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Environmental Stewardship

4 key steps for the future of UK farming from the 2018 BCPC Pests & Beneficials Annual Review

At a glance: 4 things to focus on

1. Knowledge transfer

2. System thinking

3. Research and development

4. Sharing best practice

I recently had the pleasure of attending the BCPC Pests and Beneficials Annual Review, which this year focused on building confidence in beneficials.

A range of high-calibre speakers shared their research and experience on topics ranging from conservation agriculture, integrated pest management (IPM) and agri-environment schemes, to field margins and soil.

Throughout the conference, the topics of discussion really helped illuminate the complexities of where arable farming is going in the lab, and how ultimately this will translate to the field and beyond.

Here are the reoccurring themes taken from the conversations had, which will all play a part in how we build confidence in the future of UK arable farming.

1. Knowledge transfer – different knowledge for different audiences

If we are to reach our potential as an arable industry in the Brexit era, we must get better at knowledge transfer. How this looks in practice will vary as we consider our role within crop production, and the agri-food sector at large.

A good example of this was a discussion about how to ensure a good uptake of agri-environment schemes now and post-Brexit, which requires effectively communicating as an industry to the civil service, whilst also making the schemes accessible and applicable for farm businesses. No easy task, but starting to understand the knowledge gaps, and the language in which the various stakeholders of arable farming operate, is a step in the right direction.

Roles in arable farming are evolving, and with the future of British agricultural policy looking increasingly unpredictable, we can’t wait for political decisions to shape our developing remits; we must engage and inform ourselves.

2. System thinking – thresholds and field margins

Farmers are facing increasing pressure to produce food that is profitable, but also good for the consumer and the environment. Climate change, emotion-led consumer behaviour, and a precautionary regulatory landscape have created challenges, but also an opportunity to consider the ways in which we manage crops.

Approaching farming as a holistic system – nothing new in many regards, yet nonetheless a ‘novel’ narrative in current agricultural affairs – stood out as key to building confidence in the profitability of farming.

Mark Ramsden of ADAS reminded participants of the purpose of thresholds, framing the process of understanding the farming system, and by doing so encouraging more targeted application of crop protection products. It also encourages farmers to consider other means of innovation to reduce the growth rate of pests and improve crop establishment through seed varieties. Ramsden noted that, through the Yield Enhancement Network, thresholds facilitate entrepreneurship and experimentation with farmers who pay attention to their crop and the latest technical information. This is something that we can testify to through our involvement with the Cereal Yield Enhancement Network.

3. Research and development

Armed with better knowledge transfer and framed by system thinking, it is imperative that the UK maintains an accommodating and flexible environment for the research and development of crop production tools that lives up to our word-class legacy.

The annual review once again displayed an impressive array of pioneering research on conservation agriculture, field margins and gaining a stronger understanding of the role of money spiders in enhancing wheat yield. How we deliver this is going to be a challenge, but it is certainly helped by the likes of Agri-tech East and other innovation hubs in streamlining the innovation pipeline.                                                   

4. Sharing best practice ‘farm2farm’

“As a farmer, I want some answers: how do we carry on when everything goes?”

Andy Barr of East Lenham Farm, who is a member of the BASE UK group of conservation agriculturalists, made it clear in his presentation that farmers need answers to the changes that affect them this year. Supporting the trend towards knowledge transfer, farm2farm engagement through networks such as BASE UK and Agricology among others will contribute towards building resilience and help the adoption of new solutions.

We already heard about farm2farm innovation and forms of disruptive market models last year at Agri-tech East’s REAP conference with the likes of Farm-r and Bee Connected supported by the Voluntary Initiative. Sean Sparling as Chair of the AICC and Chair of the annual review conference continued to bring home the message about how agronomists must encourage farm2farm knowledge and experience.


So how can we ensure that we have a thriving farming environment, but also a thriving farming industry once we leave the EU?

Seeing the environment you work in as a sustainable food system, and investing in the future, will certainly make a big difference.

I challenge you to proactively consider your role in sharing your stories, knowledge, and experience of farming to those who are making the decisions that count.

 

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