A couple of weeks ago, we hosted a project meeting for the EU funded VALERIE project at Loddington involving researchers from ten countries and a range of farming systems across Europe. The project enables farmers to identify areas of research that are of direct practical relevance to them, and to receive summaries of this research to inform their own management. A web-based search engine is also being developed, with considerable emphasis on the use of farmer-friendly language. There is also scope for on-farm trials to put into practice and evaluate the prioritised management practices within each farming community. Through the Welland Valley Partnership, our East Midlands farmers have identified various issues associated with soil nutrient management as a priority for their businesses.
|Farmers discuss groundnut productivity on their experimental plots|
At the end of January, I helped with a workshop in Dublin as part of a project funded by the Irish Environmental Protection Agency. The project identifies gaps in our knowledge about catchment management and helps to set the Irish catchment management research agenda for the coming years. Thanks to modern water treatment, the River Liffey and Dublin Bay where Molly Malone once obtained her cockles and mussels are not now the source of disease that they were in her time. But there is still scope for improving the water quality of Irish rivers and estuaries. In terms of the agricultural issues, the greatest challenge is posed by intensification of dairy farms with the potential for increased release of nutrients into water. The group that I chaired emphasised the need to consider the legacy of past land management as an influence on current ecology, and the possible slow response to current management strategies. The opportunities associated with multiple outcomes from individual management practices were also highlighted. The group also recognised the existing role for dairy co-ops in leading a move to better nutrient use efficiency to satisfy a growing global market for a quality product with strong environmental credentials. The link between healthy soils, productive farming and clean water is becoming increasingly well accepted, although there remains a need to develop a more collaborative approach with farmers to apply this concept more widely.
|Protesters against water charges in central Dublin|