A webinar exploring practical farmer led research into catchment sensitive farming techniques and how this is benefiting farm businesses as well as soil health and local rivers.
What are the benefits of introducing cover crops and no-till soil management techniques onto your farm? With the support of companies like Affinity Water and Thames Water, farmers and researchers across the country are working together to investigate how these practices can build soil health, reduce their inputs and improve the water quality of their local rivers. Join this virtual Groundswell discussion to hear farmers share their experience and practical knowledge of catchment sensitive farming and get the latest data on how these practices are benefiting their land and rivers.
• Matthew Izod; Farmer who is 2 years into transitioning part of his family farm to no till
• Andrew Bott; No-till Farmer
• James Alexander; No till specialist and contractor
• Shaun Dowman; Affinity Water
• Andrew Russell; Natural England
• Paul Cherry; Weston Park Farm/Groundswell (chair)
Matthew is a 25-year-old farmer, working alongside his dad on Priory Farm in the Cotswolds. Together they grow 500 acres of combinable crops, including milling wheat, malting barley, peas, linseed and OSR. Priory Farm is situated in the Evenlode river catchment and taking part in research into no till and cover crops with Thames Water and Innovative Farmers. The group is studying using cover cropping and direct drilling along the river Evenlode to help reduce field nutrient run off, in particular, phosphorus. His farm is one of three running the same trial over a five-year period and recording the results so their data can be useful for the wider farming community.
Andrew Bott is a Partner at R H Bott & Son,and Chairman of the Hertfordshire campaign for farmed environment.
Andrew farms 5 miles to the east of Stevenage, farming 270Ha of arable with 60Ha of permanent pasture with a mid-tier countryside stewardship agreement. and also contract farms 200Ha for his brother. The farm has been no till since 2011 growing wheat, beans, winter and spring barley and spring oats and have been growing cover crops since 2007. The farm has been soil mapped and uses variable rate seed maps and variable rate nitrogen applications.
James Alexander runs Primewest Ltd, an agricultural contractors and no-tillage specialists in Oxfordshire alongside his father. The business contract farms 400 hectares including an organic and conventional mix and contract drills around 1000 hectares a year with a cross slot drill. The business started in 2004 and now employs four full-time staff and two casual workers at peak periods. In 2012, after seven years with no drill sales, the firm undertook the design and building of the first UK built cross-slot drill frame. There are now over 20 machines in the UK and Europe. The company also produces crimper rollers to work alongside the seed drill. James is a member of various Innovative Farmers’ field labs investigating no-till including a farmer led research looking at growing permanent living mulches of clover underneath cash crops. He is also a mentor in the Thames Water field lab.
Shaun Dowman is an environmental scientist with 15 years experience of working within academia, environmental regulation and the water industry. Shaun’s work has focused on freshwater science, in particular the biological and chemical health of the UK’s waterways. As agricultural advisor for Affinity Water his work targets catchment solutions that help improve water quality and reduce reliance on water treatment. Using knowledge of land management and the aquatic environment he works with farmers to help safeguard drinking water catchments. Affinity Water are a water supply company operating in the south-east of England and have been headline sponsors of Groundswell since 2017, acknowledging the benefits regenerative agriculture can provide to soils, water and the wider environment.
Having studied agricultural engineering in his youth Andrew spent a large part of his working life in commercial vehicle workshops, a career change brought him to Natural England in 2005 working on Agri Environment schemes. He moved into the Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) projects in 2012 and has worked in several local river catchments to reduce diffuse water pollution. He is currently co-coordinating the Innovative Farmers field lab looking at no till and cover crops in the Evenlode catchment. He loves working with farmers in the agricultural environment, helping to improve soils, water and air quality as well as helping them to achieve their environmental aspirations.
Paul has been farming at Weston Park Farms for 35 years with his brother John. Over the years the farm has expanded from 950 to 2,000 acres of arable (no all zero tilled) and 500 acres of pasture providing grazing for 150 head of commercial Beef Shorthorn herd of cattle. John and Paul started farming on a plough based system, but quickly moved to max-till, discing and pressing, but were aware that the heavy clay from which the farm comprises was getting more difficult to work. The window of opportunity when conditions were perfect seemed to be fewer and fewer. It was during a heavy autumn shower when they watched a neighbour’s ploughed field gradually forming rivers then gullies as the topsoil moved down the hill, while their side of the valley, still in stubble stayed put that they realised that it was time to do something.
Entering its fifth year, The Groundswell event provides a forum for farmers and anyone interested in food production or the environment to learn about the theory and practical applications of Regenerative Agriculture, including no-till, cover crops and re-introducing livestock into the arable rotation, with a view to improving soil health. The next Groundswell is on 23rd and 24th June 2021 at Lannock Manor Farm in Hertfordshire. For more information visit www.groundswellag.com
Innovative Farmers is a not for profit network giving farmers research support and funding on their own terms. Through trialling, testing and hands-on research, we’re helping farmers find lasting solutions to practical problems. The network is part of the Duchy Future Farming Programme, funded by the Prince of Wales’s Charitable Foundation. Innovative Farmers is backed by a team from LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming), Innovation for Agriculture, the Organic Research Centre and led by the Soil Association, supported by Waitrose.
The Affinity Water catchment management programme
Affinity Water supply water in a area designated as being under ‘serious water stress’. Improved soil health offers the opportunity to add resilience in an uncertain future of climate change by improving water quality and water resources. They are working with farmers to improve soil health through growing cover crops across North Hertfordshire, an area at risk of rising nitrate concentrations in water. Through using the platform EnTrade they have incentivised over 800ha of cover crops in the area to be grown this year.
Affinity Water work closely with Catchment Sensitive Farming and co-fund the Loddon Farm Advice Project alongside Natural England and South-East Water. They share knowledge and resources to work towards the shared aims of improving soil health and water quality in catchments. This year they are launching a soil health innovation fund in the Loddon that encourages innovation by farmers to improve soil health.
The Thames Water Evenlode field lab
Matthew and Andrew are members of a group of farmers and researchers who have joined forces in the Evenlode catchment to investigate the benefits of no till and cover crops and the potential improvements to both water quality and soil health. In this 5-year project, farmers have been comparing no till and traditional cultivation practices on their farms to capture data on soil health and nutrient runoff like phosphorus into the watercourses. They are also interested in whether the approach can increase farm profitability and efficiency.
This project is being run within the Innovative Farmers programme. The field lab brings together Thames Water with a partnership of farmers, Atkins Global (a UK multinational engineering company) and Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) stakeholders such as Natural England. It is part of a wider catchment sensitive farming plan across the Thames Catchment to reduce soil erosion problems and investigate solutions to protect our rivers. More information here.