NEWS: NIAB leads taskforce on new sustainable intensification guidelines

10 Jun 2014

NIAB is leading a £2 million Defra-funded research project to identify the most effective practices and test potential new farming systems to increase farm productivity while reducing environmental impacts and enhancing ecosystem services.

‘Project 1 – Integrated Farm Management for improved economic, environmental and social performance’ is one of three studies forming Defra’s £4.5 million Sustainable Intensification Research Platform, known as SIP.

The intention is to review existing methods for measuring the economic, environmental and social performance of farm businesses, and develop appropriate metrics for sustainable intensification (SI). Practical approaches to Integrated Farm Management will be identified and tested, and new approaches developed to support SI decision-making on farm at the end of the three-year project.

NIAB’s Director of Crops and Agronomy and project lead Stuart Knight says: “New technologies offer a great opportunity to meet the challenge of improving productivity while benefiting the environment. We’re delighted to lead such an exciting collaboration of agricultural, environmental and social scientists, economists, stakeholders and policymakers from over 25 organisations, including universities, research organisations, charities, government agencies and industry.

“This is a unique opportunity to bring together the enormous amount of knowledge and information held across research and industry on agricultural land management. Ultimately, the aim is to translate this information into practical approaches to help farmers, land managers, the agri-food industry and policy makers balance economic, environmental and social outcomes of farming in their geographic and/or environmental situation.”

The project team will study farming practices for a set of farms across England and Wales. Data collected will provide a baseline against which future farm performance can be assessed. These SI metrics will be designed to be applicable to different farming systems and environments in England and Wales.

A practical Integrated Farm Management (IFM) approach will then be developed, with a set of SI practices taking into account the sector, environment and situation of farms. This includes practices identified from farms and horizon-scanning with key stakeholders to increase productivity, reduce costs, improve resource use efficiency, control pests and diseases, mitigate greenhouse gasses and pollution, and provide habitats for biodiversity. These will be tested on study farms, covering a range of locations, environments and farming types within the major crop and livestock sectors.  

NIAB’s research officer and project coordinator Jenny Preston says that to support the on-farm implementation of SI practices the research platform will be working with a wide range of stakeholders to develop a decision support and guidance framework.

“We will be cataloguing existing industry support tools and their effectiveness through surveys and farmer or advisor interviews, alongside farmer workshops to construct a list of desired results that can then be related to improved practices for IFM.”

The benefits of SIPs collaborative research platforms are expected to continue beyond the scope of the first three projects. It will provide a focal point for funders to pool resources, hosting long-term research to address objectives emerging from ongoing dialogue between stakeholders, researchers and policymakers.

Researchers and stakeholders working on projects linked to the SIP will establish a shared network of research sites and form an expert community of practice to coordinate translational research on farming systems and to engage in knowledge exchange activities. These will form a platform to host future research on farming systems and land management.


Project 1 partner organisations:

NIAB, ADAS, AFBI, University of Bristol, University of Cambridge, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Duchy College, East Malling Research, University of Exeter, Fera, GWCT, Harper Adams University, University of Hertfordshire, IBERS, LEAF, University of Leeds, University of Newcastle, University of Nottingham, Organic Research Centre, University of Reading, Rothamsted Research, RSPB, SRUC, UEA and Velcourt - with the help of Glasgow Caledonian University, Carbon Trust and the Soil Association.

Additional Defra SIP projects

Project 2. Opportunities and risks for farming and the environment at landscape scales

Led by Professor Michael Winter of the University of Exeter, this project will develop approaches to understand the actions that are needed at landscape scales to deliver ecosystem services, productive and profitable farming businesses and biodiversity. This entails understanding:

a) Geographical variation in land capability (for food production and opportunities for other ecosystem services) and environmental risks; and

b) The need for collaborative decision-making between multiple farms and governance at the landscape scale to deliver ecosystem services, biodiversity and profitable farming businesses.

Project 3. Scoping study on the influence of external drivers and actors on the sustainability and productivity of English and Welsh farming (6-month scoping study)

Led by John Elliott of ADAS, this scoping study will inform a project to research the wider drivers and opportunities for decision-making on English and Welsh farms in the context of the behavioural change implicit in the SI agenda. Influences include climate change, global commodity markets, consumer choice, the development of markets for ecosystem services and the demand for biofuels. The project will investigate:

a) How farmers respond to external influences, and mechanisms for interventions;

b) The influence of the food supply-chain on farm and landscape management decisions;

c) Opportunities & non-market mechanisms to drive sustainable intensification.

Read more on the Sustainable Intensification Project website