Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Sheep sharing

Gareth Owen describes his sward management
Nearly a third of the School Farm demo catchment at Loddington is in grass that is owned and managed by neighbouring farmer, Gareth Owen, and grazed by part of his flock of 1,400 breeding ewes. The area includes some permanent pasture as well as leys of various ages.  The shorter term leys that he uses form part of our arable rotation, providing an opportunity to build soil organic matter and fertility, and to control blackgrass. Gareth uses our soil nutrient maps and soil temperature and moisture sensors in the catchment to inform his nutrient management and parasite control programmes.

Liz Genever looks for soil compaction and Rhizobium nodules on clover

Parasite control, and sward management for optimum nutrition are key areas of research on the farm, carried out in collaboration with Nottingham University.  The farm is also used for demonstration purposes, such as the Eblex event held there earlier this week.  We look forward to working more closely with Gareth and our research partners at Nottingham to optimise both resource use efficiency and environmental benefits in the School Farm catchment.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Wildlife, food and climate change

Lesser Marsh Grasshopper
The Met Office reports that June was 1.2ÂșC warmer than the average for the 1981-2010 period and the ninth warmest for the past century.  Rainfall was 76% the average.  This reflects the long term trend for changes in our climate and is associated with changes in the distribution of some wildlife species which have been expanding their range north-westwards across the country. We have noticed the changes in central England at Loddington.  Since the Allerton Project started here in 1992, Lesser Marsh Grasshoppers colonised the farm in 1997 and Roesel's Bush Crickets in 2002.  Long-winged Conehead, Tree Bumblebee and White-legged Damselfly are amongst other insects to have appeared from the south-east.  At a time when much wildlife is in decline, the appearance of these species is welcome on the one hand, but on the other, their north-westwards range expansion carries a more sinister message.
Flowering wheat

While it is easy to dismiss the significance of changes in insect communities, we can expect climate change to have more direct effects on our own lives.  That does not just mean more frequent storms and floods, but also threats to our food supply.  Combined with the widespread adoption of heavy machinery, winter rain contributes to water-logged land which causes erosion of soil from fields, and lower yielding crops.  In summer, high temperature during flowering reduces the number of grains per ear of wheat, while poor access to water during grain filling, caused by compacted ground and low rainfall, reduces the size of those grains. Food production in north-west Europe is expected to be affected less than in other parts of the World, putting increasing pressure on the UK and neighbouring countries to feed the global population.  That has serious implications for wildlife associated with farmland, and for us.  As well as continuing to monitor wildlife, we are seeking better ways of managing our crops so as to meet the challenges that climate change presents us all.