Over the last 10 years field labs have changed the way we farm
But what if these ideas were scaled up?
Using data collected from our network, we’ve estimated how these practices can contribute to a more sustainable and resilient farming future.
Reducing lamb mortality
The increased shelter from trees reduces perinatal hypothermia in lambs by up to 35%. If 10% of sheep had access to silvopasture, lamb mortality could be reduced by 46,000 lambs across the UK per year. This would increase income by close to £4 million across the UK. For farms that produce 100 lambs this would increase farm income by £255 a year.
Silvopasture can help to combat liver fluke – a common parasite infecting livestock, reducing their growth and ability to reproduce. Trees act to improve soil conditions and reduce waterlogging and therefore the decrease the habitat for the snail that carries the disease. AHDB calculates that fluke costs the sheep and cattle industry around £300 million per year. If agroforestry could reduce the risk of infection by 5%, this equates to £15 million in savings a year.
Grass can be available between a week and three weeks earlier under trees: a 10% increase in silvopasture across sheep and cattle systems could lead to grass availability a week earlier resulting in the following savings (if housing was reduced by a week). £10 per week per dairy cow, £6 per week per calf up to £1 per week per ewe. Across the country this could result in combined savings of almost £8 million.
In a field lab which ran from 2017-19, intercropping increased the overall yield of the crops planted in a field while decreasing the inputs needed.
Intercropping could increase yield on the average surface by up to 30%. If 10% of the UK’s arable crop surface adopted this practice, we could achieve a production yield increase of up to 500 tonnes, equivalent to an estimated £83 million. Alternatively, the yield increase could lead to better land management - we could make up to 90,000 hectares of land available, without impacting overall yield, while increasing space available for food production or tree planting, and reducing feed production areas.
Reduced herbicide use
In the field lab, intercropping beans and wheat reduced the weed burden by 74% for two years running. If this was done on an average UK conventional farm it would lead to a reduction in herbicide applications of at least 30%, equivalent to £73 per hectare per year. If half of cropped areas across the UK adopted this, there would be a reduction of herbicide use of 1 million kilos across the country, from 7 to 6 million kilos.
Reduced artificial fertiliser use
The field lab also showed that intercropping oats or oilseed rape with legumes provided sufficient nitrogen for the crop, meaning farmers could avoid the need
for artificial fertiliser. If this was done on 10% of the UK cropping areas, it would mean savings of up to £30 million in fertiliser use across the UK per year. A 10% reduction of artificial nitrogen use across all cropped areas could also result in a reduction of 300,000 tonnes of CO2 associated with use of artificial fertilisers.
Mastitis is one of the biggest reasons for antibiotic usage in dairy farming. Field labs have trialled on-farm tests to detect which infection cases involve bacteria that respond to antibiotic treatment and those that cure without the need for antibiotics.
Interim results from the field lab show that, for those farms where the conditions are appropriate for this treatment, on-farm tests reduce antibiotic use in infected animals by an average of 35%. If used on half the UK’s dairy farms this could lead to a yearly reduction of around 120,000 antibiotic doses.
On an average herd (250 animals) 31 cows would not need treatment. This means the average organic dairy farm could save around £2,200 by avoiding wasted milk lost from treated cows where milk cannot be sold, and £400 in antibiotic treatments, adding to savings of £2,600.
Non-organic farms could save £600 by avoiding wasted milk and £400 in antibiotic treatments.