Monday, 5 December 2016

World Soil Day - Keeping soil in good shape

To celebrate World Soils Day (December 5) we asked NFU Environment Forum member Philip Jarvis how he maintains healthy soil on the GWCT Allerton Project Farm at Loddington.

He writes…

As a farmer, soil is one of my most important assets and its careful management is key to my farming operations.  My overall aim is to make my soils more resilient.  I look at it as my shop floor; what I put in has a direct impact on what I take away come harvest time.
My first step to a healthy soil is to know what type of soil I have on-farm and understand how it reacts to different conditions. Having light sandy soil can lead to issues with wind erosion, whilst soils with a high concentration of clay can be badly affected by water erosion and poor drainage.
The main challenges to healthy soil on my heavy clay soils in the East Midlands are:
  • Erosion
  • Compaction
  • Reduction in organic matter
  • Climate Change
Practices that I have adopted on my farm include introducing cover crops, importing muck and making the transition towards direct drilling.
Cover crops can help prevent soil erosion as well as increase the percentage of organic matter in the soil. This aids the growth and health of the cash crop once sewn.

Spreading imported muck on my fields also helps increase the number of earthworms’ on-farm.  In an effort to “promote the good things” I hope to increase the amount of earthworms in my soil from 400 p/m2 to 800 p/m2 without dramatically increasing the number of slugs.
In a bid not to overwork the soil, I am a real advocate of direct drilling.  To prevent compaction it is necessary to determine the appropriate levels of cultivation. To this end diverse rotation, minimum soil disturbance – through direct drilling and reduced tillage – alongside continuous crop cover can go a long way in the conservation and nourishment of my soil.
_39384Looking towards the future, I am involved in and aware of various research groups which look into ways to improve soil health whilst maintaining productivity. As a member of the Kellogg’s Origins Programme, I am one of a community of European farmers who meet to combat various challenges, trial new ideas and share knowledge.

By nurturing the land and taking care of my soil I aim to help maintain the balance between food production and the environment and carry on producing efficiently for generations to come.
good soil structure_29351

Monday, 25 July 2016

Everyone needs a bright future for agriculture !!!

Emma Duncan’s recent article in The Times  about cutting greedy farmers down to size is an interesting viewpoint on the current Brexit debate. The GWCT Allerton Project’s Head of Farming Phil Jarvis offers an alternative view to some of the statements (in red) she made.

“I’m drawing a little comfort from the prospect of our liberation from the one bit of Europe I have always hated — the Common Agricultural Policy.”

The CAP is the system of agricultural subsidies implemented over 40 years ago to increase food productivity, security, market stability and reasonable prices to the consumer. It is far from perfect, but it has provided bountiful supplies of food for European consumers and enabled economic viability for a number of often neglected rural communities. Whether food is more important than other manufactured goods is debateable when supermarket shelves are full and supply exceeds demand.

It is both admirable and desirable to increase freer trade with the developing world, but I’m not sure I want to see the demise of the UK’s agricultural production and a return to a weedy wilderness as an alternative. Food safety and security with comparable production standards are required to keep a level playing field, of course unless we don’t want a UK farming industry. Be very careful exporting our productive landscape to one you have very little control over! Importing food from developing countries might also lead to food shortages in other parts of the world

Not all farming payments are production based; many help protect and enhance our farmland wildlife habitats. The three Greening elements and Cross Compliance all help protect our environment, while Environmental Stewardship helps enhance and rejuvenate wildlife habitats around crop production. Through the Campaign for the Farmed Environment, farmers voluntarily create thousands of acres of habitat to encourage biodiversity. As I drilled wild bird cover for winter feeding, I noticed a plethora of wild flowers, providing a bountiful food source to our resident invertebrates and pollinators, as well as a diverse array of crops in the landscape.


…………………………….sowing wild bird cover for feeding over the winter period

A plethora of wild flowers, providing a bountiful food source to our resident invertebrates and pollinator

The crops I grow are part of my commitment to feed a growing population and make no excuse for such a stance. This is against a backdrop of challenging weather, increasing concerns on climate change and market volatility.

…. The crops I grow are part of my commitment to feed a growing population.

“If we cut subsidies, farming will shrink and land prices fall. That will free up land for other uses. One is housing: we desperately need houses for our young people, and lower land prices will make building them more affordable. Another is a healthier environment.” “The subsidy regime encourages a sterile monoculture: it condemns the Yorkshire Wolds to barley and wheat as far as the eye can see and denudes the Welsh hills by covering them with a surplus of sheep.”

A healthier environment is not necessarily achieved by replacing a ‘sterile monoculture’ with building more houses for ‘our young people’

What is this sterile monoculture of wheat, barley and sheep expressed in the article? The Yorkshire Wolds and Welsh hills are some of the most popular rural tourist locations featuring a combination of stunning landscape; much of which is farmed.

 a poll in Farmers Weekly just before the vote suggested that 58 per cent (of farmers) were Leavers and 31 per cent Remainers ….. These genetically modified turkeys voted for Christmas.”

I resent being called a ‘genetically modified turkey’. The implication that genetic modification is an agricultural practice in the UK, is both incorrect and misleading.

The National Farmers Union works hard to represent its members and wants a strong vibrant United Kingdom agricultural policy in the years ahead. This will only be achieved with strong functional and fair markets enabling farmers to run profitable businesses. However, this can be achieved by building upon farming’s environmental role, allowing all farmers to care for the countryside, wildlife and mitigate climate change.

This is about a sustainable future for food production and responsible environmental management.

  British agricultural policy is about a balance between food production and responsible environmental management.  As long as legislation and regulation are proportionate and not bureaucratic and counterproductive we can continue to enjoy productive vibrant sunlit uplands. Working for a bright future for British agriculture will mean a bright future for the British landscape

I invite Emma Duncan to visit the GWCT Allerton Project, where the more positive aspects of the CAP; soil health, food production and environmental enhancement are key ingredients of our sustainable future.


Tuesday, 22 March 2016

World Water Day

A blog to mark World Water Day

The recent floods and wet weather have brought into focus the dilemmas surrounding the use of water in the United Kingdom. The rural stakeholders who can influence the management of water will have to sort out some mixed messages and find some common ground!
We will probably all agree that we are seeing more extremes in our weather, with rising temperatures and heavier, more concentrated rainfall. The conundrum is how to balance removing water from land that supports crops and livestock, without unacceptable erosion, whilst still trying to protect urban settlements from flooding and the ensuing damage. Those in the uplands of northern England have particularly suffered this winter, with lost animals and conspicuous landscape change as a result of the ferocious power of rivers in full flood.
The issue is that farmers want their land to drain so it doesn’t lie waterlogged for too long, and the Environment Agency wants to hold water back in the upper reaches of a catchment so it takes longer to reach urban areas.
The answers probably lie in balancing landscape change, which could include more on-farm reservoirs; more sensible urban development within flood plains; and a role for trees to stabilise vulnerable areas.
Cover Crops
At the Allerton Project, we have looked at how we can increase the water-carrying capacity of the soil so that the arable land has more carrying capacity before it starts to drain or run-off into water courses. Below are some steps we have identified to achieve these aims:
  • Crop choice and rotation appropriate to soil type.
  • Striving for a well-structured soil that allows water to permeate in over a longer period rather than running off the surface. Less farmland traffic for less soil compaction.
  • Increasing organic matter to allow more water-holding capacity. The use of cover crops aids this process and reduces erosion.
  • Keeping a ‘soil armour’ of growing crop and crop residue for as long as possible.
  • Tramline reorientation across slopes where possible.
  • Appropriate livestock management in times of wet weather, fencing water courses to avoid bankside damage.
  • Silt traps should be the last port of call rather than the first measure implemented.

Whilst most commentators are currently talking about too much water, we should remember that prolonged periods of dry weather are also causing issues, and many of the above measures can help produce a more resilient soil in times of drought as well.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

#NFU16 Conference Highlights

NFU 2016 Conference gets underway.

In amongst all the serious and worrying challenges that are facing agriculture, there is room for a few alternative views and highlights from the 2016 NFU Conference. The first two places in my top ten were close but the Brexit was first past the post.

1. The lively 'Brexit' debate between MEP Dan Hannan and former MEP George Lyon combined exuberance, humour and sharp political debate which had Conference listening to every word. I'm sure George Lyon told conference to ignore 'patrotic jingoism' similar to that used by the Leave Campaign in last years Scottish Independence debate. However, two highlights came in responses from the floor, firstly about 'bank my business' and the second was from session chair Martin Haworth. When a member from Dorset commented that 'The Times was reporting the NFU swinging behind the 'stay in' campaign, and perhaps we should trust neither politicians or journalists' ...Martin turned to Dan Hannan and enquired if as a politician and journalist he might like to comment. Priceless

2. The 'wit and wisdom' award this year went to Dr David Hughes who wanted adjectives rather than nouns when describing the meat we buy. A lively and at times controversial presentation it was  nonetheless delivered with delightful humour.

3.The polished performer award went to Connor McVeigh who takes the title from last year's winner Mark Grimshaw. Coolness under pressure personified. However it would have been nice to hear some direct answers to questions. Would the Living Wage lead to higher prices in Macdonalds? The answer was there were efficiency to be had via the Beef Production Carbon Report..... aimed at the producer. No word on sharing through the food chain with carbon savings on transport to the restaurants or carbon saving in the restaurants themselves!!

4.Secretary of State, Elizabeth Truss repeated an earlier Oxford Conference statements about reducing bureaucracy, with DEFRA agencies working towards shared and common goals. Let's hope they are the same ones that the industry has and both consultation and collaboration will be paramount to achieve a successful outcome. Her comments on TB were also well received.

5. Mark Berriford-Smith's comments on 'forecasters predicting seven of the last two recession' was  well received in the conference hall.

6. A masterstroke engaging the Campaign For The Farmed Environment as a conference sponsor, showing that farmers and their representative do care about the environment.  Lets hope we get some common goals and sensible outcomes from our current agri-environment deliberations.

7. Returning to a more light hearted moment, the 'Pointless' game conducted at dinner between Minette Batters and Guy Smith once again showed that in amongst the serious business of conference, humour and mirth should never be forgotten.

8. In the break out session of cropping and environment, the issues were interwoven in both. Environmental responsibility was never far away at the crops session and cropping profitability was pronounced at the environment meeting. Some comments that registered about environmental labelling were' Green is the normal now' and 'The role of Government is like a tide that floats all boats'. Whilst it was great to see pioneers using competition to drive business efficiencies the whole industry needs some mechanisms to help push forward it's environmental credentials.

Plenty of support for the environment and Crops break out session.
(Pictures courtesy of NFU On-Line)

9. Once again the Conference organisation was second to none, no complaints from this delegate. How you managed to know that I would step on the 4.22pm train 20 seconds before it was due to leave is beyond me. Keep up the great work. The conference summary report is out already and will give you the real and considered sequence of events and is essential reading. For those into networking it is Networking Heaven! The cross section of industry representatives is testament to the conference's importance to the agricultural industry.

10. The leadership contest turned out to be a vote for continuity and with many challenges ahead I'm sure this team will work tirelessly for the benefit of its members. If anyone asks you what the NFU does, get a copy of the NFU 2015 Yearbook and place it in front of them.

Conservation, collaboration and precision

Members of Young Farmers’ Clubs (YFC) will be joining conservation and farming experts to enhance their understanding and skills in precision arable farming.

The National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs (NFYFC) has joined forces with the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) to develop an arable precision farming day at the Allerton Project demonstration farm, Loddington, Leicestershire.  

Nuffield scholar Davina Fillingham shares her professional expertise and study project on precision farming, and Clive Blacker from Precision Decisions explore scanning, yield mapping and guidance for successful but sustainable farming enterprises of the future. 

GWCT’s Phil Jarvis commented: "It's really important to show the next generation of farmers how technology can aid both profitable food production and help protect our farmed environment. I'm sure this event will stimulate informative discussion and positive messages."

Sam Dilcock, newly-elected Agriculture and Rural Issues (AGRI) chairman and self-employed contract farmer said: “As an Industry, we are becoming ever more scrupulous over our inputs, returns and best practice to deliver on our customers’ expectations. Best practice is a combination of cutting-edge innovations alongside tried and tested methods, to produce food which is safe for the consumer and the environment. This is paramount for the future of agriculture.  This precision farming event will deliver knowledge from experienced industry experts which our members will find both intriguing and informative on a practical level.”

Young farmers will experience conservation and farming practices first-hand at the 333 hectare mixed arable and livestock business headed up by Phil Jarvis , hear from the project’s director of policy Dr Alastair Leake, and from head of Allerton’s development and training Jim Egan

The Allerton Project is home to ground-breaking research on many areas of farming, including the successful implementation of water-friendly farming. As crop profit margins are squeezed, the need for informed management of the natural resources available to the farm becomes paramount.  The Allerton Project’s aims are to research the effects of different farming methods on wildlife and the environment, and to share the results of this research through educational activities.

For more information on the event and to book, contact: or book directly via the NFYFCwebsite.

Note to Editors:

The National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs (NFYFC) With over 25,000 members and 644 clubs, the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs (NFYFC) is one of the largest rural youth organisations in the UK and head of a nationwide body of Young Farmers’ Clubs (YFCs) located throughout England and Wales dedicated to supporting young people in agriculture and the countryside.  Their memberships comprise young people aged between 10 and 26 years from a variety of backgrounds, who live or work in rural areas. 


Members of the YFC organisation play an important role in current (and future) social and economic aspects of the rural community. They play a key role in the sustainability of rural environments and therefore have a great interest in maintaining viable conditions in which to live and work.  YFC members can sign up for the event by visiting the NFYFC website.


The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust – providing research-led conservation for a thriving countryside. The GWCT is an independent wildlife conservation charity which has carried out scientific research into Britain’s game and wildlife since the 1930s. We advise farmers and landowners on improving wildlife habitats and we lobby for agricultural and conservation policies based on science. We employ 22 post-doctoral scientists and 50 other research staff with expertise in areas such as birds, insects, mammals, farming, fish and statistics. We undertake our own research as well as projects funded by contract and grant-aid from Government and private bodies. The Trust is also responsible for a number of Government Biodiversity Action Plan species and is lead partner for grey partridge and joint lead partner for brown hare and black grouse.

The Allerton Project -