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Understanding the factors that contribute to farm performance

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One of the key aspects of the Sustainable Intensification Research Platform (SIP) is to examine how commercial farms are currently performing in terms of the three pillars of sustainable intensification: economic (including financial and production), social, and environmental. Understanding the factors that contribute to farm performance is vital for exploring the differences that can be seen both across individual farms and across and between farming systems.

Understanding the factors that contribute to farm performance

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 sustainable intensification, from a range of perspectives and at a range of scales across England and Wales.

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.

The latest publication of the SIP newsletter, SIP Scene ISSUE 6 - SUMMER 2017, provides an overview of some the current research being conducted by partners involved in the platform.

Farm Scale Sustainable Intensification

Highlighted in this issue of the newsletter includes work to understand the factors at farm scale that contribute to farm performance and sustainable intensification.

The team, led by Les Firbank (University of Leeds) and John Elliott (ADAS), undertook a survey of commercial farms around the SIP Study Areas, aimed at augmenting the information gathered by the Farm Business Survey.

The results are still being finalised, but some points are becoming apparent. Not surprisingly, patterns of food production, profitability and levels of potential pollution differ between farm types. Getting the biodiversity indicator right is far from easy, without direct observations of plants and animals. Therefore, we’re working closely with the RSPB to get a valid biodiversity score based on habitat features and management. Actual performance scores don’t appear to correlate well with social variables, whether these variables relate to the farmer themselves (such as farmer age) or to the contribution by the farm to the community (such as in terms of footpath access and open land).

Finally, we are working with data from LEAF and Defra to see if there are patterns in the take-up of SI measures that might be influenced by outside factors, such as prices or policy changes.

One consideration, evident in the data collected, is that the levels of food energy produced per hectare varies between farm types, reflecting the capability of the land and the energy efficiency of production: cereal farms produce more food energy per hectare than upland livestock, for example. Yet while food energy is easy to estimate from farm-scale production data, it does not capture the nutritional quality of the food, which is being explored elsewhere in the SIP. We need better tools to capture the quality of the food as well as its quantity.

More information on the research platform can be found on the SIP website http://www.siplatform.org.uk/, or summarised here in a previous ADAS news article.

To find out more information on any of the above, please contact John.Elliott@adas.co.uk.

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