Mixing it up: leys, livestock & arable

Farmer-led innovation provides policy inspiration at Agricology field day

Richard Smith

More than 80 farmers, policy-makers, researchers, and representatives from the NFU and Wildlife Trust attended Agricology’s on-farm field event at Daylesford Farm in Oxfordshire last week focusing on the potential of reintegrating livestock, leys and arable to diversify the rotation.

Bringing together participants of the annual Oxford Farming Conferences, this over-subscribed event enabled participants to discuss, share experiences, and learn more about how to maximise the growing of restorative grass leys and overcome challenges for the benefit of soil health, weed control and livestock welfare as well as productivity.

Agricology was set up two years ago by three independent charities – The Organic Research Centre, the GWCT Allerton Project and the Daylesford Foundation to help farmers’ freely access first class information on sustainable agriculture.

The event highlighted how keeping soil healthy is one of the most pressing issues facing farmers and growers. But finding the right solution to suit individual farms and circumstances is not always easy.
Participants attending Agricology’s event were able to access some of the most comprehensive and advanced research available on growing restorative grass leys to suit all modern farming systems for the benefit of soil health.

Much innovation on incorporating restorative ley periods in different agricultural systems was presented by farmers. And academics from ADAS, Rothamsted Research and the Organic Research Centre discussed the results of recent research on eliminating weed problems such as black grass and slugs as well as how to accurately monitor the health of soil and maximise the use of organic materials.
The event, was hosted by Richard Smith, Farm Manager at Daylesford, who explained the various systems in place on the farm to ensure healthy sustainable livestock as well as explaining the soil health and livestock benefits of growing sainfoin – an increasingly important crop for feeding livestock as well as pollinators and for helping to maintain healthy soil.

Farmers such as Richard Gantlett from Yatesbury House Farm in Wiltshire and Phil Jarvis, Farm Manager from the GWCT Allerton Project in Leicestershire, also shared their own positive learning experiences in arable and livestock systems. They spoke openly on the challenges they faced when establishing herbal leys and undersowing cover crops and how these were overcome through persistence, and trialling different approaches to improve soil health, increase control of problem weeds such as blackgrass and to reduce dependency on chemical inputs.

A theme throughout the day was that ‘one size’ does not fit all and that farmers and growers need to assess what is right for their particular land and circumstances. Heavy or light soils can make a difference in decision making. The Agricology website provides considerable information in this respect from academic researchers, a library of resources on agroecological practices as well as through the personal experiences of individual farmers. Each month the website covers a different sustainable farming themes and profiles a farmer and how they are putting agroecology into practice.

Guy Horsington, Deputy Director at Defra found Agricology’s event hugely valuable and said, “It was brilliant to attend Agricology’s event today. Soil health and soil fertility are areas that Environment Secretary Michael Gove MP is very passionate about. This sort of Environmental good together with air quality, water quality and biodiversity are all the things that we want to encourage in our new domestic agricultural policy. Spending a day listening to farmers at the forefront of trying out new ideas and learning about the benefits to productivity and the environment are incredibly valuable to us as we identify what we want to do in the future. This is absolutely at the heart of what we want our new domestic policy to be about. But we want to identify the best mix of mechanisms for delivering these goods and working with our stakeholders.”

Dr Susanne Padel, from the Organic Research Centre explains the benefit of Agricology, “Agricology is driven by the need for farmers to access advice and practical solutions to help build profitable, resilient and sustainable farm businesses at a time when UK agriculture faces increasing uncertainties. Our event today was an example of how researchers. Farmers and policy-makers can share practical advice and innovative ideas to help to meet these challenges and uncertainties regardless of labels.

Watch the live filming of the day on the videos page of www.agricology.co.uk

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