Saturday, 20 June 2015

Getting down to earth

Phil Jarvis and Nathan Morris discuss soil management
Nearly thirty farmers from the upper Welland river basin enjoyed an informative day at Loddington earlier this week when they joined soil management experts for practical talks and field demonstrations of drills and a sub-soiler.  The event was part of an on-going programme of workshops and other initiatives coordinated by the Welland Valley Partnership of which the Allerton Project is a key player. As well as hearing about our own soils research with our partner, NIAB TAG, farmers were able to hear from external speakers from industry.  Such events provide a great opportunity for local farmers to learn about the latest research results and see the latest equipment, but also provide a valuable opportunity for us to receive feedback from them about the relevance and applicabilty of such research and equipment for local farms.

George Renner explains his farming system to the Welland ABG
There are other ways in which we exchange knowledge between research and farmers in the upper Welland.  A recent and highly successful initiative is the Welland Arable Business Group which provides an opportunity for local farmers to benchmark the economic performance of their businesses against each other, and against the regional average, using the HGCA software, Cropbench+.  Discussion about the varying approaches and performance of farm businesses is an extrememly useful exercise for all concerned.  It highlights the current poor returns from arable farming across businesses of all types and sizes, and farmers have identified a need to reduce input costs to maintain the economic viability of their businesses.  This reflects the situation across the country - staying in business, not maximising food production, is the primary concern for arable farms.  Optimising resource use is key to this and there is an increasing interest in improving soil management, including a better understanding of soil organic matter.  We have been able to help by gathering soil organic matter data for participating farms, resulting in benchmarking organic matter, as well as economics, across farms.  We have also been able to help by gathering data on soil compaction which can be used to inform farmers' decisions about remediation.  There is increasing discussion about a move towards smaller lighter farm equipment that would reduce both costs and impact on soils.  Such changes in management can deliver public benefits such as improved drinking water, flood control and biodiversity, as well as addressing the immediate concerns of farm businesses.

We strive to make our research topical, practical and relevant to farmers, as well as to the policy makers who set the boundaries in which farm businesses operate.  Close collaboration with the local farming community enables us to ensure that our research is in line with the economic objectives of farm businesses. Only by adopting this approach will that research result in widespread on-farm changes that also deliver wider environmental, social and cultural objectives for society as a whole.

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