The how, what and why of sustainable farming is what LEAF is all about. LEAF is asking some fundamental questions around what sustainable farming looks like, how we measure it and why it matters. All these questions (and lots more) determine our objectives, shape our ideas and inform our decisions. Laura Tippin, Technical Assistant at LEAF explains how its management tools, research, demonstration and industry outreach activities provide the essential starting point.
LEAF’s work is driven by the fundamental belief that the development, promotion and delivery of more sustainable farming has to be firmly rooted on knowledge, evidence and experience. We look to our members across the food supply chain, LEAF Network of Demonstration Farms and Innovation Centres to inform as well as inspire us, to try new ideas, to go that bit further, to reach out even wider. It’s all about linking practice, science and policy to help farmers farm smarter.
As a membership organisation, we have to ensure we stay relevant and provide our members with the tools and services that work for their businesses. To do this we must listen and engage. Throughout the year we consult with our members on a variety of different topics from Brexit to the recent DEFRA consultation.
We also produce an annual survey to determine how our members feel about the sustainability of their businesses and to ask their views on the tools and services we offer to help them implement Integrated Farm Management (IFM) and areas where they need further support.
Our 2018 survey revealed that the majority of our members feel ‘reasonably’ or ‘very sustainable’ when looking at their environmental, economic and social sustainability. Reasons for this included moving to more diversified cropping systems through intercropping and minimum tillage as well as reducing inputs and improved waste management. We also learnt that they would welcome further guidance and training from LEAF on new technologies, crop diversification and wildlife monitoring.
Listening to our members, learning about their successes, hearing about their challenges and priorities continually informs our work and helps us stay relevant to their business needs.
Generating the science and evidence around IFM, making it work on a practical farm level and cascading this knowledge out to the wider farming community is the aim of our LEAF Network – a UK wide group of some of the most forward thinking farmers and innovative researchers, working together to examine and implement more sustainable farming through IFM.
We rely on the LEAF Network to challenge, to test and to make sure the science stands up to practical scrutiny. Over 36 farms and 10 leading research institutions make up the LEAF Network and it continues to grow with the launch this year of Blackbird Farming as a LEAF Demonstration Farm and NIAB EMR and the Centre for Dairy Research (CEDAR) as LEAF Innovation Centres. Read more in our annual LEAF Network report here.
LEAF’s network of Demonstration Farms show IFM in action to a wide range of audiences including farmers, students, schools and policy makers. Last year, they hosted 373 visits to over 11 thousand people. They also presented at 53 separate events, both external and at LEAF events.
Continual improvement in the various sections of IFM is key and LEAF provides farmers and growers with as many resources and support as possible. The LEAF Sustainable Farming Review (LSFR) is a key management tool helping farmers review, monitor and identify strengths and areas of improvement. It also offers links to a wide range of LEAF and external support and guidance resources.
When we asked for our members views on the LSFR last year, 80% said it was helpful in supporting their implementation of IFM and 76% found the additional guidance and supporting practises useful when they were mapping out areas that needed further action.
Crucial to the uptake of more sustainable farming is working in partnership with other like minded organisations. We are an active partner in a range of industry-wide collaborations including Innovative Farmers, Agricology, the Campaign for the Farmed Environment and a number of our Demonstration Farms are involved as AHDB Monitor Farms. It is by working with others that we can pool resources and ideas to ensure even wider impact.
Over 2018 LEAF will provide IFM and LEAF Marque training, host a number of technical events and is actively involved in several European projects looking at crop diversification, water management and farm demonstration.
It is this multi-layered approach to knowledge generation and exchange, built on our membership engagement, demonstration and research work of the LEAF Network, industry partnerships combined with a broad range of management tools that is equipping farmers with the skills and know-how to embrace new technology in order to boost productivity and reduce environmental impacts.