LINK Integrated Farming Systems (a field-scale comparison of arable rotations) Volume I: Experimental work
About this project
The LINK Integrated Farming Systems (IFS) project commenced in April 1992 as part of the LINK Programme "Technologies for Sustainable Farming Systems". The project was funded by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF), the Scottish Executive, Rural Affairs Department (SERAD), the Home-Grown Cereals Authority (HGCA), Zeneca Agrochemicals and the British Agrochemicals Association (BAA).
The project was established on six farms situated in the main arable farming areas in the UK: covering Hampshire (Manydown), Cambridgeshire (Boxworth and Sacrewell), Herefordshire (Lower Hope), Yorkshire (High Mowthorpe) and Midlothian (Pathhead). IFS was compared with local conventional practice on split field plots, occupying approximately 50 ha per site. The main practices adopted in IFS included: targeted and selective pesticide use; balanced nutrient inputs; resistant varieties; rotational weed control; crop diversity; and flexible cultivations. A locally-relevant, five-year crop rotation was adopted at each site, with all phases of the rotation present each year. The five-year study was completed in 1997.
Pesticide use was substantially reduced across most crops (30 percent less cost and 18 percent less active ingredient) on IFS, with no measurable increases in pest, disease or weed problems. Also, the IFS rotations used 20 percent less nitrogen overall than the conventional. Although yields were generally lower on the IFS, variable and production costs were also reduced, giving an overall lower cost of production per tonne from the IFS. Although, there was some variation between sites, IFS was as economically viable as the conventional system overall. Estimates of crop management time suggested that initially up to 50 percent more time was likely to be spent in crop walking and decision making on IFS, but this would ease with experience.
There was no evidence of any difference in direct environmental impact on beetles, spiders and earthworms, between the two systems, despite changes in rotation and cultivation practice and large reductions in inputs, particularly pesticides, over the period of the project. Potatoes and other spring crops were the least favourable for invertebrates. Over all sites, there was a small reduction in leachable soil mineral nitrogen on the IFS plots, with the spring crops leaving behind less residual nitrogen than their winter-sown counterparts. Reductions in the intensity of cultivations, fertiliser use and the incorporation of N-fixing legumes in the rotations contributed to the lower energy consumption of 8.5 percent (equivalent to 34 l/ha of diesel) in IFS.
The aim of the project was to develop an integrated system that maintained profitability with a different balance of inputs and reduced environmental impact than current conventional systems. The integrated system was designed to grow crops in ways that minimised the need for fertiliser and pesticide inputs, and this was achieved. However, one of the main conclusions to arise from the project was the recognition that a single integrated system of production - a blueprint - would not be produced, as integrated practices had to be selected and adapted to meet the needs of individual sites. Potential benefits for farmers, supported by results from the project, include: lower costs from optimised inputs; potentially higher margins when economic conditions are difficult; improved knowledge and understanding of cropping and environmental risks; greater flexibility with soil management and reduced erosion risk; improved workload spread; reduced operator risks from fewer applications; and lower energy demands. Increased adoption of integrated farming could also make further legislation or mandatory schemes to reduce pesticide use unnecessary.
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