Last week, LEAF’s Chairman, Stephen Fell, joined our Technical Day in Yorkshire. Here’s what he had to say.
Stephen Fell, LEAF Chairman, with James Hinchcliffe, Top House Farm, and Lynda Deeks, Cranfield University
On Tuesday of last week I headed off to our local LEAF Technical Field Day hosted by the Hinchcliffe family at Rawcliffe Bridge near Goole, Yorkshire. BASF have been carrying out field trials there for 16 years and for the last 10 have supported biodiversity practice to show how good commercial farming can be totally compatible with good environmental management.
I was greeted with a chorus of skylark song – so on cue that momentarily one suspected an amplified recording!
The interesting thing is that the skylarks nest in the cover crops but feed on insects in the wheat. The Hinchcliffes haven’t used insecticides in their crops for many years and are now appreciating the multiple benefits of that policy.
This day brought together experts in soil structure, water quality management, active biodiversity management, new chemistry and communicating with the public. Quite a range you might think, but all areas which LEAF brings together so well in the wheel of Integrated Farm Management.
I found the new chemistry fascinating – increasing the kilograms of wheat produced per kilogram of nitrogen used, reducing the tonnes of water used per tonne of wheat produced by 30%, and most interesting of all, ways of increasing root biomass by up to 45%. I firmly believe that learning how to grow roots is at the heart of our next leap in yield – and this encompasses soil structure, and a much greater understanding of soil microbial activity and nutrient availability.
Soil erosion was something I always thought happened in areas of arable cultivation on steep land in the high rainfall areas of the country. I was knocked back to learn that the Elvington treatment works in the Vale of York removes 10,000 tonnes of topsoil from water every year. We certainly still have a lot to learn about managing soil runoff. We all think we know about soil compaction, but how often do we actually take out the spade and dig the hole? The good operators do.
In charting the astonishing increase in bird species and numbers as well as pollinators, over the years, Graham Hartwell, BASF’s Stewardship Manager, had an important message – “the simple things make a difference”. The areas of cover crop and bird seed mixtures don’t need to be huge (2% of the farm in this case) but go for a continuity of food supply by planting something in the autumn and the spring, using mixtures that are proven, and feed birds extra over winter if necessary.
Tamara Hall, a successful Yorkshire pioneer in Open Schools Days in the run up to Open Farm Sunday, again gave simple messages about communicating with the public. The rewards to both giver and recipient were plain to see.
What a good day it was, with all attendees going away with plenty to think about. I would encourage any of you to go along to one of these LEAF events – they are so much more than just a farm walk.