Tag Archives: sustainable farming

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!

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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.

Record breaking year for Open Farm Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

LEAFMarqueebrief

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!).

Bees, neonicotinoids and pollination: moving forward

So three neonicotinoid products are to be banned across Europe for two years from December 1st 2013.  It is evident that there are a range of possible reasons for a decline in bee populations, including diseases such as Varroa, issues surrounding breeding and sufficient food and habitat availability. In two years’ time there will be a review of the ban, but is that long enough to prove anything? I think we’ll just have to wait and see. There are some interesting views on the topic here.

Bee on knapweed

One thing the whole debate has stirred up is the need to do more for bees and other pollinators, and it has given much needed publicity to the importance of bees in the environment.

I spoke to Andrew Hughes, Farm Manager at Trinley Estates, where they’ve done a lot of work to help bees and other pollinating insects thrive on the farm. “I’m a strong believer that if you provide bees with a good variety of plants, populations will be maintained and healthy. We always want to improve the amount and variety of nectar sources with pollen and nectar mixes, wild bird seed mixes, grass strips and we also have a wild flower meadow.  By producing greater plant diversity then we can produce stronger and broader food chains that will rescue some of our most endangered insect and bird species.”

Through some good woodland management, with coppicing and maintaining the flora, there is also a thriving wild bee population in the woodland found on the farm.

Arable reversion meadow at Trinley estates

Arable reversion meadow at Trinley estates

Andrew has also been working with local natural beekeepers, “The aim is to keep bees in as near natural conditions as possible to promote health and vigour and the ability to cope with pests and pathogens”.  And it seems to be working, “Our beekeepers have mentioned that many of the hives around us haven’t been doing so well recently, but where we haven’t taken any honey from the hives in the last few years, they’re doing really well.”

Andrew has been recording the fauna and flora on the farm through photography on its own dedicated website. “Ultimately, I am interested in monitoring population changes from one year to the next. But what it’s really doing is making me much more aware of the species we do have on the farm”. I urge you to take a look – it’s great to see the diversity of wildlife and there are some cracking photos too, my favourites being the hare shots!

Perhaps we hear about this kind of wonderful work disproportionately at LEAF, because of the nature of our members.  At LEAF, we promote Integrated Farm Management, which is an approach delivering sustainable farming.  One part of this is landscape and nature conservation, which sits alongside other areas like crop health and protection. The point is that everything needs to be integrated on the farm, and lots of our members have that approach.

Bees are vital to farming. Integrating positive steps to provide food and habitat for pollinators into commercial farming is something we fully endorse.

What do you think of the neonicotiniod ban? Is there more we can do for pollinating insects or do you think we’re doing enough already? I’d like to hear your views – please comment below.

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