Louis Baugh’s farm at Neatishead Hall, Norfolk, is bordered by two Sites of Special Scientific Interest, and is also located in the Ant Valley which is designated as a wetland area of international importance. This creates a huge challenge and the big question is “how can you run a profitable farm within such an environmentally sensitive area?”
It was to explore how to farm sustainably while maintaining viability that DEFRA set up its Sustainable Intensification Research Platform (SIP) in 2014 and the early findings from one of the three SIP projects is to be discussed at a meeting delivered by the project leaders NIAB together with Agri-Tech East on 14th September 2016.
A whole-farm-business approach
IFM is a practical, whole-farm-business approach that aims to improve the economic, environmental and social performance of farms, by optimising the use of all resources on the farm including soil, water, air, staff, machinery, capital, wildlife habitats and landscape features.
To be successfully IFM requires a good understanding of beneficial husbandry principles and traditional methods of farming, while addressing regulation and embracing innovation. It also includes a risk management approach that anticipates, assesses, manages and develops contingency plans for any unplanned and/or natural events.
SIP Project 1 ”Integrated Farm Management (IFM) for improved economic, environmental and social performance” aims to develop an approach that farmers can implement within the opportunities presented by their sectors and location. It has a number of study farms to demonstrate a range of alternative farm management practices and the project is developing tools to improve decision support.
Louis Baugh will be talking about the challenges of farming profitably and sustainably within an environmentally vulnerable area. For example maintaining a herd of pedigree holstein dairy cows on peat marshes is made possible by drainage water being pumped up and into the river by an Internal Drainage Board pump.
Protecting the environment
The farm has a well established Countryside Stewardship scheme. This helps the farming operations to coexist alongside the species-rich natural environment, which includes barn owls, marsh harriers, lapwings, skylarks, oystercatchers, otters and the swallowtail butterfly. The stewardship comprises wildflower meadows, conservation headlands, wild bird feeding plots, and 24km of grass margins, almost one third of which have permissive footpaths in place.
He believes that measures to address water quality must be based on scientific evidence, be carefully targeted, and must enthuse and engage farmers: “the costs to farm businesses of implementing measures must not outweigh the environmental benefits of the improvements”. He also considers that farmers would benefit from “carefully targeted advice and information to help farmers improve their soil management techniques, thereby conserving the long-term fertility and productivity of this precious resource.”
Also speaking will be Stuart Knight of NIAB and SIP1 Project lead, who says: “I believe Sustainable Intensification poses tough challenges but also offers great opportunities for UK farming, and I hope that we can contribute to ensuring a profitable and sustainable future for the industry.”
An important element of the project is evaluate the decision support tools that are available and create a list of characteristics that characterise effective tools and use this to encourage manufacturers to design relevant and user-friendly tools in the future. There will be a discussion of this and a number of companies developing such tools will be invited to participate.
The programme is still evolving so if you would like to participate in the tools discussion then do get in contact.