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Farmer interviews – the environmental impact

Video containing interviews with farmers describing the environmental benefits of using precision farming techniques.
What’s most important to you in terms of caring for the environment on your farm? How would how would you see that? I see my role not as a landowner or a farmer per se, but as a custodian of part of the beautiful British countryside. And I want to be able to pass that on to my children, and them to walk in the water meadows or up the hill or whatever, and see all of these beautiful flowers, and all these beautiful creatures, and the birds. And I wake up every morning to god knows how many different songbirds, but then probably about a million pigeons as well, which aren’t quite so nice.
But my point is that for me, the environment and farming are the same thing. So farmers, moving forward, need to look at basically farming as how can we improve the environment, not take away from it. This sort of technique allows you to select areas that are not particularly profitable for cropping, but might have a huge benefit in terms of the environmental impact that they have. So I think it gives you better justification for saying I will use that bit for the environment, but the bit in the middle, the important bit, is where I’m going to produce my crops, whereas round the outside I’m going to create habitats, link habitats together.
But I can justify, and I can explore the best areas to use. This helps enormously with that. Without our land, we wouldn’t make a living. And so the first goal has to be that our land is in a perfect shape. And of course we did enough mistakes in the past, wherever they’re coming from, but we did them. And so now we have the chance, with all the sensors and all these techniques, with soil samplings, with all what we can do today, way more precise than we could do it in the past to improve the soil again, to make the soil better again. I’ve always been an avid environmental lover.
Obviously I live in the countryside, and looking out my window right now, all I can see is a field I’ve drilled and a bit of woodland behind. And there is a sort of pride to living on a farm and caring for it. You want to be able to look out your window and see a great crop, and it’s also oddly nice to see a deer jumping through it. I love wildlife, I love the countryside, I always have.
And, yeah, so we are part of, well we will be part of, that’s actually what I’ve been doing for the last month or so, is applying for the mid-tier countryside scheme, putting in grass margins, wild bird strips, underneath woodlands, making sure that that’s all, if anything, they’re encroaching onto your field. But it makes it more accessible for wildlife to sort of run up and down. You can see both benefits of it in some areas that we’ve already left when we were a part of the entry-level scheme, that wildlife really do use that little bit of extra couple of metres that you give them.
My understanding of the environmental benefits of precision agriculture is that less inputs leads to less use of pesticide and less potential for leaching of nitrogen and so on. So there’s kind of the reduced inputs leads to the environmental benefits. Has that relationship shown up on your farm? Have you seen any kind of improvements to the environment apart from what you suggested, which is identifying the areas of land that maybe could move into different managements, have you seen anything? I think the fact that you are identifying them and taking them out has already had an environmental impact, because they’ve been removed from production. In terms of have we visibly seen anything within the fields, then no, not really.
But because we’re much more accurate, then, where we can apply our inputs to precision measurements, which then doesn’t go into the areas that we’re trying to save for the wildlife and the habitat. So we’re able to make that boundary between the two much more precise, and I think that helps, yes. And we’re not over-applying any inputs, we’re using inputs to the optimum, which means that there is less chance of runoff and contamination with the natural environment.
There is important changes, because for me farming is not about, and I’ve said this, gone are the days where you ploughed up a field, chucked a load of seed in it, chucked a load of inorganic nitrogen on it, sprayed it to hell, and then harvested it. That’s not what British farming is about. That’s not the future. It’s about working with nature, and technology will naturally help that evolution.

In the last of our videos in which Dr Alice Mauchline talks to farmers from across Europe, the environmental implications of adopting precision and digital technologies are discussed. Ben considers himself a custodian of the countryside and Mel is responsible for ensuring field margins create and link habitats for wildlife. Erik makes the point that the land is how he makes his living and that soil improvement is one of his priorities. Simon reveals how mapping has enabled him to take some land out of production and precision techniques help create precise boundaries so contamination is minimised.

Which aspect of your own environment do you think precision farming would help you to improve?

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Innovation in Arable Farming: Technologies for Sustainable Farming Systems

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