Moving to integrated systems: sharing lessons from our regional agronomy events
The drive to change. We are all too aware that changes to agriculture are just around the corner. In January the government published its 25 Year Environment Plan, and at the end of February the Consultation on ‘Health and Harmony: the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit’ was released. New farming rules for water come into force for reducing water pollution on 2 April 2018.
All three of these strategies include, but are not limited to public money for public good, enhancing our environment by reducing the impact of agricultural chemicals on water and efficient use of fertilisers, improving soil health and minimising soil erosion, and risk management and resilience to support and protect sustainable agriculture.
To provide ourselves with the best chance at addressing these new policies, within the context of future of challenges of supply chains and resistance and loss of chemical armoury, we need to work together and integrate our thinking to develop and exploit both research and on-farm innovative. During our AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds Agronomy series it became clear that these lessons can be learnt and shared between intensive arable producers, organic farmers and mixed arable and livestock farmers.
What also became clear is that integration is more than just doing several things are the same time. An integrated approach means to ensure that each action or activity is symbiotic.
Across our Strategic Arable Farms we work closely with LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming).
Public money for public good. Flood risk mitigation starts with good soil management. Invest in drainage; it is so incredibly important. Ensure your soils are aerated. There is an increased potential for compaction turning on the headland; control vehicle movement and pay attention to axle load and pressure. Increasing the resilience of the soil will decrease the risk of damage.
Reducing the impact of chemicals. The message from our Agronomy events was that it is not about chemical versus cultural controls. We need to think about how our decisions on chemical control impact on other parts of our farming system, and vice versa.
For example, John Pawsey, who spoke at our South East Agronomy event (slides available online) demonstrated that his approach to pest management encourages the opportunities for natural enemies to play their role. He says that “a complex rotation with a range of drilling dates helps increase the number of beneficial insects and disrupt pest lifecycles. Diversity within cropping, using inter-row sowing, and crop competiveness is also important.”
Improving soil health. Every farm is unique, but with a focus on soil husbandry which links science and practice, we should be able to get the physics and the chemistry of the soil right to allow the biology to be more forgiving. We need to think of our soil biology as our underground livestock – if we stopped feeding it, it wouldn’t be happy. Attention to detail and looking at your tillage operations with a close and critical eye will ensure that cultivations are accurate and appropriate.
Risk management and business resilience. It is not only attention to detail of our soils which is needed, but ensure that every course of action is achieving something. Consider cultivations, seed rates, drilling times, smart nutrition, crop growth habits, plant health, nutrient demands, yield potential and the weather. Organisation and planning should see farmers conducting business reviews in the same way that a consultant would. Consider your strengths, weaknesses opportunities and threats facing your businesses and calculate your costs and available resources. Use our Farmbench tool to help with this. The best margins come from a managed approach achieved by a farmer looking at each field, each year, and asking: “What is best?”