Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Open Farm Sunday

Planning is well under way for our Open Farm Sunday, our gates will open on the 11th June 2017.

The Allerton Project, Hall Farm, Main Street, Loddington, Leicestershire, LE7 9XE.

We know how important it is to share the farming story and ensure we have public support for British agriculture. The future of UK farming depends upon trust from the general public for what farming delivers in the world today. Open Farm Sunday gives us the opportunity to showcase this and ensure people from all ages and backgrounds engage with food production and the countryside around them.
We’re sure to have a jam-packed, fun-filled day with tractor and trailer rides, local produce, Leicestershire Longwools, South Devon cattle, chickens, pigs, alpacas, farm machinery, children’s activities and more!

So, do come and see us, suitable for all ages, grab friends and family for a brilliant day out on the farm! And of course, it’s free entry.

Good food, good people, good farming. See you there! 

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Drilling home the message

Ensuring farming is supported by government policy has never been so important and at the top of our industry’s priorities. With Brexit and the upcoming general election presenting more uncertainty within agriculture, it is paramount that the future interests of food production and farming are heard.
The government often discuss their long-term goal to make Britain a world-leading agricultural and rural nation, especially when it comes to self-sufficiency. The Secretary of State has set out five priorities for action for achieving these aims;

  • To improve productivity and competitiveness of the whole food supply chain. 
  • To increase global demand for British food and drink. 
  • To strengthen resilience of our agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors. 
  • To increase sustainability by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting, enhancing and investing in our natural environment. 
  • To build consumer trust to ensure confidence in the food they buy.

At the end of March, The Allerton Project had a visit from Andrea Leadsom. The purpose of the day was to gain an understanding of the Allerton approach to integrated farm management, complete with a farm tour from Farmer Phil. The visit also gave GWCT and The Allerton Project the opportunity to express our initial views on post-Brexit farming and environment policy.

The project has also been busy with many events and training days. We have recently hosted a national soils days in partnership with the NFU and LEAF covered in our last post, followed by a  soils day for Syngenta, this focused around infield practices and soil armour alongside fertiliser and pesticide application. There were many take home messages from the day, centering around sustainable intensification and conservation agriculture. Key principles of this include minimum soil disturbance through reduced tillage systems, continuous ground cover and diverse crop rotations. It was great to see the candidates learnt so much- shown here:
The farm has been equally as busy with spring drilling and the Longwools going out to grass. However, the dry weather has presented some challenges. Our oats and barley are beginning to come through after being drilled straight into stubble or cover crop residues. This has helped with moisture conservation during the current dry weather, but can also compromise seedbed preparation. Direct drilling has led to some varied crop emergence on heavier land where wet conditions at drilling time led to some smearing with the drill. Our winter crops have come under stress from lack of moisture and cool weather, which is making our decisions for fungicide and fertiliser use more challenging. If the fertiliser isn’t used when conditions are favourable, it can volatilise rather than being washed into the ground. Drought stress and late frosts after fungicide and growth regulator ‘tank mix’ applications can lead to scorched crops. In other words, there is one farmer in Leicestershire who is doing a rain dance (but not too much)! 

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Raising the Sustainable Soil Profile

At the Allerton project in Leicestershire, numerous studies are in action to investigate the impact of cover cropping and cultivation methods on soil resilience. The Project in partnership with the National Farmers Union (NFU) and LEAF hosted a stimulating event, sponsored by Dale Drills and Kings. A range of experts attended to discuss the latest industry research and how farmers can and are leading the way to achieve healthy soils for the benefit of the environment, crop yields and consumers.

We know that soils are important for our crops and therefore food security, as well as the wider environmental benefits supported by good soil health. By its very nature, without this essential component, we would not be able to grow food, provide wildlife habitats, prevent flooding or have clean water.

 £5.3 billion is spent on agriculture annually and 25% of this goes on soil degradation costs (Defra, 2012). There is no one single strategy to tackle this impact. It is therefore important to consider objectives and management strategy, from sowing methods and dates, pest protection and establishment along with crop rotation, which advances in agricultural technology will help with.

The soils day was attended by nearly 50 farmers, NFU members, industry advisers, researchers and policy makers and was chaired by Mike Hambly (NFU, National Combinable Crops Board).
We kick started the day with a research review from Dr. Felicity Crotty (the Allerton Project soil scientist), who highlighted the innovative 3-year SIP project and the benefits that cover cropping can bring. These include, but are not limited to, nutrient retention, ecosystem provisioning, increased organic matter, reduced soil erosion, livestock forage and weed control. We also learnt that earthworm weight can be greater per hectare underground than the livestock above ground which graze it!

Following this, Ron Stobart of NIAB evaluated the impact of cover cropping at a landscape scale, he was quick to point out that;
Patience and careful management in cover cropping is required! Benefits are not always immediate and there are challenges along the way.’
There are many risk factors within these systems which require careful management. Greenbridge pests and diseases, rotational conflict, weeds such as volunteer cover crops in following cash crop and destruction methods must be thought out.
Mike Hambly concluded this session; ‘Like with anything, in farming, timeliness is everything’.

Chris Baylis- LEAF demonstration farmer and head of farming for Sutton Settled Estates gave a farmer’s view on the practicalities of cover cropping and direct drilling. In his system, there are 6 key aims;

  1. utilise cultural control of weeds, pests and diseases, 
  2. maintain the soil nutrient balance, 
  3. spread financial risk, 
  4. increase biodiversity, 
  5. maintain soil structure,
  6. spread workload to utilise on farm resources. 
It is worth noting that success isn’t always what you see. This can be put into context with green area and rooting depth, although it is important to retain soil cover, we also want the underground benefits of cover cropping, so balancing starter fertilizer is crucial. Chris also commented that drainage must be managed, as there are challenges with cover cropping on heavy land.

Our final speaker, Professor Jonathan Leake discussed the importance of mycorrhizal fungi and what they can deliver. In 2 million hectares of wheat in the UK there is mycorrhizal hyphae that would stretch from the earth to the sun 26,000 times or over 500 times to Pluto! Cover cropping can be used as a nurse crop for mycorrhiza and its presence will encourage phosphorus capture and nutrient use efficiency. It will also contribute to improved soil structure and greater organic matter. However, it must be said that soil structure cannot be attributed to one sole component but a combination of management strategies.

A soils day wouldn’t be complete without a farm tour, looking at the Allerton Project’s research in action and of course, a look at some shiny kit. In the field discussions on future challenges facing soil management ensued. Conversation centred around soil management practices across the diverse soil types in the UK. Sited on the farmyard were examples of machinery and a quick drilling demo- this included Dale Drills, John Deere, Sumo, and Claydon, some of which are used by the Allerton project to direct drill seeds into the untilled land.

Changes to cultivation techniques can help to build a resilient soil, that can withstand more frequent and exceptional weather events such as flash flooding and drought. This will be vital as we go forward so that we can continue to farm our food efficiently while caring for the environment.
Phil Jarvis, Head of Farming at the Allerton project stated;
 ‘I want to improve my soil health and profitability, but patience is key, there's no right or wrong, it's what fits with the system’.

The day brought some insightful debate. These systems are not easy on heavy land but are important for the diversity across all farming systems. We must not ignore the massive impact the approaches discussed can help increase soil resilience. This can help reduce the £1.5 billion cost to the economy of soil degradation. The real question is how to reward farmers for delivering resilient soils, but establishment methods and success is measured by an individual farm basis, there is no one size fits all solution.

This event at the Allerton Project has shown how food production works in harmony, as well as enhancing the farmed environment. With a UK population of 60 million people, set to rise to 70 million in the next decade, food and farming needed to be at the heart of Government and that the A in Defra should once again stand for agriculture. Although we strive for farming to be profitable it is more than being a businessman, it's about being environmentally aware.