Nineteen Nuffield Farming Scholars took to the virtual stage to share the findings of their weeks of global travel and research. Hannah Binns finds out more.
‘A study into how farm building aesthetics affects the user experience’
An estate manager for a mixed farm in East Yorkshire, Chris Harrap is convinced building design affects farmer wellbeing, job satisfaction, mental health and relationships with livestock.
His research examined biophilic designs, an architectural approach which seeks to connect building occupants more closely to nature, to see how livestock buildings across the globe can be healthy good spaces to work in.
“Farmers have the best working environment of any profession, and it is why many of us chose a life in farming,” Mr Harrap said.
“But more recent times, pushed by market forces to produce more effectively and productively, has created a different feel to our working environment.
“Buildings are mainly made from man-made materials and can feel like an enclosed environment, broken down into distinct activities.”
Speaking to architects, designers and farmers in the Netherlands, Germany, Canada and the USA, Mr Harrap saw different approaches to livestock housing which incorporated plenty of natural light, curved shapes and indoor lightening.
“Sometimes we have lost sight that animals and the land are interconnected and should be managed in a harmonious way,” Mr Harrap added.
“Successful building designs start with the right ethos for the activity within.
“We do not have to stick to the norm and there is some really exciting new architecture happening right now.”
You can read more about the Nuffield scholars online at: www.nuffieldscholar.org/news/2019-nuffield-farming-scholars-announced/
A third-generation dairy farmer from West Sussex, Dan Burdett explored how regenerative agriculture is used across the globe and how it can drive change on UK farms through inclusivity and openness.
According to Robert Rodale, an American organic farming advocate who Mr Burdett referred to, regenerative agriculture is a holistic approach to farming that encourages continuous innovation and improvement of social, environment and economic measures.
In Georgia, USA, Mr Burdett met Will Harris, a champion of regenerative agriculture and saw how Mr Harris’ business of buying up used peanut and cotton growing land to graze a plethora of livestock which are then slaughtered on-site has led to significant reinvestment in the local community via rebuilding residential housing.
Mr Burdett also visited Scottish dairy farmer and cheese producer David Findlay, who keeps calves at foot, an unconventional practice in the UK, to find out how he managed some of the social challenges caused by the change.
Mr Findlay uses his Ethical Dairy brand to show other farmers how they can transition to less intensive production, in response to consumer concerns and beliefs.
Mr Burdett added: “Most people see regenerative agriculture as a pseudoscience but it is a farmer-led movement.
“Any changes must be driven by core beliefs and include the people around you.
“There must also be a willingness to share your story with others honestly and openly and pass on the knowledge, offering support and using appropriate language to bring people on board.”
Charlie Steer, arable manager of Grosvenor Farms, Chester, explored worldwide examples of circular farming in his Nuffield scholarship.
“Farmers are embracing the complexities of natural systems and combining that with technology to produce results which are nothing short of brilliant,” Mr Steer said.
“But it all derives from a key principle, the absolute minimisation of waste and capturing value at each stage of the chain, from using six acres of worms to capture nutrients or maintaining green cover on cropped land to lock up nutrients.”
Mr Steer added conversations with Nick Jeffries, senior expert at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, highlighted how regenerative agriculture played a key role in the circular economy, linking human and soil health, building biological and financial resilience as well as protecting the income and lives of farmers.
Mr Steer concluded circular farming must incorporate a system thinking approach which is interconnected and uses data and technological advances to complement its natural system.
For AHDB knowledge exchange manager Sarah Pick, the future of the UK suckler herd hangs in the balance.
Noticing heifer replacement costs equate to 10 per cent of production costs and moving to a system of calving two-year-old cows could reduce development costs by £600, Ms Pick set out to identify the barriers preventing farmer uptake of calving cows at this age.
She found three key factors influenced the success of calving at two-years-old, which included nutrition, selection and genetics.
“In the US, every producer knew how much their cows were costing them and were using genetics to breed cows to thrive at a lower cost system,” Ms Pick said.
“Calving at two has been common place since the 1970s and if the cows did not calve, then they were not retained.”
She concluded by challenging producers to consider why they keep cows if they cannot calve at two-years-old.