Tag Archives: agriculture

Visit the Open Farm Sunday Roadshow when it stops near you!

David Jones, Morley Farms Ltd

David Jones, Morley Farms Ltd

In the third of our fortnightly series of posts all about Open Farm Sunday and engaging the public on your farm, David Jones, Farm Manager at Morley Farms Ltd, invites you to the Open Farm Sunday Roadshow of Information Events. Subscribe to this blog to receive updates directly to your inbox!

To retain its competitive edge, a Formula 1 team would keep its innovations and designs under wraps until the last minute. But most farming businesses are somewhat different – after all, most of what we do is done outside. If I did find a new variety of golden beans, then it would be out growing in a field for all to see!  As commodity producers we are not in direct competition with each other, so we can open our gates and openly discuss what we do. This is the reason why I think Open Farm Sunday works so well.

Every year LEAF holds events for host farmers and this year, we’re going one step further with a new Roadshow of 24 events across Britain from Exeter to Inverness!  Each Information Event is not only for newcomers to Open Farm Sunday, but experienced hosts who want a refresher and gather new ideas and top tips including the all-important health and safety.

Wherever you manage to catch the Roadshow, I’m sure you will be inspired.  All events follow the same format, however there is the flexibility to address specific concerns and embrace the experience of people in the room, sharing ideas and solutions to common problems.

At one event I ran last year, a farmer in Essex was worried that they had a small farm down a narrow lane and lived near a large population of people. What if thousands of people turned up and what if it rained? The advice was maybe having a ‘ticket only’ event with a restricted number of people. Or limiting promotion of the event by giving quantities of event flyers to local primary schools to put in their book bags.  Or just go for it and have lots of friends and neighbours on standby to help if required on the day. As for parking, maybe they could borrow part of a neighbour’s field.

Open Farm Sunday Information Event

Open Farm Sunday Information Event

Many of the questions revolve around health and safety. The first step is to apply some common sense. Look around the farm for anything that is sharp/pointy/oily/dirty/greasy/slippery. Protect from visitors by cleaning, covering or removing it from the site, but best of all simply keep it behind a barrier or fence.

One of the most critical things is to prevent animal faeces coming in contact with people, particularly children under 5 years. If you want some bedtime reading the ‘Preventing or controlling ill health from animal contact at visitor attractions – Industry Code of Practice‘ gives some up to date information.  And join the Roadshow when it stops at a town near you for all the latest information.

If you’re interested in opening your farm for Open Farm Sunday – click here to find out more! Open Farm Sunday Information Events are taking place all over the UK throughout February, March and April – visit the Open Farm Sunday website here to find one near you.

About David

David Jones is a farm manager for Morley Farms Ltd in Norfolk growing 730 hectares of combinable crops and sugar beet. The farm also hosts about 35ha field trials for NIAB TAG, the John Innes Centre, Agrovista and others. Every year the farm has about 800 visitors including school children, students, farmers, consultants and international groups. David has helped and co-hosted several Open farm Sunday events and in 2013 became Regional Coordinator for the eastern region.

Sustainable Agriculture: Show me the money

Next week (it’s come around quickly!), we will be holding our annual President’s Event in London. As always, the response has been tremendous and we’re now fully booked. However, for the first time this year, you can follow the event live on our website! Commentating on the event live will be LEAF Trustee, Cedric Porter – click here to go to the live event page.

The theme of this year’s event is ‘Sustainable Agriculture: Show me the money’. Valuing the outputs of sustainable agriculture is an incredibly difficult task, the public goods farming delivers are vast and often difficult to quantify. This conference will explore the three pillars of sustainability, debate new ideas on how money can be made from each of them and examine LEAF’s role in making this happen.

We interviewed LEAF’s Chief Executive, Caroline Drummond about the theme of this year’s event, you can see the video below. Caroline spoke about the increasing demands society is placing on what it expects from agriculture – ranging from a plentiful supply of affordable food, traceability, a thriving environment and access to a well-managed landscape, bringing with it a host of health and wellbeing benefits.  She explained that new ways of thinking need to be explored to ensure farmers are able to deliver on all these levels, whilst also looking after their own bottom line.   Ultimately, she said, profitability has to lie at the very heart of sustainability.

Get involved in the event by tweeting with the hashtag #LPE13 and follow the event live here!  To keep up to date with our President’s Event, please subscribe to LEAF’s EBrief here.

Changing Perceptions

What a sea change we have seen over recent years in the consuming public’s perception of agriculture. True, the same weary suspects still trot out their mantras about intensive farming ruining the environment, hedgerows ripped out and farmland bird populations reaching dangerous levels, but the reality, I believe, is that many people now have a much greater appreciation of agriculture’s role in producing safe, wholesome food, and that they care about the land that they are custodians of.

The horse meat scandal, the effects of atrocious weather with repercussions affecting two harvests, the plight of some farmers in less favoured areas, and the real hardship of farmers coping with bovine TB, have been regular features in the media.  More people have taken holidays in the UK this year and have discovered how truly beautiful our countryside is.  Here in Yorkshire where I farm, we are spoilt for choice with the unique landscape of the Dales, the purple majesty of the North York Moors, and the rolling splendour of the fertile Wolds.  The barren wastes and the ‘silent spring’ don’t seem to exist as the London based left-wing intelligentsia would have us believe.

LEAF has played a major part in this, with its role in improving communications and engaging local communities. Over a million people have visited farms during Open Farm Sunday since it started seven years ago.  Others visit LEAF Demonstration Farms throughout the year. The NFU has also played a huge role in calmly putting farming’s case in the face of scares and media hysteria.

608The recent “Harvest” series of three programmes on prime time BBC2 shows how far we have come. Andrew Burgess, a LEAF trustee and LEAF Marque producer demonstrated in a most genuine way his passion for growing a range of wholesome vegetables to the highest standard, on a large scale to high environmental standards.  What was noticeable was that the presenters were so enthusiastic about this modern, technology driven harvest, and there was no carping about industrial farming and reliance on poisonous pesticides and fertilisers. Andrew, and his fellow farmers on subsequent nights, have made us a lot of friends out there.

stephen-fellStephen Fell is LEAF’s Chairman and Managing Director of the family farming business HR Fell and Sons Ltd, running a flock of 1000 sheep and growing root crops at Thorganby in the Vale of York. He is also Managing Director of Lindum Turf, a business growing and marketing a range of turf and specialist grass and wildflower products.

Precision Farming at Thrales End

We have a new video to share with you! Filmed with LEAF Demonstration Farmer, Ian Pigott, all about precision farming.  Precision farming has the potential to deliver both economic and environmental benefits, which makes it an option worth a look for any farmer looking to farm more sustainably.

In the video, Soyl’s Tom Parker explains what precision farming is and the benefits of the system. Then, Ian talks through his decision to take up precision farming, the benefits he’s experienced and the costs of getting started. Take a look below and let us know what you think about precision farming, and your experiences of it, in the comments below.

This is the first of a series of videos that we’ll be uploading over the coming weeks, subscribe to our channel on YouTube to get them direct to your inbox!

Record breaking year for Open Farm Sunday

 “What people do not understand, they do not value; what they do not value, they will not protect, and what they do not protect, they will lose.” — Charles Jordan

Engaging the public with food and farming is one of the key building blocks of sustainable farming. It’s why we have organised Open Farm Sunday for the last 8 years. Over 365 farms all over the UK opened their gates for this year’s Open Farm Sunday (9th June) and initial estimates indicate that they welcomed over 200, 000 people. We’re overwhelmed each year by the number of visitors that experience farming on this one day, and it’s all down to the farmers who take part – well done to all of them!

The public’s appetite for supporting British farmers and eating home grown food has never been higher.  A recent survey carried out by grocery think-tank, IGD, shows that shoppers are nearly 150% more likely to buy British food than they were six years ago, with younger shoppers and families driving this growth.   From the number of people getting out onto farms last Sunday, it seems they not only want to buy British, they want to learn more about how it’s grown.

Enriching visits to farms have a huge role to play in contributing to our understanding of food, how it’s produced and its links with nature. Farm visits demand our engagement and reflection. They are a valuable trigger for wider thinking about sustainable farming, healthy food choices and our place in the natural world,  and it seems they are becoming ever more popular.  Just ahead of Open Farm Sunday, Asda surveyed over a thousand of its shoppers.  43% said that it was important to visit farms to support British farmers, with many preferring to visit a farm than outings to zoos, safari parks, funfairs and even theme parks.  This interest in food provenance is a really encouraging trend.  The challenge now is to turn this interest into action.   If, after their Open Farm Sunday visit, just a few people start to change their buying patterns to more sustainably produced food, then it will have done its job.

It’s not only the public who are keen to reach out to farmers.  It’s working the other way too, with many farmers using social media tools to connect with their customers.  In a small survey of our LEAF members, three quarters of farmers said the web had helped them get closer to their customers and many now use Twitter and Facebook as their main means of communication.

So, what does the record number of people visiting farms last Sunday tell us?  It tells us that more and more people are interested in their food, they want to learn more about how it’s grown, talk to the farmers out in the field, discover more about the wonderful countryside around them and enjoy the space and freedom that it offers.  In essence, they want to engage.

Our job at LEAF is to harness this enthusiasm.  To inspire people to go on being interested throughout the year, not just on Open Farm Sunday.  To question where their food comes from, how it’s been grown and to turn this knowledge into meaningful behavioural change.  To deepen understanding of where food comes from and how farming contributes to the landscape around us. We don’t just want to see them making healthy food choices, we want to see sustainable food choices.

The Open Farm Sunday photography competition is in full swing and we’ve received more entries than ever before already – you can enter here.  Head over to the Open Farm Sunday Pinterest board to see a whole host of images we collected over the last few weeks.

Finally, next year’s Open Farm Sunday will take place on the 8th June 2014 so put the date in your diary now!

Measuring what matters

This post also features on the 2degrees network here. 2degrees is the world’s leading community for sustainable business.

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure” goes the old management adage. Over the 21 years of LEAF’s existence we’ve gathered a lot of data on farming practices. We’re now taking the next step towards effective measuring of sustainable farming, with our initial results in our new report ‘LEAF – Driving Sustainability’ (launched 19th March 2013).

Sustainability report front coverMuch of the data in the report was from the LEAF Audit. This is one of the tools we offer our farming members. It is a self-assessment farm management tool, which helps farmers take a look at their farm and guides them towards more sustainable practices. The flip side of this is that we can then use this information to monitor trends and assess the progress of our members towards delivering more sustainable agriculture.

We developed 24 objectives for sustainable farming and scored progress towards the objectives using data submitted by LEAF Audit users. Doing this has allowed us to spot trends over time and to assess performance under each of the three pillars of sustainability – economic performance, environmental quality and social health.

We found that farmers who complete the LEAF Audit have an impressive average sustainability index rating of 2.50 out of 3, indicating that the majority of LEAF Audit users’ businesses are economically, environmentally and socially robust. LEAF farmers are strongest when it comes to Environmental Quality with an average score of 2.57, followed closely by Economic Performance at 2.53 and Social Health at 2.13. Although Social Health, which includes engagement with the community, has a lower rating, it is in this area that the greatest gains have been made over the last three years.

Sustainability dashboard

We’ve presented this information in much more detail in our report ‘LEAF – Driving Sustainability’. We set out to do this as transparently as possible; the source of much of the data in the report comes from LEAF Audit responses over the last three years. We also ran two surveys, one with a group of LEAF farmers and another targeted at the food industry to gather views on sustainable food and farming. Richard Perkins, Food, Agriculture and Land Use Specialist at WWF UK, spoke at our seminar at the International Food and Drink Event when we launched the report. He shared his views and advice on developing sustainable farming indicators, “Sustainable farming indicators need to be simple and few. LEAF needs to develop robust and innovative ways of measuring how farmers are progressing towards sustainability targets. They have made a brave start. Moving forward, it is critical that they engage with the wider food and farming sector to ensure that measurement systems are applicable to all farms, not just LEAF farms.”

We wanted to have a few simple indicators and we’ve ended with 24 objectives, which could be simplified. I think this is quite indicative of a first attempt but we’re not hiding from that, we’ve put it out there for the industry and we want your views.

The report is available to download here. Please feel free to share your views with us as comments here, on twitter or via email.

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:

Simply Sustainable Water

Water management is a global issue; however, the solutions must happen locally. The challenge and opportunity for farmers is how to produce more food, using less water, whilst protecting its quality. In the UK we have historically taken water, and its availability, for granted, but the last five years of extreme weather patterns has started to make us increasingly more aware of the challenges and importance of its management.

On farm, water is one of the most important natural resources, whether sourced from rain, rivers or aquifers, too much or too little can cause major challenges. Sudden rainfall events can lead to loss of nutrients and crop protection products and loss of timeliness of operations, while in severe droughts, farmers can struggle to keep livestock and crops alive. Increasingly, farmers will need to adapt to the ‘yo-yo’ effect of drought and flooding, however, putting effective long term risk management strategies into practice can be challenging.

SSWToday, we are delighted to be launching ‘Simply Sustainable Water’ in association with ASDA and Molson Coors Brewing Company. Demonstrating our joint commitment to raising awareness and opportunities for the best of water management and protection.

Measuring progress and delivering change is at the heart of LEAF’s work through the adoption of Integrated Farm Management and this booklet will help you do just that. If you make only one change on your land this year as a farmer, then make this your first step.

‘Simply Sustainable Water’ is available to download free of charge here and you can see a video showing the booklet in practice at Overbury Farms below.

stephen-fellStephen Fell is LEAF’s Chairman and Managing Director of the family farming business HR Fell and Sons Ltd, running a flock of 1000 sheep and growing root crops at Thorganby in the Vale of York. He is also Managing Director of Lindum Turf, a business growing and marketing a range of turf and specialist grass and wildflower products.


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.