also said that when the real problems start I will be dead and turning to humus. But perhaps not; for the following reason!

The weekend. This was taken up with celebrations for my Dad’s 90th birthday. He has slowed up and does not now help out on the farm which I take to be slacking. His mother lived to be 107 and her grandmother also lived to be over 100. So I might have a bit of time to run barring the dangers of farming.

Monday. I am meant to have a visit by Welsh farmers that are interested in environmental farming methods. But there aren’t any! Well there are, but like welsh sheep on tack (paying guests), you can never get more than 3 in one place. So it has been postponed until the organiser can get a good dog to round up a sizable bunch. This new found free time allows me to do something more than just milking and feeding, so I go wild and trim some cows’ feet.


Representation of A level students trying to thaw out after a farm walk

Representation of A level students trying to thaw out after a farm walk

Tuesday. An educational visit by A level Geography students looking at land use, resources and farming now and in the past. That bit I liked because I could do my ‘when I were a lad…’. Unfortunately it was a bitterly cold day and like most teenagers they had dressed for style rather than the weather. I did the walk in record time to return to the meeting room heated by logs from the farm. Again the discussion came down to the use of finite resources for everything we all do, and what the future holds if we, as in everyone, do not change how we consume. I am beginning to feel like a stuck record.

Wednesday. And now for different locations; I talk from time to time on Cross Compliance regulations around the West Midlands and on this day I had not one but two Green Futures meetings. One in the afternoon at Stoneleigh, which was snowed off a few weeks ago, and an evening session at Hawford by Worcester. It was snowing again but it was decided to press on. I met the lovely Donna from CLA who was also speaking and drove to Stoneleigh through swirling snow. The other speakers from Environment Agency, Natural England and NFU made it as did over 50 farmers. We then moved on to Hawford for the evening and the performance was repeated to a new group of farmers.

Thursday. I decided to have some time off (?) and go to Energy Now at Telford to look into biomass boilers; but wished I had stayed at home. That is another story!

Other posts featuring Rob Kynaston:


2012 – not the wettest year?

Dave RobertsGuest post from Dr. David Roberts, Crichton Royal Farm, Dumfries, Scotland – SRUC Dairy Research Centre, a LEAF Innovation Centre.

Crichton Royal Farm is a 252ha farm which, as the SRUC Dairy Research Centre, aims to develop, implement and provide information from sustainable breeding and management systems for dairy cattle. Some of the key objectives include finding ways to improve the health and welfare of UK dairy herds and measuring different systems’ effects on the environment.

Although 2012 was a very wet year with 1358mm of rain, there was actually more rain in 2011 (1433mm). Figure 1 shows the annual rainfall for the last 9 years. The average rainfall for the 33 years (1954 – 1986) was 1041mm, the average for the last 9 years has been 14% higher at 1189mm.

Figure 1

Figure 1

It is not just the monthly average which is important but the rainfall in any one day. The five highest rainfall days for 2012 were:

  • 11th October 34.7mm
  • 20th December 33.7mm
  • 24th September 30.6mm
  • 15th June 30.2mm
  • 24th December 29.9mm

There were another 9 days with over 20mm of rain. These are a long way short of the wettest day on record when almost 100mm of rain was recorded on 30th October 1977.

Comparing 2012 with 2011 (Figure 2) June onwards was wetter in 2012 but 2011 had a very wet January, February and May.

Figure 2

Figure 2

These variable weather patterns provide challenges for managing agricultural businesses. How will 2013 compare?

Mother Nature has always been unpredictable – whilst we can’t control her disposition or the effects thereof, there are certainly important lessons to be learnt from tracking weather patterns. The key thing is to ensure farmers are armed with the right tools to address these challenges through smarter, more integrated, management practices. Integrated Farm Management helps us do just this.

[Note: for an alternative viewpoint at Loddington, Leicestershire, please see Phil Jarvis’ blog here – Met Office v Loddington

The 21st century battle for farmland wildlife

Guest Blog from Martin Harper, Conservation Director, RSPB

Martin Harper has been the RSPB Conservation Director since 2011 and oversees the Society’s work on conservation policy and advocacy, research and acquisition of nature reserves. Prior to joining the RSPB in 2004, Martin spent five years at Plantlife International, having previously run Wildlife & Countryside Link. Educated at Oxford and UCL, Martin undertook fieldwork in the Comores and Mongolia before embarking on a career in policy and advocacy. Away from work, Martin enjoys family life with his wife and two children. He claims that running keeps him sane, while Arsenal FC and the England cricket team provide him with emotional highs and lows.

Our country’s farmed landscapes provide one of our greatest assets.  Managed well they provide large quantities of healthy food and attractive countryside full of colour and the sounds of wildlife which people can enjoy.

But as farmers became increasingly proficient at producing food the second half of the last century, other services that that land offers (from clean water and carbon storage through to healthy wildlife populations) have suffered.  This was the conclusion of the National Ecosystem Assessment produced in 2011.  This also explains why there is a crisis for farmland wildlife.  While much of the damage was done in the 1970s and 1980s as the Common Agriculture Policy incentivised production, despite the best efforts of wildlife-friendly farmers, populations of many farmland birds remain in a critical condition.

As the latest UK Government’s report into the state of the populations of wild birds shows the turtle dove and the grey partridge are displaying staggering reductions in their numbers.

Grey PartridgeOnce widespread in southern Britain, the turtle dove population – which is currently estimated at 14,000 pairs – is now balancing on a knife-edge in the UK, with nearly 60 per cent lost in the five years to 2010. The UK grey partridge population is estimated to be around 43,000 pairs, but this too has fallen, by 30 per cent over the same period.

What is frustrating is that there are farmers doing the right thing.  I was lucky enough to visit the Duke of Norfolk’s estate near Arundel recently and see the impressive turnaround in grey partridge numbers in the past five years – from 3 to 83 pairs.  And there are many others, who we celebrate through our Nature of Farming Awards who are doing similarly great things.

But it is not enough.  We’ve demonstrated at our commercial conventional farm in Cambridgeshire that you can triple the number of farmland birds whilst increasing yields using Entry Level Environmental Stewardship.  This a scheme available to all farmers and is funded through the Rural Development Programme for England as part of the so-called Pillar II of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP).  We have the tools to recover farmland wildlife which is why it is so frustrating that that too few farmers are taking the chance to do the right thing.  LEAF members know this and so do the 3,000 farmers we speak to each year through our farm advice programme.

We need farmers to be the vital guardians of our landscape and wildlife.  And they need support.  This is why we have been making a fuss about the big European debate about the one trillion Euro EU Budget for 2014-2020.

In these times of austerity, cuts across many areas are inevitable, but when the Heads of State met in November the horse-trading and true colours were revealed.  Pillar II was getting hammered with cuts proposed of over 20% in real terms, at a time when we need more investment in the natural environment, not less.

Pillar 2 is not perfect, but it delivers real value for money.  It is the bit of the budget that supports those things for which there is no market – healthy soils, water quality and yes, wildlife.

Perhaps unsurprisingly in these tough times, in a recent RSPB survey, we found that 96% of farmers think environmental work on their farms would be impacted if payments for wildlife-friendly farming were stopped or reduced.  This would have devastating consequences for wildlife across Europe and in the UK.

To our relief, these proposals were not adopted – talks collapsed without agreement and decisions postponed until early next year.

The good news coming from all of this is that there was a greater public debate about the relative merits of the use of European taxpayers money and the CAP itself.  The CAP can be perceived as a dry subject, and getting the wider public to understand how it affects us all – or even to know or care it exists – is a constant challenge.

This is something that LEAF knows well.  Earlier this year LEAF found a shockingly poor level of awareness about where our food comes from amongst young adults.  Conservationists and farmers alike need the general public to be interested in agriculture, and to show government that they care.

The recent nationwide coverage of CAP will have helped more people understand a bit more about the food on our plates, and care a bit more about how their taxes are being spent.  The farmed environment – and the people and wildlife that depend on it – will need their support when the debates resume next year.

LEAF’s President’s Event 2012: The Changing Faces of Sustainability

Our President’s Event last week at HSBC Tower, Canary Wharf, London, presented a line up of brilliant speakers from across the food and farming industry.  The theme of the day was ‘The Changing Faces of Sustainability’ – all part of our 21st birthday celebrations.

LEAF President, Baroness Byford, addresses our guests at LEAF’s President’s Event 2012

Allan Wilkinson, HSBC’s Head of Agriculture, welcomed us and set up the day brilliantly with his kind words of support, “I hope you enjoy the day –I’m proud to be associated with LEAF”.  LEAF Chairman, Stephen Fell, followed with a short talk on the opportunities and challenges ahead.

Keynote speaker Charles Godfray, Hope Professor, University of Oxford, then gave his talk on how we can produce more food, balance human health and the environment and ensure efficiency and equity. Key to his talk was the concept of sustainable intensification, however, Professor Godfray was keen to point out that we need action on all fronts. There will be a full length video of Professor Godfray’s talk available on our YouTube channel shortly – please subscribe for updates.

Charles Godfray, Oxford University

Keynote speaker, Professor Charles Godfray

David Pendlington, Sustainable Sourcing Director at Unilever, followed with his talk on why Unilever are working with LEAF and the opportunities the partnership offers farmers and consumers. Baroness Byford then chaired a short question and answer session with Professor Godfray and David, where questions focused around sustainable intensification, market forces and consumer communications.

Following a short coffee break, Dr David Barling, City University, gave an insight into choice editing and recognition of sustainability amongst the consuming public.  LEAF Demonstration Farmer, Andrew Nottage from Russell Smith Farms, then spoke about his relationship with LEAF, how he farms and his own vision for the future.  Our Chief Executive, Caroline Drummond MBE, then set out LEAF’s highlights over the last 21 years and outlined our future.

After a fantastic LEAF Marque lunch, we brought together LEAF’s founding Chairman, David Richardson, our first LEAF Demonstration Farmer, Robert Lawton and Lord Deben, who was Minister of Agriculture at the time LEAF was formed. They were joined by our current Chairman, Stephen Fell and  new LEAF Demonstration Farmer, Chris Newenham. Tom Heap hosted the discussion, which featured a fascinating  insight into where LEAF came from and where it should be heading.

We would like to say a huge thank you to our fantastic host and President, Baroness Byford, to HSBC for the hospitality and thank everyone who spoke and attended the event. For those of you who couldn’t make it, we will be releasing some videos from the event over the coming weeks (subscribe to our YouTube channel to be updated), and you can catch up with some of the photos from the day in the gallery on flickr.

You can also read all the tweets from the day (#LPE12) here.

[Update 26/11/2012] We now have an event highlight video showcasing some of the thoughts of the speakers and guests.

A Showcase for Sustainable Farming – Overbury Farms

Caroline Drummond, Jake Freestone and Penelope Bossom

Caroline Drummond, Jake Freestone and Penelope Bossom

Long standing LEAF members, Overbury Farms, have become the latest farm to be launched as a LEAF Demonstration Farm.

Many of you will be forgiven to think that Overbury Farms are already a LEAF Demonstration Farm! They have taken a very active involvement in all our activities since they joined us in 2003 – they were one of the first farms to sign up for our very first Open Farm Sunday back in 2006 and have achieved LEAF Marque certification on all their lamb. Farm Manager, Jake Freestone is an avid tweeter and blogger and can often be heard expounding on the benefits of LEAF membership!

Overbury Farms, set within the Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the historic slopes of Bredon Hill on the Worcestershire/Gloucestershire border, was formally launched as a LEAF Demonstration Farm last week by local farmer Mark Tufnell from Calmsden Farms. Along with our 40 other Demonstration Farms, Overbury will play an important role in promoting the sustainable farming principles of Integrated Farm Management.

They will host visits to farmers, community groups, conservation organisations and local schools, to show how they are combining commercial farming with the highest standards of agricultural best practice and environmental care.

Jake Freestone, Penelope Bossom, Mark Tufnell and Caroline Drummond

Jake Freestone, Penelope Bossom, Mark Tufnell and Caroline Drummond

Speaking at the launch, Jake said he was delighted at achieving this recognition, “Overbury has a long tradition of farming with nature. Following the sustainable farming principles of Integrated Farm Management, we are able to strike the right balance between commercial farming, environmental sensitivity and linking with our local community. We want other farmers to be inspired by what we are doing and to help the public get a better understanding of how their food is produced as well as how their countryside and its wildlife are cared for. We look forward to reaching out to diverse groups and showing them what we are trying to achieve here at Overbury Farms.”

If you would like to visit any of LEAF’s Demonstration Farms, take a look here. You can see photos from the launch on our flickr page and on facebook.

LEAF’s President’s Event 2012: The Changing Faces of Sustainability

The title of our President’s Event this year is ‘The changing faces of sustainability’

It’s that time of year again, where the weather takes a turn for the worse (if it can!) and the mornings and evenings get darker. On the plus side it’s also the time of year when we hold our annual President’s Event – and this year it’s a good one!

Held at HSBC Tower on Canary Wharf, London (many thanks to HSBC for their kind support again), this year’s event has been extended to include an afternoon session featuring some well known faces, including Tom Heap, David Richardson, Chris Newenham, The Rt. Hon John Gummer, Lord Deben, Stephen Fell and Robert Lawton.  All have been involved in LEAF over our 21 years and we’re delighted to bring them together to discuss our future.

Before the afternoon discussion, we have another top line up with keynote speaker Professor Charles Godfray, Hope Professor, University of Oxford followed by talks from David Pendlington, Unilever, Dr David Barling, City University, Andrew Nottage, Russell Smith Farms, Stephen Fell, LEAF Chairman, Caroline Drummond, LEAF Chief Executive, Allan Wilkinson, HSBC Bank and the Rt. Hon Michael Jack, HSBC Bank.

You can download a complete programme here.

The day starts at 9:30 am on November 14th, and we would be delighted to see you there, whether you’re a lifelong LEAF member, or whether you’re just interested, everyone is invited and best of all it’s completely FREE! However, you must book your place for security and catering reasons, and the sooner the better because places are limited. To book your place contact by 31st October 2012.

See you there!

LEAF Marque at the Grange Farm, Mickle Trafford

Photo: Courtesy Natural England

Huw Rowlands farms at Grange Farm, Mickle Trafford. Here he tells us of his journey to becoming LEAF Marque certified and how it has affected the way he farms now.

Here at The Grange Farm in Mickle Trafford we run Red Poll cattle as a single suckler herd, producing top quality beef which we wholesale to local pubs and restaurants and to Williamsons Butchers in Waterloo, Liverpool, and retail from the farm and at various farmers markets.  It’s a far cry from eight years ago when the farm was losing money on milk and was home to a herd of Friesian cattle.  The farm is in both Entry Level and Higher Level Stewardship with Educational Access, and we host around sixty visits a year including taking part in Open Farm Sunday and Heritage Open Days, and are heavily involved with the Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s Gowy Connect Project.  We grow small areas of low input spring barley, game cover crop and pollen and nectar mix as part of our Stewardship Scheme, and have ten hectares of poplar plantations for commercial use.  Perhaps the main change has been the philosophy of how we farm.  Rather than working against the land, we now work with it.

Pollen and Nectar Mix

In 2009 we stopped using manufactured fertilisers, partly because of cost, but mainly because we had discovered that our soils were degraded, and this was contributing to major problems with the health of our Red Poll herd.  We now use a small amount of treated sewage cake and a vast quantity of green compost from Waste Recycling Group at the nearby Gowy Landfill Site.  Being fairly extensive, the next logical step was to consider becoming fully organic, but we were prevented from doing so by two factors.  One was the use of sewage cake, and the other was that we would have had to send cattle for slaughter at an organically accredited abattoir, with the nearest being at Uttoxeter (60 miles away) or on Anglesey (80 miles away).  This would have led us to having to charge more for lower quality beef from more stressed animals which had travelled further to be killed.  We were also concerned about the environmental impact of the increase in extra fuel which this would have entailed.

Red Poll Steers on the moove!

So LEAF Marque accreditation seemed ideal, and we went for it and gained it for the first time in February 2011.  LEAF Marque has been a huge benefit in terms of publicity and marketing to the extent that we are now struggling to meet the demand for our Red Poll beef.  It is a guarantee to our customers that we are managing the land in a sustainable way and caring for our cattle to the highest standards.  The rigorous annual audit helps to ensure that good intentions are put into practice, and being in LEAF Marque is helping us to save money by encouraging, for example, rainwater harvesting and reduced fuel use.  Do I really need to use a tractor and trailer, or could I just do the job with a wheelbarrow?!

Willow Spiling: traditional bank restoration on the River Gowy funded by the Cheshire Wildlife Trust and the Environment Agency, and completed by The Conservation Volunteers (formerly BTCV)

It may seem a big step to take, but I urge livestock farmers to look at joining the growing ranks of LEAF Marque producers.  You will find you can both save money and command a premium price for what you work so hard to produce.  And, as importantly, it is immensely satisfying seeing the increase in biodiversity on the farm year by year.

Red Polls conservation grazing on the Gowy Meadows

A hare’s whisker?

Remember back in April, we called for wildlife-friendly farmers to enter the RSPB Telegraph Nature of Farming Awards?

Well, now it’s time to vote! There are two LEAF members in the final four, and after we had LEAF members, Somerset and Carolyn Charrington win last year, we’d love to see LEAF members win this year too! The ones to look out for are Rob Allan, Upton Estate, and Peter Knight, Norfolk Estate.  Kathryn Smith, tells us more…

Kathryn Smith is an Agriculture Project Manager with the RSPB, supporting the delivery of free, practical advice and support to farmers across the UK who are stepping up and do their bit for wildlife. The Nature of Farming Award forms just a small part of that – find out more about what’s on offer at

The voting period for this year’s RSPB Telegraph Nature of Farming Award is well underway, with four farmers vying for the top spot as the UK’s most wildlife-friendly farmer. There’s only a hare’s whisker separating them, so we are all on tenterhooks watching the votes come in.  Will the overall winner be the Jess Ennis of 2012, leading all the way, or is there a Mo Farah biding his time to take the lead at the crucial moment?

Funded by the EU LIFE+ Programme, the Nature of Farming Award is the largest farmland wildlife competition in the UK, and along with our partners at Plantlife and Butterfly Conservation, it gives us a chance to celebrate the farmers that are making our countryside a better place. I’ve been lucky enough to visit one of the farms in the final and was utterly inspired by the work going on there, and the passion and dedication of the farmer. But I’ve also spoken to colleagues who have worked with each of the other finalists, and I know the same is true for them all!

LEAF members and Nature of Farming Awards finalists, Rob Allan and Peter Knight

These farmers are a real inspiration for what can be achieved, and I’m quite glad that I don’t have to make the final decision about the overall winner! That’s down to you and the thousands of others who vote to show their support for farmers who provide for wildlife at the same time as running profitable businesses. You can show your support for the vital role that farming plays in conservation by voting – to help you make up your mind, listen to what the finalists have to say on our Nature’s Voice podcast.

Voting closes on 5 September 2012 and by voting you will be in with a chance of winning a luxury break for 2 at Ragdale Hall.

If you’re inspired by what you see, why not consider entering the 2013 competition? Email

Introducing… Avondale

Johnathan Grieve, Proprietor, Avondale Wines

Avondale is a family owned and family run South African wine farm located near Paarl in the spectacular Western Cape. The farm has been under cultivation for more than 300 years and prides itself in producing fine wines with care for the environment, using holistic farming methods.  Avondale have won numerous awards in recognition of their commitment to environmentally sensitive farming and were the first wine producers in South Africa to become LEAF Marque certified.  Here, we chat to Jonathan Grieve, Proprietor about wine, weather, water and ducks!

How did it all begin and what inspires you?
My family bought the estate in 1996 and at that stage it was very run down and farmed conventionally. I started working on Avondale in 1999 fresh out of studying fine art, I soon become aware that the conventional methods where not working as they preached. So I started to look at alternatives which lead me back to the natural way. As they say the rest is history and that was the start of our system that we call BioLOGIC®.

Avondale were one of the first South African wine producers to be awarded the ‘Biodiversity in Wine’ certification – what’s the secret of your success?
Well our approach to production is quite simple, we always ask the question; “Does Mother Nature approve?”, if the answer is yes then we are happy if no, we need to go back to the drawing board. We want a living natural self-sustaining system which only comes from a holistic approach.

Why LEAF Marque?
One of the main reasons is that we sell our wines and fruit in the UK market and naturally with all the initiatives that Avondale has in place LEAF made sense from an external audited standard. This way we can talk about what we do and it’s also externally validated.

You pride yourselves in taking a more environmentally-friendly, holistic approach to wine production.  What role does LEAF and Integrated Farm Management play at Avondale?
Well we believe our BioLOGIC® system goes a lot further than any conventional standard requires, we do every thing from nurturing the smallest bacteria in the soil, through to the largest animal we have on Avondale. It’s a true holistic approach; of course LEAF and IFM have certain structures that bring different aspects into focus from a managerial perspective which is very positive.

You have developed your own unique approach to viticulture called ‘BioLOGIC®’ – what’s it all about?
Well it’s all about creating living systems naturally, it has three basic pillars namely organise, biodynamics and modern science all combined to form a living system. For more in-depth information you can visit my blog on

You practice slow wine making – what is it and why?
Well it’s all about firstly producing the best possible grapes full of flavour and expression of place and then the wine making needs to take this raw material and get it into the bottle and to the customer. We believe the only way to do this is in the natural slow wine making principles. So we make use of only natural fermentations with almost no additives (No acid, sugar, enzymes yeast etc.) We do much more warmer fermentations and because of the natural fermentations some of the wines can take up to six months to ferment. But this is really where all the flavour and mouth feel comes from.

At the end we want to produce wines that are very expressive from where they come from, not “Factory made”! Wines that express the soils, the climate and the place they are made, so when one of our customers open a bottle of Avondale it’s unlike anything else. That’s why we do it!

We produce extraordinary wines approved by Mother Nature!

Your ethos is Terra Est Vita, which means ‘Soil is Life’ – what does this mean in practice at Avondale?
Well it’s the base of everything, if you don’t have a living soil you will not have a living farm. So we start with a very integrated soil balancing system to “restock the pantry” from a natural broad spectrum nutrient perspective. This is because through broad spectrum nutrition you get plant heath less decease, less weed competition and ultimately a living as nature intended. Of course we use no chemicals at all on Avondale.

We also have a very integrated cover cropping system that we grow diverse mixes of crops throughout the year in the vines and orchards which chief goal is to feed the natural soil food web. Of course it also does a lot of other beneficial things such as nitrogen binding through legumes, natural tillage, erosion control and provides an environment for all the natural predators etc. to be in the soil and vineyard.

You control pests and diseases using natural methods. Can you tell us more about your approach and your famous duck posse?!
At Avondale we mimic the ways that Nature supports natural predators in the system so as to curb disease and regulate infestations.

  • At the micro-level we make use of two strains of beneficial bacteria to combat downy mildew and harmful worms.
  • When necessary, we release the predatory wasp known as the mealy bug destroyer to combat attacks by mealy bugs.
  • On the larger scale, Spotted Eagle Owls, Rock Kestrels, Yellow-billed and Black-shouldered Kites occur naturally on the farm and we have encouraged these birds of prey to do their work of rodent control where we need it most by erecting tall poles for convenient perching and owl houses in the vineyards.

Perhaps the most picturesque of our natural pest management methods is the employment of a posse of glossy white Pekin ducks who range through green vineyards on snail patrol. These ducks are entrained from young to voluntarily gather in the custom-made ‘duck-mobile’ and go out each weekday to do their work. Happily, they waddle between the vines and forage in the cover crops for snails. They are a highly effective and cost-efficient team who protect us from the damage that snails can do without having to resort to poisonous bait or the organically approved substitutes for snail control.

Have a look at the video to see the ducks at work

We have learnt from Nature that there are always better alternatives and we are constantly seeking new ways to strengthen the ecosystem as a whole, such as our current investigations into being an attractive environment for bats which do great work at moth control.

Photographs courtesy of Avondale via flickr

Bringing it all together

Last week, LEAF’s Chairman, Stephen Fell, joined our Technical Day in Yorkshire. Here’s what he had to say.

Stephen Fell, LEAF Chairman, with James Hinchcliffe, Top House Farm, and Lynda Deeks, Cranfield University

On Tuesday of last week I headed off to our local LEAF Technical Field Day hosted by the Hinchcliffe family at Rawcliffe Bridge near Goole, Yorkshire. BASF have been carrying out field trials there for 16 years and for the last 10 have supported biodiversity practice to show how good commercial farming can be totally compatible with good environmental management.
I was greeted with a chorus of skylark song – so on cue that momentarily one suspected an amplified recording!

The interesting thing is that the skylarks nest in the cover crops but feed on insects in the wheat. The Hinchcliffes haven’t used insecticides in their crops for many years and are now appreciating the multiple benefits of that policy.

This day brought together experts in soil structure, water quality management, active biodiversity management, new chemistry and communicating with the public. Quite a range you might think, but all areas which LEAF brings together so well in the wheel of Integrated Farm Management.

I found the new chemistry fascinating – increasing the kilograms of wheat produced per kilogram of nitrogen used, reducing the tonnes of water used per tonne of wheat produced by 30%, and most interesting of all, ways of increasing root biomass by up to 45%. I firmly believe that learning how to grow roots is at the heart of our next leap in yield – and this encompasses soil structure, and a much greater understanding of soil microbial activity and nutrient availability.

Soil erosion was something I always thought happened in areas of arable cultivation on steep land in the high rainfall areas of the country. I was knocked back to learn that the Elvington treatment works in the Vale of York removes 10,000 tonnes of topsoil from water every year. We certainly still have a lot to learn about managing soil runoff. We all think we know about soil compaction, but how often do we actually take out the spade and dig the hole? The good operators do.

In charting the astonishing increase in bird species and numbers as well as pollinators, over the years, Graham Hartwell, BASF’s Stewardship Manager, had an important message – “the simple things make a difference”. The areas of cover crop and bird seed mixtures don’t need to be huge (2% of the farm in this case) but go for a continuity of food supply by planting something in the autumn and the spring, using mixtures that are proven, and feed birds extra over winter if necessary.

Tamara Hall, a successful Yorkshire pioneer in Open Schools Days in the run up to Open Farm Sunday, again gave simple messages about communicating with the public. The rewards to both giver and recipient were plain to see.

What a good day it was, with all attendees going away with plenty to think about. I would encourage any of you to go along to one of these LEAF events – they are so much more than just a farm walk.