The first AHDB Strategic Farm for arable growers is being ‘made to measure up for the future’, delegates heard at the launch meeting, which took place last week at E. J. Barker & Sons, Lodge Farm in Suffolk.
Questions from AHDB Monitor Farm groups, research findings and innovative ideas for the future of the industry lay the foundation for Strategic Farm activity. With a focus on demonstrating and costing practices at a field or farm scale, the Strategic Farms look at how farmers can meet short- and longer-term challenges.
Information on the wider ambition of the Strategic Farm programme was also revealed – including further details of plans to add two more arable farms to the network, one in 2018 and another in 2019.
AHDB Strategic Farms use farmer-to-farmer learning to accelerate the uptake of knowledge and provide a platform for farmers to explore the potential for best practice to have an impact on their business. Part of its Farm Excellence Platform, AHDB has around 30 Strategic Farms to inspire industry to improve performance and succeed through knowledge exchange.
Measurements have been taken across the whole farm to establish baseline conditions.
Emily Smith, AHDB Knowledge Transfer Manager, said: “The baseline assessments captured the physical, chemical and biological condition of the fields. The information will be used to monitor changes to the soil as the project progresses.”
The LEAF Sustainable Farming Review tool will be used as part of the efforts to measure the farm’s economic, environmental and social performance. Essex & Suffolk Water will also conduct analyses of rain and drainage water from the farm. A state-of-the art weather station and soil moisture probe have also been installed.
AHDB Strategic Farms are based on commercial farms to bridge the gap between research trials and practical application with the support of researchers, experts and new technology.
Research outcomes will be tested in a commercial farm rotation on a field or tramline scale. Each demonstration will have a linked practical message, to facilitate the transfer of knowledge across the wider agricultural industry. Economic analysis of each demonstration is also key to the Strategic Farm programme, using the AHDB Farmbench benchmarking tool.
Brian Barker said: “The goal is to test and demonstrate strategies that will benefit farmers and advisors in what could be a very turbulent few years ahead.”
The Strategic Farm builds on the success of farmer-to-farmer learning which has been harnessed across the Monitor Farm programme. Attendees of the launch meeting today were asked to identify where they felt the challenges to farming might be in ten years’ time and how the activities on the Strategic Farm could develop practical, relevant and fully costed solutions.
Brian said: “We have an opportunity to test and develop strategies for how we might need to approach farming in the future.”
The first demonstrations, which were drilled this autumn, focus on the interaction between rotation and soil quality and ways to boost wheat biomass during the foundation phase.
Emily said: “We will measure the direct and indirect values associated with different crops and management techniques. We hope the work will give growers the tools and information they need to help with their rotational planning.”
AHDB Strategic Farms for arable growers will provide guides and other resources to inspire growers to conduct similar projects on their own farms.
For further details on Strategic Farms, including how to apply for the chance to become the next strategic arable farmer, visit cereals.ahdb.org.uk/strategicfarm
The provisional dates for the next Strategic Farm East field walk and open day are 10 May and 7 June 2018.