It is a demanding task to research the interaction between farming and wildlife. It becomes a bigger challenge when trying to farm profitably, care for the environment and be an integral part of the local community.
The Allerton Project has been addressing these issues for over twenty years whilst meeting a primary objective to produce food to feed a growing population. The farming system has evolved over two decades and now embraces many of the modern technologies found in British agriculture.
The farm is 333 hectares of Denchworth and Hanslope clay, growing winter wheat, winter oilseed rape, winter oats and spring beans. Sheep graze 30 hectares of permanent grassland. The farm has 20 hectares of woodland and numerous stream and ponds within its boundaries.
In 1992 when the project arrived, the cultivation system used a plough, disc and power harrow to provide seedbeds for a Suffolk coulter seed drill. Winter barley, winter beans and spring linseed were a significant part of the rotation. Research into country stewardship mixes was at the forefront of our landscape research.
In 1997 the farm moved to a more minimal tillage approach, our cultivation and drilling equipment was based on discs and tines. The Allerton Project joined forces with W.J.Wright and Son in 2000 and started a joint venture farming operation, sharing machinery and labour. The arable farming area has now grown 800 hectares. In 2001 we introduced a disc cultivator drill which allowed us further reduce our crop establishment operations. The main cultivation tractor moved from tyres to tracks to reduce soil compaction.
Tracks replaced tyres to reduce ground pressure at the Allerton Project
During this period our research looked at a number of issues affecting soil erosion, organic matter and soil flora and fauna. With the Water Framework Directive becoming more relevant to British agriculture, our soil and water demonstrations received increasing interest. In recent years nutrient management and erosion mitigation measures have become an increasing feature on the farm. The combined approach of the public, private and charitable sector stakeholders has enabled practical research and demonstration to thrive, now Loddington is proud to be a LEAF innovation centre.
The concerns over food safety and security, highlighted in the government’s ‘Food 2030’ report, mean research into production systems from ‘field to fork’ are receiving increasing scrutiny . The Foresight Report put global food and farming under the spotlight and the concept of ‘sustainable intensification’ in UK farming systems is investigated at the Allerton Project. To address some of these issues, our most recent change in cultivation strategy took place in 2013 with a shift towards direct drilling. Tracks replaced tyres on the combine, a trash rakes is used to assist weed germination and a purpose built direct drill is the primary cultivation tool. The challenge of black grass and slugs will be thoroughly examined in the years to come. As the pressure to produce more food from a finite land resource increases, new technology will help us improve efficiency.
The Allerton tractor cab- new technology will assist us to meter seed, auto-steer, and improve tractor performance.
The next chapter in our farmland research will also encompass resource protection, fuel and energy reduction, increasing soil resilience and lead to a sustainable farming blueprint. The introduction of solar panels, bio beds, rainwater harvesting, farm plastics recycling and biomass heating are examples of best practice on view at the project.
With the challenges of volatile commodity markets, weather related issues and a growing world population the need for a robust food production system has never been more relevant. Whilst demonstrating a wide range of land management practices, the Allerton Project is always reliant on a commercial and profitable farm.
Common Agricultural Policy reforms will also affect the future British farming; the Allerton Project will be able to help shape and react to these policy changes with its practical farm demonstrations.