Saturday, 23 May 2015

Sustainable Intensification in practice

At the heart of a busy schedule last week was a meeting of the Study Site Leads from each of the five research and demonstration farms participating in the the Sustainable Intensification research Platform (SIP).  We were joined by representatives from LEAF, Duchy College and our funder, Defra, and for most, it was their first visit to Loddington.
SIP study site leaders outside the visitor centre at Loddington
Our initial contribution to the SIP comprises trials of crop establishment and cover crops as a means of improving soil function and crop performance, while also delivering environmental benefits and increasing the long-term economic performance of the cropping system. For this work, we are collaborating closely with our colleagues at NIAB TAG who are conducting similar research at another SIP study site, Morely, an arable farm in Norfolk.  As well as testing similar management practices, we are adopting the same protocol for data collection so that the data will be comparable, and in some cases, can be analysed across the two sites.  Sharing expertise and data in this way is one of the great strengths of the SIP.
NIAB and Allerton Project staff collecting soil samples

The platform also enables us to develop our existing relationship with other research organisations and to establish new links with others.  Our resident soils researcher, Nicola Hinton, was joined in the second half of the winter by Sarah-Jane Osborne, a PhD Intern registered with Nottingham University and working with Rothamsted Research.  Together with NIAB TAG staff, they have gathered data on a range of soil physical and biological properties in relation to the various management practices we have adopted.  The data are currently being analysed and will form a valuable baseline against which to monitor future change.  We are also developing our plans for this coming autumn's trials.

The SIP also provides us with an opportunity to initiate work on sheep and grassland, a new venture for us that is only made possible through collaboration with Nottingham University.  Nigel Kendall's research explores the relationship between sward minerals and sheep performance with a view to more efficient management of both grassland and the livestock grazing it.  This brings new expertise and information to the Allerton Project, but also strengthens the SIP by extending the scope for us to collaborate with SIP study sites that focus on livestock systems.

Grass, clover and lucerne ley at Loddington
The approach will also benefit local farmers by ensuring that we have something to offer both arable and livestock farmers in this strongly mixed farming area.  But there may also be scope for closer integration of the two systems.  With neighbouring sheep farmer, Gareth Owen, we are already exploring this potential at Loddington by introducing grass leys into the arable rotation to break the life cycle of sheep parasites, improve forage quality, reduce blackgrass populations, and improve soil structure and organic matter.  As well as these benefits to arable and livestock enterprises, we expect environmental benefits such as improved water quality and ecology, flood peak attenuation, and carbon sequestration. It is also associated with increased collaboration between farmers, increased landscape diversity and additional advantages for wildlife.  Such multiple economic, environmental and social benefits are what sustainable intensification is all about.

Sheep in the instrumented 'School Farm' demonstration catchment at Loddington

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