Back to the future for sustainable farming

Published: 27 September, 2017

Erosion proof farming meets technology (Brian Fischer for

REAP Conference 2017

“We need to go back to how my grandfather farmed, but using modern science,” says Andrew Blenkiron, Estate Director at Euston Estate and speaker at the forthcoming REAP conference. Blenkiron believes that to ensure long-term soil security, organic material should be put back on the land; rather than removing it with the harvest.

Aptly themed, ‘Today’s Knowledge Meets Tomorrow’s Technology’, the event will focus on emerging agri-tech to secure a productive, profitable and sustainable future.

Andrew Blenkiron, Euston EstateAs the global population rises it is clear that conventional farming is feeling the strain. A knowledge intensive approach is vital to reduce reliance on artificial inputs, but while there is intention to change practices farmers, like Blenkiron, need to see the economic benefit.

He continues: “I believe that over the last 40 to 50 years, there has been an over reliance on artificial inputs. However, the biggest challenge that I face at the moment, is working out the economic benefits of spreading 30,000 tonnes of organic material from our anaerobic digester, compared to the cost of artificial applications.”

“There may be no economic gain if you look at it on a straight costings basis, but I know that the organic material will have the longer-term benefit on the soil health, but how do I measure that?”

Read more from Andrew Blenkiron here.

Can you measure it? 

Sustainability metrics will be discussed at REAP and it is put into context by a presentation by ‘no-till’ pioneer María ‘Pilu’ Giraudo.

Maria Beatriz GiraudoGiraudo is the tenth winner of the Kleckner Award from the Global Farmer Network and is coordinating policies for sustainable development at the Ministry of Agroindustry for Argentina. Giraudo comments that when her father first changed his fields over to no-till 40 years ago “many thought he was mad,” but now, many farmers are beginning to see no-till as a route for soil recovery in physical, biological and chemical ways.

No-till is widely adopted in South America and gaining ground in the US where in 2009 around 88 million acres or 35.5 per cent of US cropland planted with eight major crops had no tillage operations . No-till has not spread in Europe to the same extent, but Giraudo considers that the situation is ripe for change. She says: “It is amazing. You are learning each day from nature and science how the hands of man can be improving, not destroying.”

Sustainability requires farmers to be rewarded for more than yield.

Retailers, such as Marks & Spencer, are recognising this and increasingly placing value on nutrition and flavour.

Matt O'Hagan, M&SREAP presenter Matt O’Hagan, Senior Agronomist at Marks & Spencer says the retailer is looking at ways to increase the nutritional value of food to increase the levels of the vitamins and minerals that may be lacking from peoples’ diets. He comments: “When eaten, the Vitamin D is readily used by the body and we have developed a way of giving mushrooms a ‘suntan’ so they are enriched in Vitamin D.”

Dr Belinda Clarke, Director of Agri-Tech East says: “The aim of REAP 2017 is to bring together innovative farmers and growers with leading researchers and technologists to improve the best practice of today. “We are eager to continue the success of last year’s conference which has resulted in a number of collaborations. “I think we have a great balance of speakers and the new Farmer-Tech Platform in particular will offer insights into field scale agri-tech innovations.”

Agri-Tech East’s REAP 2017 conference will take place at the Wellcome Genome Campus Conference Centre in Hinxton, Cambridge.

For further information and registration details, please visit the REAP 2017 website.

REAP Conference 2017