Local farmers bring environment report to life

United by our environment, food, future Farmed Environment Conference December 2018_58943

The vital role farming plays in protecting and enhancing the environment will be underlined at a landmark conference hosted by the NFU today (11 December 2018).

Farmers from across the country will join the event including North Yorkshire farmer and regional representative on the NFU's national environment forum, Richard Bramley, who will be addressing the conference.

The aim is to highlight the importance of a farmed environment working in harmony with productive food and farming businesses and in his speech Mr Bramley will call for a new collaborative approach to achieve an environment everyone can be proud of.

Also today, a new report is being published detailing the role farming has played through the generations in shaping Britain’s iconic countryside. It will also highlight the need for a better data-based approach to underpin effective future agricultural and environmental policy-making and ensure that environmental successes can be recognised, as well as understand where more work is needed and the NFU’s key policy asks of government.

NFU President Minette Batters said: “Farmers want to play our part in rising to the government’s wider challenge to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better condition than we found it.

“In order to do that, we need a balanced and honest appraisal of the current state of the farmed environment. Farmers take their environmental responsibilities very seriously and are passionate about the countryside – without it they would not have businesses.

"Our report highlights the need for better data to benchmark environmental performance in a meaningful way. Without accurate or comprehensive data we will be permanently reliant on anecdotal or cherry-picked evidence which does not show the full picture.

"For example, during last year’s Big Farmland Bird Count, 121 different species of birds were recorded on farm – far more than are found on the Government’s official farmland bird index. And there was another success story with barn owls, which have increased by 17% above the average of the previous four years.

“In order to keep delivering for the environment, a future land management scheme should be voluntary, open to all farmers, simple to apply for and administer, and offer a fair reward. Immediately, current schemes must be more workable and attractive.

“The NFU, and farmers across the country, are also asking the government to rise to our challenge to make sure that a future agriculture policy enhances farmers’ ability to produce food for the nation. It is crucial that it gives us greater security in the supply of safe, traceable and affordable British food that the public trusts.

"The bottom line is that farm businesses need to be productive and profitable to be able to continue to deliver the environmental benefits we all want to see."

As well as their environmental responsibilities, farmers are the foundation of the UK’s largest manufacturing sector food and drink. They produce the raw ingredients for a sector that is worth over £110 billion to the economy and provides 3.8 million jobs,  all while producing safe, traceable and sustainable food for the nation.

Farmers across the North East Region are keen to demonstrate how they strive to deliver for the environment. Below are two case studies capturing just some of the work being done on two farms - one in Wensleydale and one in Sancton, East Yorkshire.

The Metcalfe brothers on their Wensleydale farm_59006

Encouraging biodiversity

For brothers, Alan, Anthony and Bryan Metcalfe, who farm near Hawes in the Yorkshire Dales, a traditional approach to managing their sheep and cattle naturally delivers a farmed environment that’s home to a range of rare plants and threatened bird species.

Managing around 1260 acres of hill land at the heart of the national park, the family has been farming with the environment in mind for more than 20 years. They now boast 100 acres of upland hay meadow – an iconic feature of the English countryside characterised by a particular group of plants and grasses that provide an important feeding habitat for a wide range of bird and insect life.

As a result, the farm is home to key breeding wader species such as the Curlew, a species under threat globally, and Lapwings that require a wet or damp breeding habitat with short vegetation. Work to maintain 12 traditional stone barns on the farm ensures perfect nesting opportunities for Barn Owls, with four breeding pairs now established.

Maintaining 15 miles of dry stone walls on the farm is a costly labour of love for the brothers but provides valuable shelter and habitat for birds, mammals and insects as well as a home for plants, mosses and lichens.

A long-running tree planting programme has seen more than 500 native trees established on the farm and a further commitment to protect areas of woodland from livestock with fencing or walling has further improved their woodland habitats.

“The biodiversity on our farm is very important to us,” said Alan. “As a family we have been actively involved in environmental schemes for more than two decades – a commitment that has seen us reduce our livestock numbers as part of a drive to offer better habitat for wading birds.

“We also have a long-running programme to regenerate the heather on the moors and are proud to see our glorious hay meadows in full flower in May. These not only contribute to the variety of wildlife on the farm and the wonderful Dales landscape people flock to see, they provide vital winter feed for our animals. The whole system is inter-connected, with many farming practices helping to encourage important habitats.

“The work is ongoing but environmental management does come at a considerable cost so it is vital that the economics of hill farming stack up in the future to ensure we can continue to invest for the long-term.”

 Andrew Manfield_59007

Harnessing the power of clover

As an East Yorkshire arable farmer, Andrew Manfield has a long-standing interest in soil quality, improving fertiliser efficiency, retaining nutrients and improving water quality.

Over the years he has experimented with different approaches to cultivation starting with direct drilling to minimise soil disturbance. But a collaboration with Yorkshire horticultural research station, Stockbridge Technology Centre, has recently seen him benefit from a very innovative use of clover as a ‘cover crop’ grown as a permanent ‘understorey’ beneath his cereal crops.

Cover crops – sometimes called green manure crops - are widely sown between commercial crops because of the environmental and soil benefits they bring: preventing erosion and improving soil structure, adding organic matter and suppressing weeds while conserving moisture and nutrients.

Using them as a permanent feature though, planted in strips in between cereal or oilseed crops is revolutionary, if challenging to achieve on Andrew’s heavy wet soils.

Precision farming techniques that allow pin-point accuracy when planting, tending and harvesting crops has been essential in establishing the strips of clover which have since flourished while crops of oilseed rape and wheat have been grown around them.

It’s still early days to assess the impact of the clover on soil structure and worm activity, but Andrew says obvious initial benefits include better control of fungal diseases as the soft clover understory limits the spread of fungal spores from rain-splash. Crops also benefit from greater air circulation.

Management of the clover – cutting it after it has flowered and before autumn sowing – also maximises its nutritional benefits for the commercial crop.

“This has been an interesting approach, from which we are learning a great deal,” said Andrew. “Overall, with half the field put down to clover, there is a drop in yield, but the environmental benefits are clear and as this approach has the potential to reduce production costs, it can also have an impact on the farm’s bottom line.”

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Last edited on: 11:12:2018

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