Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Integral integration

I have just got back from two days in Penrith where I was involved in the organsation of the Institute of Fisheries Management's 'Farming and Fisheries' conference.  The focus of the session I chaired was sediment, with speakers from the length of England, and one from Ireland, covering issues associated with maize grown for anaerobic digestion, lake sedimentation, and sediment impacts on aquatic invertebrate communities and food webs. John Quinton from Lancaster University ended the session with a description of the evidence based practical mitgation measures that arable farmers can adopt. Much of this research was carried out with us at Loddington. We ended with an enlightening discussion.

On the second day, I had the chance to present some results from the research we are doing with Jeremy Biggs of the Freshwater Habitats Trust and Colin Brown at York University in our Water Friendly Farming project.  Like the conference as a whole, this project highlights the inter-relatedness of many issues associated with land and water management.  Nothing can be considered in isolation. This was also the theme of an article I wrote for the latest newsetter of the Sustainable Intensification research Platfrom (SIP), an abstract of which appears below.

Integral integration

'Sustainability' is generally regarded as meeting our needs today without compromising those of future generations.  We are all becoming increasingly comfortable with the idea that a range of environmental factors underpins our ability to produce food, clean water and, to an increasing extent, fuel.  Look no further than the recent flurry of activity around soil health on farming-related social media as evidence of this.  Integrating environmental objectives with agricultural ones is fundamental to productive land use, both in the short and long-term.

There are two further ways in which integration is key to our productive management of the land.  One is a response to the polarisation of farming systems.  While this may have delivered economic efficiencies in the short-term, there is an increasing realisation of the benefits associated with the integration of food production systems, not least in terms of waste management, weed and disease control, and security of feed supply. The other example relates to knowledge exchange.  A long history of one-directional knowledge transfer, from scientists to farmers, is gradually giving way to a more enlightened approach, in which the skills and knowledge of the most pioneering farmers are recognised as having equal, or more relevance to the current challenges associated with food production.  Put the best scientists and the most forward thinking farmers together and we have real dynamism that can help us to achieve sustainable intensification.

‘Intensification’ now is not measured in tonnes of fertiliser or litres of diesel or plant protection products, but through the knowledge and technology that are developed and applied to improve the efficiency with which those resources are used.  As well as ensuring economic and environmental benefits arising from improved resource-use efficiency, this approach harnesses natural processes for nutrient cycling and control of pests, weeds and diseases.

Integration of environmental and production objectives, arable and livestock systems, and scientific and farmer knowledge, is integral to the activities on the SIP study farms.  Together, our farms provide a platform on which science can be applied in a practical setting, and a focus for discussion with visiting farmers and advisors. 

The full version of this article, and the rest of the SIPSCENE newsletter can be found here.