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Sustainable intensification - what you need to know

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Intensive farming during the second half of the twentieth century has been closely linked with a decrease in ecosystem services, water quality issues and an increase in agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. The farming community recognise the need to protect and enhance the environment but economics and the need to grow food for an ever increasing global population mean that there is continuing tension between environmental sustainability and productivity. The Sustainable Intensification Research Platform (SIP) has been established to understand and explore the opportunities and risks for sustainable intensification.

Sustainable intensification - what you need to know

What is sustainable intensification?

The concept of sustainable intensification (SI) can mean different things to different people. The underlying principles suggest that in practice, the sustainable intensification of farming involves simultaneously increasing farm output and competitiveness, whilst protecting the countryside and enhancing the environment.

Closely linked with SI is integrated farm management (IFM), which describes a practical, whole-farm-business approach to improving the economic, environmental and social performance of farms. IFM is geared towards sustaining and optimising the use of all resources on farm and is built around adopting knowledge and innovation alongside beneficial husbandry principles and traditional methods.

The Sustainable Intensification Research Platform (SIP)

SIP is a multi-organisation research programme, established and funded by Defra to collectively explore the opportunities and risks for SI, from a range of perspectives and at a range of scales across England and Wales.

SIP launched its own website (http://www.siplatform.org.uk/) in August 2015 which provides information on the research programme, details of the partners and updates on the latest news and events.

The platform comprises of three linked multi-partner, transdisciplinary research projects:

  • SIP 1 | 'Integrated Farm Management for improved economic, environmental and social performance'
  • SIP 2 | 'Opportunities and risks for farming and the environment at landscape scales'
  • SIP 3 | 'The influence of external drivers and actors on the sustainability and productivity of English and Welsh farming'

SIP 1 and 2 started in 2014 and will run for three years to investigate ways to increase farm productivity while reducing environmental impacts and benefits that agricultural land provides to society. SIP 3 was a six-month scoping study led by ADAS, which was completed at the end of 2014.

ADAS involvement with SIP

ADAS has input into both SIP projects 1 and 2 as well as leading a consortium of partners on project 3. Current activities from ADAS experts on the SIP projects include:

Study areas and fieldwork

As part of SIP 1 ADAS are interviewing 60-90 farmers from seven different study landscapes to collect quantitative and qualitative data to understand both how we can measure SI and how farms are performing in terms of SI. The data collected covers economic, environmental and social productivity and sustainability.

  • Taw (Devon)
  • Conwy (Wales)
  • Upper Welland (East Midlands)
  • Nafferton area (Northumberland)
  • Wensum and Yare (Norfolk)
  • Avon (Hampshire)
  • Eden (Cumbria)

The sample will include a range of different farm systems but we are hoping to see innovation and forward thinking farming that could give us a glimpse of future farming practices. The data collected will be shared amongst several collaborators in the SIP including the University of Nottingham and the University of Reading who are interested in using models and matrices to map the farm data.

Decision support tools

Part of SIP 1 is to understand the factors that influence the use of decision support and guidance systems in farming practices. Through a number of advisor focus groups, farmer focus groups and one-to-one farmer interviews, SIP hope to ascertain the extent to which farmers are already using decision support systems to guide farm management, as well as recognise the barriers which prevent their current use. As part of the work being led by Cambridge University, ADAS have been involved through setting up farmer and advisor focus groups interviews in the Taw and Wensum and Yare catchment areas.

Tools for assessment of sustainability of farm business

As part of the work being led by the University of Nottingham on the use of Farm Business Survey (FBS) data to derive augmented farm performance measures, ADAS have been adapting FarmScoper and the AHDB Environmental and Agricultural Resource Efficiency Tool (EAgRET) to run with Farm Business Survey data.

This has involved the derivation of a set of assumptions to be used when preparing the data for the two tools. In addition, algorithms have had to be developed to pre-process the FBS data and create appropriate data files for use in AHDB EAgRET. This work has now been completed and the University of Nottingham have been provided with the outputs from FarmScoper and AHDB EAgRET, and are currently comparing the results with results from other farm performance assessment tools.

Further information

For more information on the SIP project, please visit the brand new website (http://www.siplatform.org.uk/) where you can find out the latest news, events and updates on the progress of the projects.

For more information on any of the above content, please contact Charles Ffoulkes on 01902 271241 or email charles.ffoulkes@adas.co.uk.

 

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