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Food, Farming and Nature Conservation consensus at Groundswell

Agri-TechE Article
Rothamsted Research Rothamsted Research

“Producing for food, nature and climate” was the phrase frequently used by Janet Hughes of Defra as she gave a pragmatic presentation to a packed tent at Groundswell 2023. Once a fringe event, the topics discussed at the regenerative agriculture festival have become increasingly mainstream with a greater consensus growing over key issues.

Flex and adapt approach

Janet was keen to reassure farmers, and others in the Big Top, that a less prescriptive approach will be adopted with the new Environment Land Management schemes (ELMs) – offering greater flexibility to pick and mix and to create a tailored scheme that works for the farm.

In particular, she talked about the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, reiterating that this is to continue since its improvement through farmer input, and is now considered efficient. Defra aims to deliver its outcomes through this scheme.

For the Sustainable Farming Incentive, the learning points from over 4000 farm trials are being incorporated to expand the scope. The standards will not be ‘bundled’ as first devised but instead offered as a portfolio for farmers and their advisers to select from.

Janet Hughes, Defra
Janet Hughes, Defra

She says: “We are testing and learning as we go, balancing the need for ‘certainty’ that farmers require for planning with a ‘flex and adapt’ approach to make the schemes good and fit for purpose.” Her vision is to develop a farming system with feedback loops that deliver productivity and prosperity while delivering on food production and the environment.

She reassured the audience that 530 schemes had been accepted for the higher tier Countryside Stewardship and the standard had been good. There are plans to increase access and also to offer a hybrid approach to allow smaller projects within a wider mid tier scheme to be eligible for support under the higher tier.

She also acknowledged that there was a plethora of grants and schemes and Defra is looking at ways to make it easier to find the relevant support and make an application.

Growing consensus

The next session looked at how there is a growing consensus over the direction of travel for farming.

The Food, Farming and Nature Consensus had evolved from discussions at the Oxford Farming Conference, it aims to bring all stakeholders together to find common ground to tackle systemic issues.

All signatories to the pledge agreed upon three shared principles:

  1. A healthy natural environment underpins food security.
  2. Farming has a vital role in producing food but also in tackling the nature, climate and health crises.
  3. Diversity in all its forms will enable resilience and innovation in the face of growing economic and environmental challenges.

Helen Browning, Katie Lo Luxton, Lord Benyon, Stuart Roberts
Helen Browning, Katie-Jo Luxton, Lord Benyon, Daniel Zeichner, Stuart Roberts

After a scene-setting by Katie-Jo Luxton, RSPB Director for Global Conservation, three political figures – Rt Hon Lord Benyon (Con), Daniel Zeichner MP (Lab) and Stuart Roberts (Lib Dem) – gave their views of the way forward. Again, there was a consensus, with the panel reassuring those in the room that whatever the outcome in the general election, the road towards Net Zero will accelerate not deviate.

Measure to manage

Daniel discussed the importance of establishing baselines for measuring progress and to ensure that the community is doing the right things in the best way. He stressed the importance of a Land Use Framework that would build consensus on how land use is optimised.

The panel also discussed the need for trade deals that did not allow UK farmers striving for high standards in animal welfare and environmental stewardship to be undercut by overseas competitors operating in a less regulated landscape.

A number of Agri-TechE members were exhibiting at Groundswell, including:

Rothamsted Research encouraged visitors to test the ‘Cow Burpometer’ to understand more about methane emissions.
On the Barenbrug display plots there was an opportunity to see grass, forage and herbal leys.
NIAB’s trial plots demonstrated a range of novel crops that could support diversification.
Hutchinsons soil pit demonstrated clearly how shallow the top soil is on this part of the farm. Soil and cost mapping provides support for decision-making.
Groundswell 2023

Agri-TechE members at CropTec 2022

Agri-TechE Article
Ben Burgess Ben Burgess

CropTec 2022The theme of the CropTec Show 2022 was ‘Farming in a changing climate: Controlling costs, cultivating resilience’; the technical arable event featured a seminar programme and exhibition.

Agri-TechE members were out in force again this year at CropTec Show 2022, exhibiting their services, tools, products and research. CropTec 2022 ran from Wednesday 23rd to Thursday 24th November at the East of England Showground in Peterborough.

AgRecruit – recruitment for the AgriTech sector; covering roles in tech, science, engineering, commercial, senior leadership and more

AHDB (also sponsoring the Knowledge Exchange Hub) – a levy board that delivers transformational projects aimed at driving productivity across farming and supply chain businesses.

Bayer Crop Science – a leading agricultural innovator across seeds, digital services and crop protection.

Ben Burgess – leading suppliers of machinery and equipment in the agricultural, construction and grounds care industries, and one of only two original John Deere dealers in the UK.

CHAP – a UK Agri-Tech Centre funded by Innovate UK to develop and trial solutions that transform crop systems.

Cranfield University – world-class research with a focus on finding practical solutions to achieve both sustainable and profitable food production without waste.

De Sangosse – a European leader in adjuvant technology, nutrition, molluscicides and pod sealants that help growers protect their crops.

Drip UK (Howseman Agriculture) – full contracting, management and supply services for drip irrigation, including tape laying and removal.

Drone Ag – developers of Skippy Scout, an app that automates leaf-level crop data collection and analysis in real-time using drones and AI technology.

Elsoms – leading independent seed specialist and plant breeder. Breeds, supplies and treats high quality seed using the latest in plant breeding research and seed technology.

Hutchinsons – leading agronomists with over 10 years of expertise.

PGRO – UK’s Centre of excellence for pulse crops (peas and beans) with a strong reputation for consistency and stability. It provides authoritative and relevant information and delivers project work based on solid reliable research.CropTec 2022

Prodata Weather Systemsa supplier of automated weather stations and environmental monitoring solutions.

PureFarm powered by Map of Ag – connects data from farms and the agri-food supply chain. The platform sorts, standardises and provisions permissioned data from multiple sources to help businesses and organisations to be more effective.

Satellite Applications Catapult – helps organisations to use and benefit from satellite technologies. It brings together multi-disciplinary teams to generate ideas and solutions in an open innovation environment.

Sencrop – users of the Sencrop weather station and App receive real-time data and forecasts for their fields.

Sentry – one of the largest national farming companies in the UK, with 20,000 hectares of land under cultivation for clients throughout the country, annually growing over 400,000 tonnes of local produce.

Timac Agro – specialists in plant and animal nutrition with extensive expertise in soil conditioning and fertiliser efficiency, it offers a specific range of fertilisers adapted to local soils and farmers’ needs.

The Lincoln Institute for Agri-Food Technology (LIAT) – aims to support and enhance productivity, efficiency and sustainability in food and farming through research, education and technology.

Yagro – a pioneer in the development of analytics for agriculture.

In addition, BASF sponsored the Disease Control Seminar at CropTec 2022.

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Hutchinsons’ advice for how to manage potato crops in warm, dry conditions

Meet the Network
Hutchinsons Hutchinsons

Unlike most years 2022 will not be about managing large green haulm to aid skin set and lifting, but about keeping the crop alive with water or making more challenging strategic decisions, says Hutchinsons‘ root crop technical manager Darryl Shailes.

Darryl Shailes, root crop technical manager, Hutchinsons
Darryl Shailes, root crop technical manager, Hutchinsons

He points out that even the best of irrigation systems or the crops grown in the perfect silt that were planted in great conditions are struggling under the prolonged hot and dry weather we are experiencing.

By early August, most irrigation reservoirs are getting very low and restrictions are being put on some other licenses.

“During the heat wave in July many crops ceased bulking and only put on dry matter, and were just about kept alive,” he says. “This rapid increase in dry matter means that many crops, especially those that are unirrigated or short of water, are already in excess of 24% DM and will be highly prone to bruising.”

Darryl believes the best decision for many growers will be to stop the crop even though the yield is only in the low teens per acre.

“To leave the haulm alive under the current conditions will only increase dry matter and yield is unlikely to be significantly improved.”

“For some crops even if rain were forecast, their ability to increase yield and tuber size significantly will already be compromised with very poor haulm and will probably cause issues with secondary growth.”

He says growers may have to target lifting and irrigation where still available to those crops that are most sensitive to bruising.

“Where water is available, irrigation pre-harvest – even though having no real effect on dry matter – can help to keep more soil on the web and cushion the potatoes to reduce bruising.

“Single handling and correct settings of harvesters and elevators will be even more important than normal to reduce the exposure to bruising as much as possible.

“A relatively small unbruised crop should be easier to market than a slightly larger but heavily bruised crop,” he adds.

However, Darryl says it is not all doom and gloom: “Some well irrigated crops are still bulking and have good haulm, and in an ideal world soil moisture deficit should be maintained at around 30mm until flailing and or burn down to reduce the risk of bruising.

“Normally blight control would need to be continued until all the haulm is dead but with this season with hardly any reports of blight some growers may decide not to treat during the haulm destruction process especially on crop not intended for storage.”

Lifting potatoes