Although almost half of the farmers surveyed as part of the Sustainable Intensification Platform had used some type of decision support tool – to help them improve agricultural productivity while reducing environmental impacts – the review team discovered that of the hundreds of tools found, the vast majority were not widely implemented or known about.
Some of the promising technologies that are available to help farmers increase yield without compromising soil quality and environmental factors, are to be discussed at a NIAB and Agri-Tech East workshop ‘Innovations for Sustainable Intensification’ on 14th September 2016.
Dr Belinda Clarke, Director of Agri-Tech East, says: “Sustainable intensification provides a significant market opportunity for technology developers, but the tools must be appropriate for use in a complex environment. Through this workshop we are aiming to provide an overview of the challenges, the technology that is currently available and the requirements for new tools. Farmers and growers will also benefit from early sight of findings coming out of the trial farms. By bringing all parties together we aim to accelerate developments in this crucial area.”
Dr David Rose, of the Department of Geography at University of Cambridge, is leading the team looking at decision support tools. He says:
“We have evaluated paper-based, software-based, and app-based tools and found that although farmers and their advisors are prepared to use these tools, few seem to have been designed with knowledge of the end user and their requirements.
“We are developing a checklist to help designers to improve their value. This includes ensuring that the benefit outweighs the cost of implementation; compatibility with existing equipment or software; providing a strong evidence-base to support usage; offering the ability to customise the tool to meet the requirements and practices of a particular farm; and allowing ‘what if’ analysis to compare different management options. All of these things would significantly improve the value of these tools.”
SIP (Sustainable Intensification Platform) Project 1 is a research project funded by Defra and the Welsh Government to investigating ways of increasing farm output whilst enhancing the environment and countryside.
Louis Baugh is a wetlands farmer and comments that freshwater in the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads, provides a socio-economic benefit both to farming and the local economy and technology can help protect this vulnerable ecosystem.
He says: “Accurate and early detection of crop pathogens will assist with the timely control of disease and minimise the use of inputs. A good example of this is work by the Earlham Institute to develop infield microcomputers for the detection and identification of yellow rust in wheat which gives an insight into how this disease can be controlled in future.
“Another interesting technology is the use of GPS and drones for the production of soil and yield maps. The Broadlands Catchment Partnership has used LiDAR data within a geographic information system to map field slopes and watercourses and this has created a useful web-based tool for farmers. It helps them to identify high-risk sites that are likely to contribute diffuse pollution. This information can be used to inform management practices in that part of the field.”
Stuart Knight, Deputy Director of NIAB and Leader of SIP 1 which has brought together a multi-disciplinary community to look at the issues from many angles and includes a network of 5 study farms across England and Wales that have been evaluating a range of farm management practices that could be adopted for more widely.
He says “For arable, this includes over-winter coverage crops and less intensive cultivation systems, and for livestock, reseeding of permanent pasture with high sugar grasses and improving grassland soils. Better soil management is a good example of how yields can be improved, environmental impacts reduced and resilience to climate change increased, all at the same time. These win-win scenarios provide a great opportunity.”
“The project has developed new approaches to measuring the environmental as well as the economic performance of farms, without requiring large amounts of new data to be collected.”
Some of the emerging technologies to be discussed at a NIAB and Agri-Tech East workshop – ‘Innovations for Sustainable Intensification’ – include the use of yield and soil mapping to improve precision farming and variable rate application of inputs; use of LIDAR imagery to reduce run-off; predicting performance using models enhanced with Earth Observation (EO) data and technologies for increasing resilience in harsh environments.
Innovations for Sustainable Intensification, Sophi Taylor Building, Park Farm, Histon 14 September, 2016. More information visit www.agritech-east.co.uk/events.