Joint approach to increase productivity and improve sustainability

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Farmers will be able to examine the cost benefits of adopting sustainable, Integrated Farm Management (IFM) practices thanks to a collaboration between AHDB and LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming).

Mark Bowsher-Gibbs is the farm manager at Blackbird Farming (trading name for G.H Dean & Co) in Kent, and hosts the AHDB Sittingbourne Monitor Farm. The farm has been LEAF Marque certified since 2007 and has now become a LEAF Demonstration Farm.

Paul Hill, AHDB Knowledge Exchange Manager, said: “Using AHDB’s Farmbench tool, we can quantify the costs and benefits of practices identified within LEAF’s Sustainable Farm Review. This should show that making the most of natural resources is also key to improving business productivity.”

For Mark, one of the many things to come from the Monitor Farm programme so far was the Labour and Machinery Cost Review, recently carried out for AHDB by consultants from Strutt & Parker.

He said: “The data was fascinating. You’ve immediately got yourself compared to all the other Monitor Farms. We could see how our strip-till system was performing when compared with others. It confirmed to us that we do indeed have a low cost and sustainable establishment system and it also highlighted that our labour profile contained a higher than anticipated engagement of casual labour.

“We were just above average for the Monitor Farm group on labour hours per hectare. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong for us, but it does make us look at our approach to labour.”

The annual LEAF Sustainable Farm Review, carried out by Mark, records the IFM techniques carried out across the business. It identifies areas where they are performing particularly well in and areas where there is space for continual improvement. This partnership and analysing the outcomes of the LEAF Sustainable Farming Review and Farmbench gives the opportunity to establish the economic impact of some of these practices.

The LEAF Sustainable Farming Review assesses economic performance, environmental quality and social health.

Mark added: “Where we’ve got to do more is in energy use monitoring, reducing waste, recycling and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“On the welfare, social health, nutrient management and soil quality side, we were getting top marks, and that’s great to know.”

Alice Midmer, IFM Manager at LEAF said: “The LEAF Sustainable Farming Review gives farmers the chance to fully review their practices, potential and contribution to sustainable agriculture.  It offers a complete farm health-check allowing farmers to make more informed decisions that will drive their businesses forward. We are looking forward to working with AHDB to see where this can link to their work in Farmbench to establish where sustainability pays and where there may be trade-offs.  As a LEAF Demonstration Farm, Blackbird Farming is an excellent base on which to test out ideas and new innovations that will help shape a more robust and resilient UK agricultural industry.”

The summer Monitor Farm meeting at Sittingbourne takes place on 19 June.  IFM will also be a topic for a joint meeting with AHDB and LEAF on 13 November 2018. For more information, visit


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