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“Soil structure improvement using roots not metal is the key” – No-till systems gaining uptake following examples of direct cost savings to farm businesses.

Groundswell, the soils and no till focused event in North Hertfordshire hosted by Paul Cherry, was totally sold out this year. Greg Beeton, Divisional Partner and Agricultural Business Consultant, outlines the key messages from the event and explains how as a business Brown&Co are well-positioned to advise clients on innovative methods, supported by evidence of financial benefits to the farming business.   

 Over two days, the event offered the chance to immerse in a packed programme of around 50 lectures/seminars, discussion with trade stands (Brown&Co included) and live demonstrations of 10 of the biggest, best and shiniest no-till drills on the market today – with heaps of accompanying information that allows for in depth comparisons.  

With a focus on innovation and the future succession of sustainable farming, the demographic of the event reflected the next generation of decision makers, with the average age closer to 30 against an industry farmer average age of 59. Key topics included; No-till economics, DEFRA and Glyphosate.

 

No-till economics

With many examples now available of direct cost savings there has been a move towards the no-till system with one speaker commenting ‘We have not needed to use insecticide on our farms for 7 years now. We only use one fungicide routinely and have driven down our input costs without sacrificing too much yield’.

There was also a sharing of the increased risk in some circumstances, of it not being for everyone and of the time taken to move across to a no-till system, with five years seeming to be the average.

Based upon the mounting evidence, we at Brown&Co are moving forward with economic forecasting of these systems and how we can advise farmers on the planning, implementation and transition period of progressing to a no-till system.

 

DEFRA

Robert Goodwill, DEFRA Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries & Food, shone light on the political challenges and strategies in place for future sustainability. Key messages included;

  • The Government is committed to Natural Capital approaches and are determined that the end result will be that the public will see results in the countryside for their money. (Public Goods for Public Money).
  • The Agricultural Bill is not moving anywhere fast – the risk is that if it is pushed now it may trip up resulting in the whole process needing to start again. Therefore, waiting for the right moment is key.
  • The Government is committed to evidence-based ELMS roll out – so tests and trials are key to assimilating evidence, but the Government has been overwhelmed with the responses to ideas in the March Elms call and there is no identified money to action as yet.
  • There was a message that it’s likely that environmental payments will be paid monthly in future to help farm cash flows.
  • ELMS is likely to focus at 3 levels : farm, large scale (uplands), river catchments.

There is a growing conversation around not waiting for Government money to fund ELMS type initiatives, they are needed sooner to start shaping change. At Brown&Co we are engaging with others who operate within the rural sector to co-design and seek funding to catalyse this space.  We are also developing thinking in options to crowd in commercial money to invest in carbon sequestration in agriculture, which will be driven by the 25 year carbon neutral UK initiative.

 

Glyphosate

Most no-till practitioners stated that without glyphosate no-till systems would be challenged. The pragmatic and strengthening approach to position against potentially loosing glyphosate (also supported by some environmental organisations I understand) appears to be to advocate for licensing usage around establishment only. This would mitigate against usage at times of year where it might enter the food chain, for example; for a pre-harvest clean up.

This whole area around soils and capturing carbon is going to be a bigger part of our sector focus going forward. Brown&Co are well positioned in understanding the business models and economics that underpin this. Accompanied with evidenced data we are exploring and catalyzing new money into this space which will enable us to add value to our existing and new client bases. This all aligns with our focus on both profit & loss and environmental sustainability across the sector.