Integrated Farm Management: Looking back & stepping forward

22 April 2016

Caroline Drummond's picture
Caroline Drummond
15 January 2015 - LEAF President's Event ©LEAF President's Event

On the 19th May, LEAF will hold its first Integrated Farm Management (IFM) Conference in Waddesdon, Buckinghamshire. The conference, titled ‘IFM: A Framework for the Future’, will examine the development of IFM, consider its strengths (and weaknesses) and its role in addressing future challenges.  So how did IFM all begin? How has it developed over the last twenty-five years? And what is important, moving forward?

A short history...

Looking back to farming in 1991, the industry had overcome many challenges and successfully increased production. However, there was increasing awareness that some of the resulting farming practices were having a big impact on the environment. Many farmers wanted to achieve a balance between production and environmental protection by modifying their practices and focusing on the value of nature and habitats. This started a movement within the industry as farmers began looking for whole farm approaches through Integrated Crop Management (ICM). Added to this, there was a realisation within the wider agricultural sector about the potential damage caused by pesticides and fertilisers in the working place. This brought about a drive to use pesticides more selectively, improve products and provide better information on the environmental impact of fertilisers.

For LEAF, ICM developed on the back of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) with a focus on crop health.  An important element of the ICM approach is the recognition that farmers do not make decisions on single issues but take into account a number of different factors: the weather, thresholds, land area and many more. Taking a concept developed in Germany, LEAF’s first five years was focused on the development and promotion of ICM.  We involved some of the best farmers in the UK as LEAF Demonstration Farmers. These efforts allowed us to further develop ICM by embracing traditional methods and modern techniques and allowing farmers to strike a balance between running profitable businesses whilst enhancing and protecting the environment.

Developing the IFM approach

As we developed ICM, it became apparent that the integration of livestock was critical. As a result, since 1996, LEAF has focused on Integrated Farm Management offering a framework for all farming systems. This broader focus became increasingly important with the rise of research projects concentrating on the farmer/practice interface. Examples included the LIFE project at Long Ashton Research Station, the focus on farming practice initiative at Stoughton, work at High Mowthorpe, as well as government priorities at MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Foods). Much of this work helped to outline the financial benefits of IFM systems.

Since that time, we have seen a tremendous amount of change in practices and priorities for farm businesses, volatilities in the market place and a decline in long-term farming systems research. We have continued to expand our Demonstration Farm network as well as our Innovation Centres. By working closely with practitioners we have highlighted specific areas of research that have contributed to the development of IFM. A growing range of IFM practices and techniques have been pioneered by our LEAF Demonstration Farmers and are being adopted by our farmer members. Furthermore, with the growth of the LEAF Marque assurance system, we have seen radical changes in the market place that have helped to support and accelerate these innovations and changes. 

Looking to the future

Whilst farmer based research has not always been a priority across Europe, things are starting to change. We are delighted that the Sustainable Intensification Platform (SIP), Integrated Farm Management project is driving the development of innovation and testing of new approaches within IFM. In addition, Agricology provides a fantastic platform for exchanging ideas and information, giving farmers the confidence to adopt novel approaches. LEAF is pleased and proud to be a partner.

The challenges facing the farming industry will continue in the future and approaches that bring together diverse partners to find appropriate solutions are absolutely critical. This partnership approach will be seen in action at our IFM Conference on the 19th May. We have invited a range of farmers, and others from the industry, to showcase and discuss examples of the most forward-thinking research and development from our Innovation Centres. There will be discussions illustrating how some of these ideas have been put into practice by our LEAF Demonstration Farmers. We would be very pleased if you could join us there.

For more information and to book a place please click here

The information contained above reflects the views of the author/s and does not necessarily reflect that of Agricology and its partners.