Friday, 27 June 2014

Wonderful Weather for Open Farm Sunday

This week's guest blog is from Sofi Lloyd our Open Farm Sunday Coordinator
The glorious weather deserves some of the thanks for the making of a great Open Farm Sunday event on the 8th June. The sun shone on about 400 visitors to the 9th annual national LEAF coordinated event.

Visitors enjoying the sunshine

Waiting for trailer rides

At the Allerton Project Farm this year there was so much for our visitors to see, that many were still there when packing away began.
Plenty of attractions for our visitors
Richard and Geoff Wright ran the very popular tractor & trailer rides around Loddington, taking in the beautiful SSSI woodlands called the Reddish’s.

Richard and Michael part of the 'tractor and trailer team'

...and they're off...
The gorgeous South Devon calf and his mum joined 3 breeds of sheep including the local and rare Leicester Longwools, Saddleback pigs, chickens, a Shetland pony and Apollo and Mortimer the alpaca’s in the “meet the farm animals” area which proved a big hit with all the visitors.
South Devon's
An array of animals

Saddlebacks 'home sweet home'

Jasper and Hattie 'lapping it up'

Jasper and Hattie the border collies posed for countless photographs and lapped up all the strokes and pats.

The CR9080 Combine Harvester was the star of the 5 piece farm machinery show and everyone became a farming expert by the end of the day.

The machinery gang
Big bright combine harvester

Our local fire brigade were on hand, so health and safety and rural driving issues were covered.
The fire brigade were a star attraction
Member of Loddington WI and the 'Bee Aware' team

The super-organised WI team kept all well fed and watered, including more cake than I have ever seen in my life (Mmmmm those scones). The Bee aware team were inspiring all to help to protect our charismatic pollinators and raised the profile of the recent 'Great Food Debate'. 


Richard and Chris discuss Kelloggs mini-fields

Richard from Kelloggs explained the fascinating processes which go into delivering our favourite breakfast cereals from plant to plate. 

Local produce for sale with Katy and James

And if that wasn’t enough, visitors could take home as a momento, anything from a beautiful original local painting to a pair of Joules wellies, local honey and eggs, a locally handmade bird-box or garden planter or a Loddington-grown plant for their garden to remember their day. Phew! Thanks so much to all who supported the event, exhibitors, helpers and of course visitors. We can’t wait for next year, the sunshine is already on order.

Sofi Lloyd and Chris Stoate

Thanks to all the team from the project, the village and our local farmers. See you next year on the 7th June 2015

Friday, 13 June 2014

Does the CAP fit the environment ? Dr Alastair Leake

The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) – who have been at the sharp-end of developing innovative and well proven techniques for restoring farmland wildlife such as conservation headlands, beetle banks and wild flower seed mixes, were in an upbeat mood about the new ‘greening’ measures announced by Defra this week.

Dr Alastair Leake, the GWCT’s director of policy explains; “None of the new reforms are a surprise and we believe that the Government have implemented these as well as they could. With over 210,000 more people swelling the global population each day and expected to reach a total of 9 billion by 2050, the earth will need to produce more food in the next 50 years than it has in total so far. Indeed the UK population alone has increased by almost 100% in the last century while wheat production – a crop which Europe out-strips the world in producing has flat-lined for two decades. Clearly food production is going to become an increasingly important issue.”

Under the new reforms, farmers will have to manage 5% of the farm area in an ‘ecologically focused way’. Options include growing crops such as peas and beans, growing cover crops to protect soil from erosion and to build up soil organic matter. Farmers will also be able to register their hedgerows, something they have not previously been given credit for maintaining.

Dr Leake comments, “Overall we believe the ‘greening’ measures as proposed are a rational response to the conflicting demands of food production and environmental enhancement. Under existing stewardship schemes, over 70% of English farmers have signed up. There is a huge sea-change in the way farmers now run their businesses and environmental protection is an increasingly important part of their farming operation. We are therefore pleased that those farmers who already farm well are not going to be penalised, but we are pleased also that those with less sustainable systems will be encouraged to do more.”

However, it has been suggested that growing legumes in ‘Ecological Focus Areas’ is a poor use of tax-payers money as they might not deliver much for biodiversity.

Dr Leake disagrees, saying, “Growing a legume crop can substantially reduce the environmental footprint of the farm, since nearly 50% of the fossil fuel demand comes from the use of nitrogen fertilisers. Legumes do not need nitrogen fertilisers as they make their own and some of this is passed on to the subsequent wheat crop, so inputs can be cut to that crop too.

Winter beans helping our environmental footprint.
 Legume crops are also insect pollinated so they provide a source of pollen and nectar to bees and other insects and as they are a spring sown crop it means that winter stubbles are left for longer, which is another good result for wildlife. Research on our Allerton Project has also shown that bean crops are favoured over wheat crops by foraging tree sparrows.”

Both birds and bees can benefit from legumes

Looking to the future Dr Leake concludes, “Going forward the EU must continue to focus on production, keeping productivity up and farmers on the land, but a greater proportion of the Basic Farm Payment needs to shift to pay farmers for the other services that they provide society with, including clean water, healthy soils, carbon sequestration, renewable energy and biodiversity. Past experience has shown that where funds are more specifically targeted and farmers respond voluntarily, rather than through compulsion, with the benefit of good advice, better outcomes are achieved.

“The GWCT has been running the innovative Allerton Project research farm at Loddington, Leicestershire for more than 20 years and has during this time added greatly to the pool of knowledge on environmental protection within the farmed landscape. A key research aim within the farm is to show how to intensify food production without compromising wildlife protection and the achievements of the farm have inspired a generation of farmers to do more for wildlife on their own land. A 20-year report outlining the achievements of the GWCT’s Allerton Project is available at

Hurry up with the detail I'm warming to Greening

After a few days to contemplate, I feel there is enough in the recent Greening announcements to make me more relaxed about our future plans at Loddington. The timeline for next season's plantings marches on and the finer detail is still not known on EFA's and the 3 crop rule.

The drip feed of information has, at times, resembled a Chinese water torture, but the rules on nitrogen fixing crops and Higher Level Stewardship double funding is encouraging.

On Monday I could have boiled a kettle from the steam emitted from my ears, but by Tuesday I was happier after the ministerial statement. On Wednesday I gleaned enough information at Cereals 2014 to improve my mood. As the weekend approaches I've just got falling grain prices and black grass to worry about. Typical farmer!!

Getting the rules right with Europe to avoid infraction and therefore fines is one of the reasons for this drawn out process. Sometimes I do feel the European Commission should be subject to the same process if it misses its deadline (perhaps it does and I'm not aware of it).

So although the details on spring and winter cropping, rules on cover crops and fallow still tantalisingly on the horizon, I feel our own 'environmental efforts' over a number of years are being appreciated.
We should be able to accommodate Greening and use cover crops and fallow to create some wins for the environment and wins for our business

Dr Alastair Leake puts some well reasoned observations forward on the GWCT website today and I'll reproduce these in the next blog.

Footnote Sat 14th June 2014; The 3 crop rule particularly penalises small farms and makes it particularly difficult for contractors to run an efficient operation on such units. The efforts in the next round of reforms should concentrate on crop rotation and ways of recording it on the new BPS forms.