AFCP is delighted to welcome Prof. Stuart Reid, who joined the AFCP Board at the AFCP AGM on 1st November.
Professor Stuart Reid is President & Principal of the Royal Veterinary College, the oldest and largest veterinary school in the English-speaking world. He is recognised by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons as a specialist in veterinary epidemiology and in veterinary public health by the European Board of Veterinary Specialists.
Stuart is a Fellow of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, the Royal Society of Biology and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. His research interests are focused on zoonotic disease and antimicrobial resistance in a One Health context. He has over 160 scientific publications, including in PNAS and Science, and he has secured over £16M in competitive funding during his career.
In his public service, in addition to other and current roles, he served on the UK Food Standards Agency Board 2017-2020. He was made a Commander of the British Empire in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2018 for services to the veterinary profession and higher education and in 2019 he was elected as an international member of the National Academy of Medicine in the USA.
Prof. Graham Jellis, AFCP Chairman said “We are pleased to welcome Prof. Stuart Reid as a director. He brings a wealth of experience within the veterinary sciences alongside previous roles with in the charity sector. We look forward to working together.”
A successful conference brought together more than 50 attendees to discuss the latest challenges which are facing animal science.
The Joint AgriFood Charities Partnership Conference was held in the Harper Adams Food Academy earlier this summer, and drew researchers, students, academics, farmers, charity representatives and more for a full day of discussion and networking.
Among the organisers were Harper Adams Honorary Professor in Agricultural Economics Bob Bansback and ABP Chair of Sustainable Beef and Sheep Production Professor Jude Capper.
Bob said: “It was really encouraging to have over 50 conference attendees at this highly successful event.
“There was participation from AFCP member charities, animal scientists and researchers from Harper and other universities, post-graduate students in animal science as well as farmers - the excellent presentations and the variety of participants really enhanced the whole day. There was a particular buzz of conversation during the lunchtime poster session.”
Professor Capper emphasised the importance of the conference in encouraging the next generation of animal scientists.
She said: “It was a real pleasure to be part of the organising committee for the Joint Agrifood Charities Partnership Conference on the challenges facing animal science. We had a great day, delegates ranging from farmers to academics, students to industry professionals.
“The number of topics covered were equally diverse, from sharp focuses on sheep foot health and modelling environmental and economic sustainability of beef finishing systems; through to the global challenge of choosing the correct metrics to quantify the sustainability of ruminant systems.
“Of particular note were the excellent posters presented by Harper Adams MRes, PhD and post-doctoral researchers.
“The conference provided these early-career researchers with a great opportunity to talk one-on-one and explain their research to interested delegates.
“It was lovely to see how much interest these posters generated and the very high quality of these short poster presentations."
The conference was kindly supported by sponsors Alltech and MSD Animal Health.
AFCP Chairman, Professor Graham Jellis, added: “AFCP is very grateful to HAU for hosting this meeting and providing some of the excellent speakers and posters, and to our sponsors for their support. It was also a pleasure to hear presentations and read posters from current and past students supported by AFCP charities.”
Animal Science - Addressing Current Challenges
Friday 14th July at Harper Adams University
10.00 Arrival, registration and refreshments
10.45 Introduction Prof. Bob Bansback (HAU & AFCP)
10.50 Welcome Prof. Graham Jellis (Chair of AFCP)
11.00 Animal Science and the new Harper Adams/Keele Veterinaray School Prof. Michael Lee (Deputy Vice Chancellor HAU)
11.20 Tour of Farm and Livestock Research Area options:
- Applied Ruminant Research at the Beef and Sheep Unit - Prof. Jude Capper (Sustainable Beef and Sheep Production, HAU).
- Dairy Research Work - Prof. Liam Sinclair (Animal Science, HAU).
- Pig Unit Work - Sarah Icely (Deputy Sector Manager, HAU).
12.20 Return to the Regional Food Academy (RFA) Lecture Theatre:
- HAU Food Activity and RFA Resources - Dr Lynn McIntyre (Senior Lecturer in Food Safety, HAU).
- Evaluation of net carbon emissions from dairy production systems - Fern Baker (PhD student, jointly funded by AFCP members, Nottingham University)
Capturing value from the 10-year Traffic & Tillage Project at Harper Adams
The long-term programme of Traffic & Tillage research at Harper Adams University started in 2010 with the first experimental crop harvested in 2012 and has been the “field laboratory” for three successful doctoral graduates (Emily Smith, Anthony Millington and Magdalena Kaczorowska-Dolowy).
This is a long-term internationally unique study focusing on soil management techniques where the interaction between traffic management practices and different tillage practices are considered. It resulted as a direct output from the formation of the industry led (coordinated by Agrii) Soil and Water Management Centre at Harper Adams University with scholarship funding and in-kind support from, The Morley Agricultural Foundation , Douglas Bomford Trust, Michelin, Vaderstad, AGCO and Harper Adams University.
The research started with an initial focus on the soil physical conditions, yield and the cost/benefits of the effects of three traffic management systems imposed on a sandy loam soil:
standard inflation pressure tyres (STP)
low tyre (high flexion) inflation pressure tyres (LTP) and
controlled traffic farming (CTF)
on soils managed with three tillage treatments:
deep (25 cm),
shallow (10 cm) and
for a winter wheat/winter barley/spring oats/winter field beans crop rotation.
Figure 1 - a) Experimental design map showing the distribution of the blocks and plots and the different traffic and tillage treatments. b) Aerial photo of Marge Marsh field.
More recently, in addition to maintaining the monitoring of soil physical conditions and crop responses, the focus moved to studying soil biological and health condition and is now focusing on soil carbon sequestration.
The results of the continuing long-term study have shown that the effect of both traffic management and tillage systems can have significant effects on the crop yield and farm economy together with soil biology and health.
Key messages on crop yields:
Deep tillage gives no yield advantage over shallow tillage.
Shallow tillage gives the best compromise between yield and soil structure.
Zero tillage produces lower yields initially, though yield recovers over time (7-8 years) as the soil structure develops.
Rotations need to be adjusted to manage crop residues to optimize zero tillage systems.
The benefits of mitigating traffic (low pressure tyres and CTF) appeared from the start of the system and are consistent over time.
Deep tilled soil benefits the most from traffic mitigation, indicating that loosening and re-compaction causes the most damage to soils.
Zero tilled soils show the least response to traffic mitigation, indicating that they are more resilient to traffic.
Figure 2: Samples from CTF zero tillage (left, not tilled for 10 years) and CTF deep tillage (right, tilled down to 250mm for 10 years) showing very little difference in crop growth and large differences in soil structure, its stability and resilience (zero tillage) vs weak and loose soil at high risk of soil damage (deep tillage).
Key messages on soil carbon:
Soil organic carbon (SOC) is a component of soil organic matter (SOM). There has been growing interest in soil carbon dynamics in recent years. Many agricultural soils have reduced SOM and so, it is argued, they likely have the potential to sequester carbon through building SOM. Different soil management practices have different impacts on SOM dynamics and so total soil carbon stocks.
The results from our field experiment to date have shown that:
Tillage had a strong effect on total carbon (C) stocks, with soils under Zero tillage storing 5 t/ha more than Shallow and Deep tillage treatments on average at 0-30 cm depth.
The highest total C stocks were observed in Zero tillage CTF (89.0±4.2 t/ha), followed by Zero tillage LTP (85.3±4.1 t/ha). The lowest total C stocks were observed in Shallow and Deep tillage both in CTF treatments (70.0±4.0 t/ha and 70.1±4.3 t/ha respectively).
These results confirm that soils have different levels of potential to store carbon dependent on management, with almost 20 t/ha of C stored more under the optimum management practice compared to the most detrimental practice. This leads to the obvious question as to how or why more C is stored under some treatments than others.
The next steps of the project
Ana Prada (PhD student, apradabarrio[at]live.harper.ac.uk) will investigate this by using natural abundance C12/C13 stable isotope probing. By growing millet, a C4 plant, in soils where only C3 plants have been grown previously, it will be possible to trace the flow of C from the plants into the different organic matter fractions. These have different turnover times and dynamics within the soil and so this investigation will provide insights into the mechanisms that determine the residence time of C in soils. This will help inform as to best practices for maximising C sequestration into soils thereby improving soil health and helping to help mitigate climate change.
The Morley Clean Water project began in 2019 with the aim of ensuring water leaving the farm was as clean as when it arrived. The Morley Agricultural Foundation (TMAF) owns and operates a 700ha arable farm near Wymondham, Norfolk. The soils are predominantly medium. The farm commercially grows crops including wheat, barley, oats, sugar beet and maize with 8% of the area in environmental schemes. The profit and rent from the farm provide funding for the charity to grant money for agricultural research and education. The farm also is a place for organisations like NIAB, John Innes Centre (JIC) and British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO) to conduct research and demonstrate good practice.
The Clean Water Project
We assume our in-field practices (e.g. cultivations, fertiliser practices and use of cover crops) are good and have little impact on water quality. So our attention turned to farmyards, tracks and highways. Initially we carried out a review of our water courses. This sounds straight forward but many published maps, including Ordinance Survey, are inaccurate. Therefore, we made our own maps and identified areas where we could ‘do better’ by reducing silt and nutrients entering water courses.
Dirty water from a farm track
A long farm gravel track sloping down to a rural road was identified as responsible for dirty water run-off entering a roadside ditch and for soil being deposited on the road surface. We built a cross-drain (pictured below) to divert water into a small sunken area where sediment settles out and the water drains through the soil. The total cost was less than £1,500.
One problem area
Adjacent to one area of the farm is a row of 24 ex-council houses. The sewage goes to a small Anglia Water treatment works where water discharges into a farm ditch. The water is black and smelly. When tested it was found to be high in nitrates and literally off the scale for phosphate. People’s lifestyles have changed since the houses were built. People wash more, use washing machines more regularly and generally use more water. Often hard surfaces (driveways, patios and greenhouses) have been added resulting in more water going down the drain. While the water appears to have gone, it has created problems elsewhere. In this case it goes to an unregulated sewage works. Many sewage works outfalls are regulated by the Environment Agency (EA) which states the water quality permitted to enter a water course. As you can imagine 24 rural houses are not a top priority for EA or Anglia Water.
How can the farm help? The ditch past the outfall opens up into a large hole approx. 50m X 20m and 2-3m deep. The water finds its way through on a path of least resistance. With some guidance from our local Anglia Water (AW) catchment adviser we re-profiled the hole making 3 tiered pools by installing earth banks. The banks have pipes installed so when the water reaches a specific depth it flows to the next pool. The idea is to hold back the water so that silt can settle out. Two ponds have been planted with aquatic plants to absorb nutrients from the water.
With the help of an environmental science student from University of East Anglia (UEA) we have been measuring the water quality entering and exiting these settlement ponds. As an average over a 27 monthly period when testing the water monthly, both nitrates and phosphate have halved and the turbidity reduced by two thirds. Within this period the values have fluctuated depending on time of year, natural rainfall and the particular day the water was tested. However, on all occasions the results show a big improvement in the water quality.
As a farmer is water quality my problem? Surely it is AW’s responsibility to treat sewage properly, but it all comes at a price. That’s a balance between what AW charges customers and its obligation to EA. I would suggest 24 rural houses are way down the list of priorities. Our work was quite modest with three days’ use of the farm digger. The hole was there anyway. This is a good example where landowners can make small changes to practice and the landscape but make big differences for the community. TMAF is keen to work with AW and demonstrate what can be done. Hopefully, other stakeholders will recognise the value and in future offer funds and support for such collaboration.
Water has always been and always will be a controversial issue particularly on a small populated island like UK. There are so many demands from cooking, cleaning to growing food and washing cars. We all want access to clean fresh and safe water. Once it has been used we want it to go away as quickly as possible with little care for any contaminants it conveys. This ‘dirty’ water runs into streams and rivers which support wildlife, invertebrates, fish and birds. Also, a whole ecosystem of wetlands and marshes. Along with nature it is a place for recreation boating, fishing etc.
There are so many demands on water despite all the effort, legislation, forums, focus groups at no point in the future will people say ‘that’s it we have cracked it, all water problems are solved, every stakeholder is happy’. But what we can do is make improvements by managing water wisely and responsibly. This is particularly true for landowners as we have the space and natural landscape to help find solutions.
There is a real concern that important research papers published more than a couple of decades ago will be ignored because they cannot be accessed through online searches. This is why the British Crop Production Council (BCPC) archive of its annual crop protection conferences and occasional specialist colloquia has been digitised and made available on a free searchable online database. This was made possible with funding from five agricultural charities*, co-ordinated by the Agri-Food Charities Partnership (AFCP).
There are 65,000 pages in the archive, all packed with data and information, much of which is still very relevant today. Overall, the archive gives the details of the scientific development in crop protection since the first papers in 1954. In addition to the science, the conferences from 1973 onwards have a keynote address (the Bawden Memorial Lecture) by a major player in the industry on the strategic issues that may influence the future of crop protection and the wider industry. The initial Bawden Lecture was delivered by Sir Henry Plumb, then president of the NFU. These lectures make fascinating reading and describe the then informed views on issues related to food production.
The 1997 Bawden lecture
I have just read the Bawden lecture delivered in 1997 by Dennis Avery who ran the Hudson Institute in the US. It is amazingly perceptive. He concluded that the way to provide food sufficient for the needs of a burgeoning world population whilst looking after the environment is through growing high yields. These should be achieved through the responsible adoption of technology.
He came to his conclusions because conservationists at the time were finding that species extinctions and reductions in biodiversity were mainly due to loss of habitats. The same seems to be true today.
Dennis Avery highlighted his particular concern over the pressure on land in Asia. The picture, which some Microsoft Windows users may recognise, makes the point with rice terraces being squeezed precariously into an otherwise unspoilt valley in China.
In his Bawden lecture Dennis Avery also presented his opinions on how to feed a much larger world population in the future. They included continuing to adopt new and safe technologies as well as ensuring free trade in agricultural products. He added that production subsidies should be withdrawn and any financial support for farming should be to provide habitats for wildlife…. sounds familiar? Remarkably, remember that it was written in 1997, he raised the possibility of an expansionist Russia being a threat to global food production.
The one current major issue he did not predict was the need to reduce greenhouse gases attributable to food production. However, his message of the merits of high yield farming would be untroubled by this issue.
What happened next?
Dennis Avery’s views on the virtue of achieving high yields were treated with suspicion at the time but gradually gained traction to such an extent that other forms of production felt threatened, I think unjustly. This included some in the organic movement and a paper was published in 2007 stating that organic yields and conventional yields were remarkably similar. However, a subsequent analysis by Dennis Avery’s son Alex found that such a conclusion was highly suspect because of cherry picking results, multi-counting favourable studies and including many studies that did not even include organic comparisons. It was just as well that it was not really championed by many in the organic movement because they themselves could not really believe it.
Recently Dennis Avery’s views have been reinforced by a number of leading independent researchers in papers published in highly regarded scientific journals. In addition, a recent paper concluded that not only is sustainable high yield farming best for the environment but also for the taxpayer.
Have his messages been adopted? … not really. Pesticides are still seen by many as having pariah status. For instance, EU policy makers have adopted a Farm to Fork framework that aims to reduce considerably pesticide usage. Independent analysis shows that this will very significantly lower food production in the EU. Hence, such a policy is likely to have a large deleterious impact on the global area of natural habitats. In my mind, this populist policy is a massive strategic error based on emotion and misconceptions rather than cool analysis. Some conservationists are now so concerned that they are beginning to adopt a social science approach to convince the public, and particularly politicians, that policies resulting in sub-optimal responsible pesticide usage are a threat to global biodiversity.
There is so much more to discover and learn from the BCPC archive. There may even be more blogs on its contents! In the meantime, why not look it up?
However, whilst it is often cited that you should invest in land because we’re not making any more of it, we need to think a little more holistically if we want to sustain UK agriculture and address the ‘elephant in the room’ – food security?
Food security hit the headlines in 2021 during Covid-19 but was swiftly forgotten. Sadly, the over-riding memory of lockdown will be toilet rolls, Matt Hancock and parties at No 10. Similarly, on 24th February 2021 the war in Ukraine highlighted the precarious state of worldwide food supplies, not just oilseeds and grains but the collateral impact on gas and subsequently fertiliser prices.
Roll forward to February 2023 and the rationing of tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers led to many news bulletins; but the urgency and importance of defining a longer term vision for sustaining UK food production seems consistently overlooked.
On a positive note, next month the House of Lords Committee inquiry starts into the Horticulture Sector including a topic on funding for science, research and development - whilst also addressing labour shortages, production costs and the loss of extensions of authorisation for minor use of crop protection products that underpins production.
Needs and wants
Climate change is making production more precarious, as witnessed by record UK temperatures in 2022, but so too is a realisation in some areas of Government that food production is politically and economically critical. What is surprising is why the level of investment to mitigate such risks has barely changed whilst the urgency, extent and severity of threats has been amplified? Yields for many crops are claimed to have flatlined, despite all the effort to improve productivity.
I tried to explain this to non-farming friends whose knowledge has progressed a little after watching Clarkson’s Farm. Growers, plant breeders and agronomists are madly treading water to keep many crops afloat against a rising tide of pest, weed and disease threats which have historically been kept in check by crop protection products.
Availability of crop protection products is dwindling as the European Union policy aims to halve use of all pesticide by 50% by 2030, an approach which appears to be mirrored within the UK. Such an approach needs to consider three things;
1 – will the environment be kind? Recent evidence of extreme climate events shows that stability will not be on the agenda for weeds, pests and diseases.
2 – breeding/engineering/technology will adapt to fill the void? This was the vision of Agri-Tech initiative launched a decade ago in 2013, yet research, development and introduction remains slow. Even the promise of the precision breeding bill in England will need to see many smaller, fragmented crops or markets sustained in the interim.
3 – will these issues be compounded and amplified when we reduce choice of cropping, variety or chemistry across a whole rotation? Effectively making the transition even more challenging.
Historically the interaction between Genetics, Environment and Management or G x E x M was used to define output. This was relatively predictable; but as all three vary more frequently and to a greater extreme then we need a step change in research investment if we are to cope.
This was one of the core reasons for the AFCP seminar hosted at NIAB.
When you look at how soils function; how they interact with crops and their environment it is likely that the challenges will be more numerous and frequent. The presentation by George Crane of Yara Growth Ventures on cover cropping, soil structure and arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis pointed to the need for long term responses assessed over decades, not one or two seasons.
The presentation from Ana Prada Barrio of Harper Adams on controlled traffic, tyre pressure and tillage systems sponsored by the Douglas Bomford Trust, The Morley Agricultural Foundation and Harper Adams University built on this. It showed the complexity of cover crops interacting with soil structure and farm practice including controlled traffic over time. Even though in its 9th season, the initial conclusion that there was no significant difference in crop yield between treatments highlighted the likelihood that we need to be looking at a much longer perspective to draw conclusions.
When the Broadbalk trial was established in 1843 at Rothamsted the founding fathers understood that Agricultural Research is a vital investment for the future. The need to optimise use of fertilisers or resources to sustain production and a growing population remains unchanged, 180 years later.
Similarly, Edwin Jarratt Barnham’s of the Cambridge Crop Science Centre presentation on nutrient regulation in arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis started with a reminder from Sri Lanka about the flawed attempt to ban fertiliser use in 2021 – hobbling their food industry with a 50% yield reduction. Excessive fertiliser use will gain more pressure for regulation globally due to environmental impacts, and because it is economically beyond the reach of many farmers and supply depends on a limited number of manufacturers. Phosphate sources are likely to be the most urgent, as it is widely predicted supply will peak in the coming decades.
So, in conclusion, the challenge as ever is to reconcile the needs and wants of the United Kingdom with a vision to deliver food security whilst addressing the risk of displacing food production and with it the UK industry’s high standards overseas.
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