Tag Archives: LEAF Marque

EISA Farm Visit to Saxony-Anhalt, Germany

Paul Hayward - Cold Harbour farm (credit Adrian Legge)

Paul Hayward – Cold Harbour farm
(credit Adrian Legge)

Paul Hayward, farms Cold Harbour Farm, at Bishop Burton, East Yorkshire and was one of the first LEAF Demonstration Farms, engaging people with Integrated Farm Management since 1993, soon after LEAF was founded. Paul recently took part in an EISA (European Initiative for Sustainable Development in Agriculture) visit to Germany and here he tells us more about what he saw and learnt.

Last month, I was privileged to join the EISA visit to Germany as an observer for LEAF along with Patrick Wrixon (LEAF Board member) and Nick Tilt (LEAF Demonstration Farmer). The whole event was perfectly organised by Andreas Frangenberg and Anton Kraus from EISA.

We attended the DLG field day, an event targeted at crop production professionals, of note it was targeted at the top 20% of farmers. The following link gives a very accurate resume of the visit.

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Credit Helena Elmquist

It was a fascinating visit with some excellent and very informative presentations and I left wanting to explore the issues much further. Representatives from the agrochemical companies seemed to position the farmers as requiring a complete production package including biodiversity rather than recognising them as land managers with good knowledge. We were privileged to be joined by Professor Olaf Christen (agronomy and organic farming) of Halle University, obviously a talented academic with a good practical understanding of European crop production.

The following day we were given a guided tour of the BASF Biodiversity Farm at Quellenhof by Dr Markius Gerber. A project started in 2012 on the 10, 600 hectare farm which had lost much of its natural habitats in the East German era. Work on a range of measures had started with some impressive results. However, with fields of 250 hectares, there is much still to do.

 

The group enjoyed a wide range of discussions, benefitting from the diversity of the area and the interests of individuals within the group.

For more information on EISA, please visit http://sustainable-agriculture.org/

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It’s not just certification.

We’re pleased to announce that we’ve become associate members of ISEAL!  You may not have heard of ISEAL before, so here to explain what ISEAL is and why we are very proud to become an associate member is Jeremy Boxall, our Commercial Manager.

Since 2003, LEAF has been setting standards known as the LEAF Marque, which represent sustainable farming.  If the farm meets the standard then they are certified, this is certification.  But the LEAF Marque is about much more than just certification.

LEAFMarque

The LEAF Marque logo

ISEAL membership to us, is like certification to a farmer.  If you’re a farmer and your farm is LEAF Marque certified it has to be up to the standard.  ISEAL drives us to make our standards systems up to the mark, in the same way our standards drive farm businesses to be more sustainable.  In essence, it is about continuous improvement, so as new associate members, we’re working towards ISEAL’s Codes.

Ultimately, we’re about delivering a positive change.  Specifically, this is working towards our vision of ‘a world that is farming, eating and living sustainably’.  ISEAL has a set of Credibility Principles and integrating these into our way of working means that we’ll be more successful in delivering a positive impact at farm level:

  1. Sustainability – Standards scheme owners clearly define and communicate their sustainability objectives and approach to achieving them. They make decisions that best advance these objectives.
  2. Improvement – Standards scheme owners seek to understand their impacts and measure and demonstrate progress towards their intended outcomes. They regularly integrate learning and encourage innovation to increase benefits to people and the environment.
  3. Relevance – Standards are fit for purpose. They address the most significant sustainability impacts of a product, process, business or service; only include requirements that contribute to their objectives; reflect best scientific understanding and relevant international norms; and are adapted where necessary to local conditions.
  4. Rigour – All components of a standards system are structured to deliver quality outcomes. In particular, standards are set at a performance level that results in measurable progress towards the scheme’s sustainability objectives, while assessments of compliance provide an accurate picture of whether an entity meets the standard’s requirements.
  5. Engagement – Standard-setters engage a balanced and representative group of stakeholders in standards development. Standards systems provide meaningful and accessible opportunities to participate in governance, assurance and monitoring and evaluation. They empower stakeholders with fair mechanisms to resolve complaints.
  6. Impartiality – Standards systems identify and mitigate conflicts of interest throughout their operations, particularly in the assurance process and in governance.  Transparency, accessibility and balanced representation contribute to impartiality.
  7. Transparency – Standards systems make relevant information freely available about the development and content of the standard, how the system is governed, who is evaluated and under what process, impact information and the various ways in which stakeholders can engage.
  8. Accessibility – To reduce barriers to implementation, standards systems minimise costs and overly burdensome requirements. They facilitate access to information about meeting the standard, training, and financial resources to build capacity throughout supply chains and for actors within the standards system.
  9. Truthfulness – Claims and communications made by actors within standards systems and by certified entities about the benefits or impacts that derive from the system or from the purchase or use of a certified product or service are verifiable, not misleading, and enable an informed choice.
  10. Efficiency – Standards systems refer to or collaborate with other credible schemes to improve consistency and efficiency in standards content and operating practices. They improve their viability through the application of sound revenue models and organisational management strategies.

This all ensures that we’re going in the right direction and that the work we do has the maximum impact. It’s not just certification.

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…

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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.

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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
Facebook.com/WestlandsWow
Pinterest.com/WestlandsWow

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

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.

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 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

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 www.biologicwine.co.za

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

Trade-offs and Synergies: working together to balance challenges and opportunities in UK farming

Over the last six months the Government has been developing the Green Food Project. We now see the initial report that sets out the foundations for building a robust and resilient food chain, increasing productivity and enhancing the environment.

Visual minutes at the Trade-off and Synergies debate

LEAF has been involved on the steering committee for the Green Food Project and we welcome this report as we work together to balance the challenges and opportunities for UK farming and industry to deliver a more sustainable and integrated food system. These objectives are at the heart of LEAF’s work.

Supporting the work of the Green Food Project, LEAF, Syngenta and the ESKTN (Environment Sustainability Knowledge Transfer Network) held an event, supported by the UK Food Chain Alliance and BBSRC in March 2012. The event set out to explore the stresses and the need for compromises and change amongst informed stakeholders about what we want the UK’s farmed land and environment to deliver, through synergies and trade-offs, to meet the challenge of the increased need for producing food over the next 30 years in a sustainable manner.

10 key messages to policy makers, researchers and industry emerged from the event. They are all interdependent and we have been developing these over the last few months.  They are summarised below:

Key message 1.  Planning at the landscape level – To attain gains for food production whilst improving biodiversity and reducing impacts on the environment requires innovative planning at the landscape level, with the Ecosystem Services approach offering new opportunities to engage others (such a water companies) in this discussion.

Key message 2. Working across sectors – Recognition that to work on the challenges faced in implementing sustainable food and farming will require us to think, plan and capture value across all of the supply chain. Retailers are already providing a pull for farmers to work sustainably, and there are some good working examples of shared responsibility, such as business groups and LEAF Marque.  However, more solutions need to share the value across the supply chain, through innovative approaches.

Key message 3. New mechanisms for sharing value and information – There was a strong agreement that trade-offs are necessary but priorities and perceived compromises were not agreed.  We need to start putting figures on the table and talking about trade-offs, supported by evidence. Better levels of integration between the key technologies underpinning ‘sustainable intensification’ are essential, with leadership required to establish mechanisms for sharing information and ideas.  There was a strong call for better integration, such as increased uptake of Integrated Farm Management, better integration across the food chain; landscape and government.

Key message 4. Legislation and the speed of innovation – The current regulatory environment (particularly in Europe) is now genuinely hindering investment in R&D and farming, primarily through escalating costs/timelines for registration/implementation.  This is causing money to seep elsewhere and depletes the incentive for companies to invest in developments, knowledge transfer and training in European farming since innovative technologies come to market very slowly. There was a strong call for legislation to be enabling and scientifically robust. There was a lack of public support for R&D in general and for applied research in particular, with a worrying lack of appreciation of the long term significance for food security and the competitiveness of our research in a global marketplace.

Key message 5. Water, energy and resource use – Efficient use of water and energy is key for sustainable farming. This includes precision farming solutions as well as effective integrated solutions i.e. the use of solar panels, windmills, human organic matter etc. Options for innovation and technology improvements included closed application systems (also better for reduced pollution), use of application robots as part of precision forming developments and closed loop systems for better resource use, but these will need more enabling and intelligent regulation.

Key message 6. Soils – Combining the best of modern technology and innovation with the best of traditional management methods through the adoption of Integrated Farm Management, were key elements coming through many of the discussions: the importance of soil management and soil health, especially for water holding capacity and management, and looking to more use of organic matter again to replace nutrients as well as improve soil health.

Key message 7. Education and communication with the public/ along the supply chain – ‘Intensification’ is a term that should be avoided as it suggests increased yields at all costs: how can this perception be changed? Landscape and ecosystems approaches mean more tailored production to the location and media interest can support this understanding, with opportunities to build on Countryfile type programmes. The National Curriculum is being re-written, so there is an opportunity to influence this, with more emphasis on getting children to connect food with the environment and farming, and encouraging more regular school farm visits (Open Farm Sunday is an effective way of encouraging these connections and we should look to strengthen this work). Options for innovation and technology developments included exploring and exploiting the potential of mobile phone ‘apps’ and interactive games to engage younger age groups.

Key message 8. More effective knowledge exchange – There is significant potential to build on the effective knowledge exchange work of LEAF through its Demonstration Farms and management tools.  There is a need to clearly identify the key ambassadors among farmers, researchers, industry and environmentalists to support change.  For example, agronomists taking a much greater role in this, supplemented by more Demonstration Farms and LEAF activity.  Industry could support this by highlighting the whole ecosystem benefits of their products/services and the financial benefits of biodiversity schemes, but there is also a need for advice delivered by a trusted independent partner. Other innovations including mobile phone technology and social media have a key role to play.

Key message 9. Economic sustainability – Need to calculate, discuss and communicate the true financial aspects of sustainability.  Research, support mechanisms, economic instruments, market drivers and innovative solutions need to be further explored to enable more sustainable standards.  This should include possible CAP mechanisms, payments for Ecosystem Services, carbon sequestration, Biodiversity Offsetting, etc.

Key message 10. Farm business competitiveness and viability – the ability of farm businesses to respond to increasing pressures, regulatory, financial and value chain requirements, mean that modern farm businesses will have to develop a variety of new skill-sets and management techniques.  There is a need for the value chain as a whole to develop working models that ensure a more integrated and shared approach to responsible for ensuring these skills are in place right across the food chain.

We would welcome your comments on these key messages as we take them forward over the coming six months to ensure that we drive forward the changes, developments and activities we need to build a robust and resilient farming system.

Introducing… Hugh Lowe Farms

With Wimbledon only days away now, we thought you would like to hear a little about how the strawberries for the event are produced. So here, we introduce Hugh Lowe Farms and Managing Director, Marion Regan. Enjoy!

Hugh Lowe Farms Ltd is a family owned farming company, established over 100 years ago. They are one of the largest fruit businesses in the UK, supplying many of the major supermarkets and have supplied strawberries for the Wimbledon tennis championships for more than 20 years. Hugh Lowe Farms have been members of LEAF for over twelve years and are LEAF Marque certified. We hear from Managing Director, Marion Regan about business, berries and bugs!

Marion Regan, Managing Director, Hugh Lowe Farms Ltd

Where did it all begin for Hugh Lowe farms?
My great grandparents began growing strawberries here in 1893 and the family has been producing them here ever since.

Your pride yourselves in growing top quality fruit with care for the environment, how does LEAF fit into your overall business philosophy?
We try to farm efficiently and responsibly. While quality is our focus, our natural environment is equally important to us – not least because we live and work here.

All your fruit is certified to LEAF Marque standards – what does this mean for your customers?
People all over the country trust Kent berries to be the best and the discipline of the LEAF Marque means this promise of quality is met.

A large proportion of your fruit is grown under polytunnels, why is this?
Not only is the crop protected from rain damage, but also from rots and moulds. In addition, the season can be extended and we can supply reliable volumes to the market every day from April until November.

Looking after the landscape and biodiversity means striking a balance between soft fruit grown under tunnels, arable fields resting in between soft fruit crops and land managed for wildlife. How do you get the balance right?
We have been doing this for over 100 years and have found it helpful to take a long term view – there is no benefit to exhausting the land nor removing the habitat for the many beneficial insects and other wildlife which live here too.

You’ve supplied strawberries for FMC the official caterers to Wimbledon for the last 20 years – why do the British love strawberries so much and what makes the perfect strawberry?
Luckily the Wimbledon Championships come at the traditional peak of the strawberry season, creating a long and happy association. Strawberries sum up the summer – and the perfect berry is sun-warmed, straight from the plant – we try and deliver the freshest fruit so people can be as close as possible to that experience!

Import – export business: LEAF travels well

LEAF Marque Technical Manager, Anthony Goggin, recently travelled to Senegal as part of the FRICH project. Here he tells us all about his trip.

There’s no doubt that LEAF principles travel very well indeed. I saw this first hand in sunny Senegal in North West Africa recently, a country which is fast becoming a very important exporter of quality fresh produce to Europe.

After an overnight stay in Senegal’s capital, Dakar, it was a 4 hour drive up to St Louis the next morning. Known as the ‘Venice of Africa’ for being built on a collection of islands, St Louis has markets brimming with fruits such as melons.

Just inland, in the flat land south of the River Senegal, is the 100 hectare farm managed by Soldive, a French-based company that grows melons in Europe, the Caribbean and Africa.

I met with the Soldive’s Technical Manager, Lionel Payen and his Senegalese colleague and Production Manager, Mohammed Gaye. Together they manage planting the crop in the field, weeks of precise fertigation and careful agronomy through to harvesting and pack-house operations ready for shipping to Europe in just eight days. I was able to see first hand the care they take at each stage of production and their commitment to the highest standards. The melon business provides much needed employment and the canal that brings water from the Senegal river to the melon fields also brings water to the community which means they can now grow their own crops nearby. I saw plots bursting with chilli peppers, tomatoes, onions and peanuts.

These West African farmers, just like those I met in Kenya last year, were very interested to know more about the principles of Integrated Farm Management (IFM) and to hear about it in action in the UK and other parts of the world. I was able to show the African IFM films that have been developed through the FRICH project we are involved in.

As in the UK, there’s nothing like a farm walk to really get discussions going. I took the Soldive team to visit a Senegalese farm in the same area that has already adopted LEAF’s Integrated Farm Management and had their farm certified to the LEAF Marque Standard. The farm is named SCL, part owned by UK’s Barfoots of Botley, and we had a good few hours walking through their crops of sweetcorn, asparagus and sweet potato. We heard from Celine Frouin, Head of Agronomy at SCL, about why and how she farms the LEAF way.

You can hear more about LEAF’s work in Africa in our series of podcasts, produced for the project, here.

LEAF, in partnership with Waitrose, Green Shoots Productions, British & Brazilian, Blue Skies, Sunripe and Wealmoor have been working with sub-Saharan African farmers now for nearly 3 years. The FRICH project’s overall objective is, “Improving the prosperity and sustainability of small farmers through the adoption of Integrated Farm Management (IFM) to the LEAF Marque Standard.”

More about this FRICH project and others can be found on the DfiD website.