Tag Archives: LEAF

What we’re planning for Open Farm Sunday

Gail Anderson, Regional Co-ordinator for the North East and Cumbria

In the sixth of our fortnightly series of posts all about Open Farm Sunday and engaging the public on your farm, Gail Anderson our Open Farm Sunday Regional Co-ordinator for the North East and Cumbria, discusses her plans for Open Farm Sunday.

My mantra for Open Farm Sunday is “The everyday to farmers is a fascinating day out to everyone else”. Just because you live on a farm and interact with it 7 days a week it doesn’t mean that the people coming to visit your farm have the slightest clue of what you do. With this in mind, the activities planned for Open Farm Sunday can be as simple or as creative as you want.

Tidy your farm up and let the public see a few pens of livestock, clean out your parlour and have the machines pumping water through them, or organise a farm walk or tractor and trailer ride. Something simple like showing an ear of corn, the corn in grain and then a selection of things which could be made from it, i.e. flour, bread, etc, can fascinate an audience.

Open Farm Sunday

Animals always add an attraction, but if you don’t have any of your own, then why not ask your neighbours to bring some of their animals or be on hand to answer questions about lambing, calving, and the like? Remember to adhere to the health and safety guidelines for livestock:

  • Have them in a newly bedded up area
  • Ensure there is no seepage or run-off from the livestock
  • Have someone supervise the area

If you let the public pet the animals make sure you have hand-washing facilities; or if you don’t want visitors to touch the animals,  try some lengths of drainage pipe to allow people to feed the animals, this will make them feel connected without the worry of any potential health concerns).

Hand washing facilities are paramount: simply have a running tap (hot or cold), liquid soap and paper towels, put up signs to encourage hand washing and have helpers to ensure visitors keep their hands clean. It’s that simple.

From personal experience it is great to rope in friends and family to not only help with the management of the day but also to add a bit of variety. Some friends, who work in the logging industry, come to give demonstration of horse drawn bracken rolling, we know people in the RSPB who are happy to have a stand and take people on guided walks, friends have small rural companies so they have a stall or two selling rural crafts. The tractor and trailer rides always go down a storm, as does a barbeque if you have your own produce – both of these things are firm favourites for our Open farm Sunday events.

Your local NFU or Young farmers may also be interested. It’s so much fun, especially when you have extra people mucking in. Promotion needn’t be a headache either; anything from a few posters in local shops or the odd sign dotted about, to getting in touch with local newspapers and radio and asking for some coverage. Make it as big or as small as you like!

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 Gail

Gail Anderson, Regional Co-ordinator for the North East and Cumbria, lives with her parents on their 200 acre arable and livestock farm in County Durham. The family as a whole has found involvement in Open Farm Sunday very rewarding, and a wonderful way to inform the public about farming whilst also connecting with the local farming community and friends.

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!

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.


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.

GM is not an alternative to good husbandry practices

Good practice and Integrated Farm Management are important regardless of GM technology

Good practice and Integrated Farm Management are important regardless of GM technology

This morning, UK Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, gave a keynote speech on the subject of GM (Genetic Modification) at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden, Hertfordshire.  Mr Paterson said, “GM has already been used to make crops that can resist attack from specific insect pests or plant diseases.  Other traits are being developed, including using scientific expertise here in the UK.

“We cannot expect to feed tomorrow’s population with yesterday’s agriculture.  We have to use every tool at our disposal.”

At LEAF, we recognise the importance of innovation and technology, including modern biotechnology and developments such as GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). The potential benefits to farmers and consumers need to be clearly identified and weighed against the possible risks.  Risk management is paramount to the decisions being made and as the jury is still out; LEAF will continue to monitor developments.  However, there are several areas that cannot be neglected.

One of these is the need for more research into GM technology.  We need to be able to establish the development of plants that have greater resistance to pests and diseases, more resilience to adverse environments and develop the nutrition value of crops.

Added to this is the importance of beneficial husbandry practices and Integrated Farm Management.  Rotations, safe use of inputs, cultivation choice, variety choice, good record keeping and management systems such as those advocated by LEAF are essential.  GM will never be an alternative to these practices, it has the potential to be one of the tools in the box.

There is a need for rational debate on GM, bringing together researchers, farmers and consumers. At our annual President’s Event in 2011, we brought together Prof Sir David Baulcombe, FRS and Andrew Burgess, Agricultural Director of Produce World, to openly discuss plant genetics and opportunities in agriculture. You can see this discussion in the video below.

Our full position on GMO’s can be found on our website here.

What are your thoughts on GM technology? What are the big questions yet to be answered? Please give us your views in the comments section below.

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.

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:

2012 – not the wettest year?

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

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

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

Figure 1

Figure 1

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

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

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

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

Figure 2

Figure 2

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

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

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

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.