Tag Archives: environment

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!


Introducing… Westlands

westlandslogopurple_HighResWestland Nurseries are one of the UK’s largest commercial growers of micro-leaf, sea vegetables, edible flowers, oriental leaves, heirloom tomatoes, and loads more!  They offer an extraordinary range (known as collections) of innovative and exciting products to chefs, the food service industry and consumers.  Westlands joined LEAF in 2007 and became LEAF Marque certified four years later.  Technical Specialist, Liz Donkin explains more about the Westlands way…


Tell us a bit more about Westlands, what is the secret of your success?
We started off in the 1960’s as a traditional salad and leaf growing business and have steadily grown since then.  There’s always been a real pioneering spirit running through the company.  Our approach has always been to keep looking ahead, with an eye open for what’s around the corner and developing great tasting products that we all feel excited about.

You pride yourselves in your dedication to traceability and quality.  How do you achieve this?
It’s all about attention to detail – we call it the Westlands way.  All our products are grown with innovation and inspiration, with amazing tastes and aromas, always with the customer in mind.  We’ve invested heavily in the latest technology and have got some state of the art equipment here, plus a fantastic team to look after our products.  But the key for us is that we’ve never lost sight of what’s important – good, old fashioned horticultural know-how combined with a passion for growing.


The LEAF Marque label represents produce grown to our independent standards

Why LEAF Marque?
Environmental considerations lie at the very heart of the business, from our water and energy use, selecting varieties with natural disease resistance right through to the way we manage our waste.  Joining LEAF and particularly, becoming LEAF Marque certified was the next logical step.  It gives us independent endorsement and demonstrates to our customers that we are proud of what we grow and how we grow it.  More and more organisations are supporting LEAF Marque as well so consumer and user recognition is definitely on the increase.

Provenance is an integral part of Westlands, what role does LEAF play in helping you to achieve this?
Growing sustainably here in the UK is what Westlands is all about.  Being able to put the LEAF Marque logo on our packs to demonstrate the links of where and how we farm sends out a very clear message about our environmental commitment.

Westlands Viola flowers, which are much smaller and more attractive than the more well-known pansy with a delicate fragrant flavour of palma violets

Westlands Viola flowers, which are much smaller and more attractive than the well-known pansy with a delicate fragrant flavour of palma violets

How do the principles of Integrated Farm Management fit in with Westland’s overall ethos?
The principles of IFM fit as well with the horticultural world as they do in a more traditional farm setting.  Looking at the whole enterprise and taking into account the complex interactions between each element of the enterprise is the cornerstone of IFM.

Your commitment to more sustainable horticulture is clear, how do you see your partnership with LEAF developing in the future?
We’re really excited about the future and we’ll continue to innovate and hopefully inspire.  We definitely see the power of social media in promoting what we do to a much wider audience.  Being part of LEAF gives us an ideal platform to engage with many more customers and get them enthusing about micro leaves, edible flowers, sea vegetables and all things green!

Social media is certainly on the up. We’ve noticed more and more farmers signing up to sites like twitter, what kind of benefits do you see from it?

Twitter is a fantastic medium for us to communicate directly with our end customers and chefs, in turn this allows us to gain valuable feedback instantly.  This feedback is tailored into producing our collections based upon what customers would love to see and use.

When you launch a new product you don’t always know how the customer is using it, social media allows us to share and creates an open dialogue with users of our produce.  We are sharing our knowledge but also that of the Chef with everyone, sites such as Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook allows for a very dynamic communication stream.  The really great thing is that the less experienced users of our products can pick up tips and ideas on how the Westlands collections can be used with their menus, all in a way that fits with their busy days

We think social media is a good way to engage your community alongside other activities, which is a key part of IFM. Do you have any top tips for a newcomer to the social media world?

Social media is there to engage with people.  It is a great way to share ideas, gain knowledge and promote activities with a diverse group of people including suppliers and key businesses such as LEAF and raises awareness of the positive work the business does.   You only have to see how LEAF utilises social media within its own very popular Open Farm Sunday event to gain an understanding of how useful and informative social media is.  The key things that we have learnt are to, be yourself, be honest but most of all help others and definitely do not broadcast – engage with the people who have taken the time to talk to you.

To find out more about Westlands and their remarkable collection of fresh produce products, visit www.westlandswow.co.uk.  You can also follow them on the following social sites:

Twitter @WestlandsWow

And obviously us too on Twitter and Facebook (apologies for the shameless plug!).

LEDs: Lighting the future of sustainable horticulture?

For many years High Pressure Sodium (HPS) lamps have been the horticultural industry standard for lighting glasshouse production.  However, there has been steady growth in the uptake of LED lighting systems, with many growers now investigating the new opportunities they present.

LED lighting trials in an open glasshouse environment

LED lighting trials in an open glasshouse environment

One application of LED lighting is being investigated by researchers at Stockbridge Technology Centre (STC), a LEAF Innovation Centre in North Yorkshire, UK.  They have been looking at moving horticulture units into highly insulated enclosed warehouses lit by LED lighting systems, often called Urban Farms.

The benefits of production in this way all relate to control – control of the temperature, lighting, water and even to some extent, control of pests and pathogens due to the closed system.  Large savings can be made in heating costs in heavily insulated buildings, compared to glasshouses, and these savings are expected to outweigh lighting costs, especially as each decade LED prices have fallen by a factor of 10 while performance has grown by a factor of 20 (this phenomenon is known as Haitz’ Law).

However, LEDs don’t just have benefits in an Urban Farm system.  Lincolnshire Herbs and Swedeponic have been trialling LEDs extensively during the 2012/13 winter in Sweden and the Czech Republic on their herb crops in glasshouses.  They found that when LEDs were used at the same intensity as their conventional HPS lighting, they could make energy savings of 48%. This is a really significant saving so I was keen to ask Patrick Bastow, who ran the trials, whether there were any downsides to the system:

“No we didn’t see any downsides. Nor did we see the need to increase the heating in the LED crops to cope with the loss of infrared heat that you normally get with HPS.  However, this could be different for different crops.”

A current problem with LED lighting systems is the cost of the installation, although this is expected to fall in the coming years.  With energy savings of 48%, Patrick thinks it could still be several years before an investment would start to pay off.

“It’s looking at around 8 years before we get payback where we run lamps at 3,000 hours per annum such as in Sweden. When we run lamps for less, in the region of 2,000 hours such as in the UK, then payback will be higher. At this level of payback the technology is still a little away from commercialisation – but affordable for trials.”

There are benefits aside from the financial ones, however.  Light pollution is a major issue in planning permission and with local complaints. LED lighting is more directional, which means there will be less light spillage.  Although this hasn’t been proved on a commercial scale, in theory it makes perfect sense.  Of course, any light spillage means that light is not getting to the plants and is lost, so being more targeted could have benefits in efficiency too.

part of the LED4CROPS facility at STC showing the multi-tier growing racks illuminated with Philips Greenpower LED lights.

Part of the LED4CROPS facility at STC showing the multi-tier growing racks illuminated
with Philips Greenpower LED lights.

There are three colours of light (red, blue and far red) which efficiently drive photosynthesis and stimulate the plant to control morphology and flowering time.  LEDs used for horticultural applications emit these colours, but the amount of each colour and how many hours the lights operate can be varied according to ‘light recipes’.  Specific recipes for different crops are being identified in research at STC. Work already carried out in the facility has shown that plant morphology can be greatly altered by changing the ‘light recipe’.  However, controlling the ‘light recipe’ in an open glasshouse environment will need more work.  In Patrick’s trials they achieved almost the same results using three different ‘light recipes’.

So are LED lighting systems a sustainable solution? Patrick certainly thinks so, “Yes they will be. We also found that by using 16% more energy than we use with our current HPS system, we could get up to 250 µmols more light and grow the crop faster.  This will mean more production in less space and remove the need to build more production area.  This is still work in progress but it is another strong financial argument for LEDs on top of payback from energy savings.”

“I would recommend that all glasshouse growers buy a few LED lamps and run some trials, it’s an exciting new tool and growers need to start seeing what it can do for them.”

If you’re thinking of making the transition to LEDs in existing glasshouses or to Urban Farming systems, Stockbridge Technology Centre will provide UK growers with the expertise and knowledge needed to assess the potential benefits, contact Phillip Davis for more details.

What do you think? Do LEDs represent the future for sustainable horticulture? Let us know in the comments section below.

With thanks to Patrick Bastow and Stockbridge Technology Centre.

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.


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 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 www.rspb.org.uk/farming

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 nature-farming@rspb.org.uk

New field margin seed mix makes ‘Flower Power’ work for growers

In recent years, larger fields and a reduction in non-crop vegetation have contributed to steep declines in farmland flowers and the organisms that depend on them.

LEAF is pleased to be one of the partners in the Ecostac project. This project’s key aim is to “develop a seed mixture for perennial field margins that has the potential to optimise pest control, pollination and conservation benefits while minimising potential risks for vegetable rotation schemes”.  This seed mixture contains selected flowers to provide bees, hoverflies, parasitiod wasps and other pest predators with abundant nectar and pollen, as well as alternative prey and lodgings for the winter. For farmland birds, plants that produce abundant seed and provide insect food for fledglings have also been added. Growers will be pleased to hear that any “bad blooms”, likely to support diseases, aphids or other crop pests, have been excluded from the preferred perennial field margin seed mix.

Though only half-way through its 4-year experimental phase, results from the project have already shown that the seed mix used can support a wide range of beneficial insects. Here’s the results so far:

  • Many more bees, hoverflies and parasitoid wasps have been observed in experimental flowering margins than in grassy ‘control’ strips in 2010 and 2011
    • As margins have matured, this pattern has strengthened from year to year
  • The flowering field margin prescription also seems to have suppressed pest numbers into crops, with significant average yield increases in 2011 of 15-40% for peas, wheat and cabbage near to flowering margins (see figure below)
    • Probably as a result of improved ‘biological pest control’ at these sites

For more information on this project, please see the project website or this press release.

Practical Measures for Improving Water Quality – New videos available!

Farmers looking at ditch and sediment trapFollowing our Practical Measures for Improving Water Quality events at Midloe Grange Farm in Cambridgeshire (22nd March) and Stratton Farms in Somerset (28th March), videos filmed at the events are now available.

The videos, supported by Catchment Sensitive Farming, look at ways of improving how your farming practices impact water quality. Including:

  • Background information from Catchment Sensitive Farming on some of the issues of diffuse water pollution from agriculture through surface run-off
  • Interviews with LEAF Demonstration Farmers, David Felce and Jeremy Padfield, on the measures they have put in place on their farms to mitigate surface run-off

The videos are available below and on LEAF’s YouTube channel – subscribe to be the first to see LEAF’s new videos!

LEAFasks: How much more would you be prepared to pay for your food to account for public goods?

Last month we asked, “Food aside, what do you consider to be the most important thing that farming delivers?”. There were two answers which proved most popular – ‘Biodiversity and healthy environment’ (45%) and ‘Rural economy and employment’ (41%).

Nobody considered ‘wellbeing’, ‘beautiful countryside’ or ‘connection with the local community’ to be most important. However, we did receive a few alternative responses listing food, renewable energy and traffic jams!

Earlier this month, LEAF, Syngenta and The Environmental Sustainability Knowledge Transfer Network (ESKTN) held a debate to address the key global challenge of this century – food security. A big talking point at the event was values and how much we are prepared to pay for our food and the public goods that farming delivers – so, our LEAFasks question this month is (for more information on public goods provided by agriculture see here):


LEAF’s statement on the UK National Ecosystem Assessment (UK NEA) research funded by Defra

LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) welcomes the UK National Ecosystem Assessment (UK NEA) funded by Defra. It shows that farmers who manage 75% of the land in the UK are vital in the delivery of more than just food and that the natural environment contributes to the economic and social prosperity of the countryside. Continue reading