More hope from Hope

The Hope Farm report contains an interesting account of costs of wheat production.

In 2004 wheat yields at hope Farm were 10.8 t/ha. It cost £48 to produce a tonne of wheat and you got £60 for it – a profit of around £12 (£120/ha).

In 2011 wheat yields at Hope Farm were 8.6 t/ha. It cost £100 to produce a tonne of wheat and you got £153 for it – a profit of around £53 (£455/ha).

In other words, even with great input costs and a year of lower yields, wheat profits were more than four times higher.  It’s an interesting anecdote, but it will have applied to many arable farms, and mixed farms, across the country.

I thought it would be interesting to extract for you, from Table 1 of the report where all the data are given, the numbers of farmland birds in those two years illustrated above and in the first year for which the RSPB has baselines data: 2000, 2004 and 2011.

 

Kestrel 0, 1, 2

Grey partridge 0, 1, 5

Lapwing 0, 0, 0 (but they did occur in some other years)

Stock dove 2, 2, 3

Woodpigeon 33, 33, 62

Turtle dove 0, 2, 1

Skylark 10, 27, 42

Yellow wagtail 0, 1, 2

Whitethroat 25, 31, 52

Jackdaw 0, 0, 2

Starling 3, 5, 22

Greenfinch 18, 14, 11

Goldfinch 3, 3, 10

Linnet 6, 14, 26

Yellowhammer 14, 18, 33

Reed bunting 3, 4, 16

Corn bunting 0, 0, 2

There is a simple clear message here.  Over the period of the Hope Farm project, wheat yields have varied, profits have risen and farmland bird numbers have risen.  What’s not to like about this?

So why aren’t more farmers doing just this?

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15 Replies to “More hope from Hope”

  1. Very interesting simple blog Mark,agree with you entirely but I do think more farmers are trying to be more bird friendly all the time.You usually know most of the answers but here you know all the questions so if you find the answers let us all know.Perhaps it would help if the NFU asked this question of its members,then at least if there are reasons we would get them.Dare the RSPB have a poster asking this question at the agricultural shows it attends.
    I wonder if the Skylark patches are the one that farmers are most resistant to as like some gardeners a patch of weeds is what they have been over the years taught as bad husbandry and so it has become ingrained in that generation.

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    1. These are excellent results Mark.
      Congratulations on setting all this up in the face of fierce opposition and widespread scepticism.
      Dennis makes some telling points.

      In the 1950s my father always expressed appreciation at seeing a good "clean" stand of corn, free of "rubbish" ie weeds, and there is an aesthetic satisfaction in seeing such fields.
      Farmers are very conscious of what their peers think, especially in the same village.
      This applies particularly to roadside fields.
      It was several years before, as a youth, I was regarded as accomplished enough to be allowed to plough such fields to avoid him having to listen to comments about "dogs hind legs" whenever he went "down village" or to market.

      His was a modest 160-acre, mixed-arable East Riding farm where we practised what later became known as "extensive" farming.
      He was always very aware and interested in the wildlife living there.

      Regular nesters, apart from those on Hope Farm's list, were two pairs of turtle dove, a pair each of snipe, lapwing and wheatear and for a couple of years, grasshopper warbler. Sedge warbler nested annually in a solitary gorse bush and linnets in the carefully tended, stock-proof hawthorn hedges. Certain years we were visited by quail and corncrake, which may have nested.
      We had good, natural coveys of grey partridge and at least two pairs of red-legs.
      Kingfishers fished along the "drains", wide drainage channels where water voles were very common.
      There was an occupied fox covert. Rabbits were plentiful and were hunted by stoats and weasels.
      We had a very pleasant, evocative rookery of around thirty pairs.
      Little, tawny and barn owls were resident. The latter were still there over sixty years later when I showed children and grandchildren the old homestead.

      Although this was the fifties, the devastating effect on flora and fauna of pesticides had not yet taken its toll.
      I'm glad I was able to enjoy small-scale farming life before agri-business took control.

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      1. John - thank you. We can't go back to those days, no-one would want to, but it would be good to take a step back towards that wildlife through applying modern knowledge and technology to best effect.

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  2. "So why aren’t more farmers doing just this?"

    Possibly because there is pressure on them to reduce the LCA CO2e of crops - on implied threat of legislative measures to do so if voluntary measures don't deliver. Perhaps they see the deliberate increase of GHG emissions per unit production as counterproductive.

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    1. Filbert - the correct measurement would surely be CO2e per area not per unit of production. And is there any evidence that more wildlife means more CO2e - I doubt it is remotely that simple.

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      1. You might think that. It isn't about wildlife, but resource use. I also favour emissions accounting on a whole farm boundary basis, but the standard carbon accounting methodologies express LCA as CO2e/kg, whether it be meat or wheat. Unless all inputs, including energy used (fuel) for cultivations, fertiliser, seed, labour can be "switched off" for any non-productive area, however small - the CO2e/kg increases. That's how it works. You can't compare production systems except on this basis.

        On an enterprise basis these increases would have to be countered by other measures to meet an emissions reduction target. In the Hope Farm context, this is stated as a 15% net reduction by 2017, so they will have to work harder on other measures to achieve that target.

        Carbon accounting is modelling by any other name - a spreadsheet pastime, not the real world. It is extremely GIGO-sensitive. Slowly, by exposure of the nonsense, anomalies and lack of resemblance to the real world (all carbon-out, no carbon-in) - "they" are being shamed into more realistic roadmaps for emissions reductions and something more relevant may emerge by way of accounting for carbon sequestration under different land uses. But "they" move at glacial speed ...

        And stop calling me Shirley

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        1. filbert
          can you please state what your acronyms mean at least once before you start using them. Just like they do in the broadsheet newspapers.

          LCA. Co2e Haven't a clue! And neither does it seem does google

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        2. Filbert - stop confusing things. The reason some favour CO2equiv/kg is that it means that you can reduce it by increasing kg. That won't help with climate change - only reducing CO2equiv will do that.

          On an arable farm nitrous oxide from fertiliser will be a main controllable source of emissions. Wildlife areas have low fertiliser input.

          Just as the most dramatic way to reduce transport emissions is to drive/fly less, so too the most dramatic way to reduce farming emissions is to farm less. No-one suggests stopping farming but judicious use of low input wildlife areas will be trivial in terms of production, be profitable for the farmerreduce emissions, reduce pollution and produce wildlife. As I say, stop confusing things!

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  3. This is great stuff. Interesting regarding the Lapwing statistics and indicative of the general trend of further declines nationally? A couple of farmers I know and for whom I carry out surveys have created measures to attract Lapwing, leaving fields fallow etc, with no results. It's when you look at neighbouring farms that you begin to see that unless there is a more holistic approach over larger areas, single farms won't necessarily make a difference. Is this the case here?
    I'd also be interested to know whether Hope Farm carries out predator controls and to what extent. The farm I have been surveying for 4 years now doesn't and bird species numbers are either stable or increasing in numbers yet they have nesting Ravens, Jackdaws, Magpies as well as a number of Foxes, Badgers, Stoats and Weasels.

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    1. Gert - yes that scale thing is perhaps important. Although, Hope Farm suggests that you can get local increases of most species by doing the right thing.

      Lapwings - Hope Farm has done well here and it was a species I was not sure would come back when we started the project. The three years I selected don't show it but the full report shows lapwings in most recent years. The inclusion of beans in the rotation will certainly have helped and I think lapwing numbers (few or none) depend on which fields have beans in any particular year.

      Oh! Almost forgot! No predator control at Hope Farm (and a trebling in farmland bird numbers).

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  4. Dear Mark, Dennis & Filbert,

    I wish that I wasn't in the throes of harvest so I could spend a bit more time answering this but time is short so it will have to be a brief reply.

    ELS and HLS monies have not been index linked so going back to Mark's figures on Hope Farm there is a disconnect between wheat at £60 and ELS at £30/ha and wheat at today's value of £180 and ELS still at £30/ha. This has put the scheme under pressure and limited uptake.

    We have also now seen three versions of the ELS scheme with the criteria being altered at each point resulting in a larger area of arable land being required to be taken out of the scheme at each revision. Personally I have been involved in several new applications on farms we manage and to date each farm has decided to renew. This has definitely been on "moral" rather than economic grounds and it certainly doesn’t apply across the industry.

    The latest revision which comes into effect this year is a disaster in my opinion and will result in large numbers of farmers leaving the scheme when their current ELS ends. (they are five year agreements) There seems to be a "don't care" attitude at NE at the moment; we have just come out of an ESA and have been told that NE are not interested in recycling this into an HLS and that in effect we are on our own. I hasten to add that we have no intension of stepping outside the old ESA management criteria but that is a personal decision.

    On the ELS generally the NGO's and Defra plus NE have failed to understand the industry and are stuck back in a 1980's model of farming which simply doesn’t exist except maybe at Hope Farm (sorry !) Farming businesses have moved away from the NFU and traditional management models and are complicated businesses these days. I would say that in the main they are run by people who have a good feel for environmental concerns but they need to be involved as stakeholders in this. The RSBP, NE etc. have made a series of mistakes by failing to recognise how the industry has changed and how the management objectives of these business can conflict with a prescriptive environmental scheme despite those business wanting to do as much as possible to farm sustainably and with regard to environmental concerns.

    Sorry to cut this short but I'm more intertested in a gin after a long harvest day ! We did get Simon Tomkins out last year to try and get a discussion going on this but it seems that things are getting worse on the stewardship (maybe it's just budget cuts ?)

    Kind regards Julian Swift

    p.s I have no idea what LCA CO2e is ? never heard of it.

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    1. Julian - thank you for the short version and please come back with the long version after what I hope is a very successful harvest.

      I wonder how many primary school teachers, nurses and other small businesses would raise an eyebrow at least at the need for index-linking of payments to farmers. You might be right that the lack of such largesse puts farmers off butthat paints farmers as a pretty greedy bunch at a time of austerity for many.

      We are alaways told that when farming is profitable (as arable farming certainly is right mow) then farmers will spare a thought for wildlife - except when we get to the good times we are told that wildlife schemes are uncompetitive. So the taxpayer has to stump up anyway.

      You are describing a massive failure of the Big Society approach.

      And it's nonsense anyway when skylark patches make you more money than wheat - see earlier blogs.

      Despite the good work of some very good farmers (vote for Henry Edmunds in the Nature of Farming award), farming as a whole is taking our money and not turning it into wildlife. I'd rather have my money back. But you say that Defra (stuffed full of farming and ex-NFU Ministers), NE (with a farmer chair for many years) and NGOs don't understand...

      Good luck with the harvest.

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      1. Dear Mark,

        I totally take your point about index linking, I'm a D.Cllr when I'm not in my
        day job and I see first hand that things are tough. I suppose the only defense for that comment was that it as badly chosen in that the point I was trying to make was that costs rise along with sales and aginflation has eroded the stewardship income disproportionly. The discussion over subsidies is a different point in that the argument is valid, taxpayers have a right to value be that economic or environmental. Quite where that split is can be difficult to ascertain. Personally I'd welcome an end to subsidies but on a global basis (the USA for instance subsidies production both directly and indirectly touch the same extent as the CAP and I wouldn't like to compete against that on an unequal footing thank you). GATT talks seem dead now do I fear we are stuck with what we have and your right to push for a greater environmental share. My concern is that this will be overly bureaucratic and imposed by the EU countries with most sway I.e France and Germany. The current proposals for green pillar are daft with this meaningless crop rotation compliance among others.

        Anyhow that's enough ranting for one day, thanks for your good wishes for harvest as its turning out to be quite frustrating rain wise however I have discovered that Gin helps considerably.

        A

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        1. Julian - thank you. Good points.

          I think that one of the advantages of 5-year fixed payments fo a-e schemes is certainty. They are a way to hedge against high input costs and/or low commodity prices and/or low yields.

          And see previous posts to see that skylark patches are more profitable than wheat.

          Totally agree with you on pointlessness of crop rotations in UK scene.

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  5. @Mark August 4, 2012 – 6:38 am

    You asked an open question "So why aren’t more farmers doing just this?". I proffered an answer, as succinctly as possible, suggesting one reason why farmers might be reluctant change their behaviour. You then chose to complicate the issue.

    "Filbert – stop confusing things" doesn't give your readership much credit. With hindsight, I should have explained the term Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) and where it fits in the debate about land-use. However, CO2e is explained briefly in the Hope Farm Report, in the section starting on p32. I have just googled LCA and CO2e (separately) and appropriate links head the search results straight off the bat. A good account of carbon accounting can be found here:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2010/jun/04/carbon-footprint-definition.
    It explains the need to account for carbon dioxide equivalence of other greenhouse gases, which the Hope Farm Report doesn't.

    The CO2e term you objected to is the one used in the Hope Fm rept at option 2 p.34. Curiously, no figures are reported for the estimate, only ranking, and no data for the effect of conservation measures on carbon footprints.

    Whereas a farm's financial bottom line may be enhanced by subsidies, providing incentive to take up conservation measures, there is no escaping the inconvenient truth that there will be less yield and the carbon footprint of a unit of production will increase. The effects of bird/arable weeds/invertebrate conservation - though trivial individually - have a cumulative effect carbon footprint. Other measures may be taken to compensate for this over the whole farm, so it should be possible to reduce the whole farm carbon footprint.

    Trouble is, this is not the way that Defra, DECC and the non-departmental public bodies have been operating. Their focus has been on the efficiency of production. Here's a snip from the DairyCo report "Carbon footprint report 2012 - greenhouse gas carbon footprinting report (Feb 2012): " ... has set an industry benchmark for carbon footprinting of dairy ... the average carbon footprint figure for GB milk production is 1,309g of carbon dioxide equivalents per litre (g CO2e/l) of milk."

    Whereas Defra wax lyrical about "protecting the environment" the policy is also driven by statements like this - from the Royal Society, "Reducing GHG Emissions from Agriculture" March 2011: "We conclude that in the long term, even with new research outputs and effective translation, the only structural change that could be of a magnitude sufficient to even approach an 80% reduction target in the agricultural sector would be a large reduction of agricultural production in the UK, thus displacing greenhouse gas emissions to other countries. Such an action is not compatible with increasing global demand for food and would be morally irresponsible, economically unrealistic, and would have no global climate benefits as it would result in land elsewhere (undoubtedly less suited to food production) being converted to grain production to meet UK demand.

    Behind all this lurks the Climate Change Act 2008 (CCA) - not so much Big Society as Big Brother. It's the Law - with legally binding targets to cut GHG emissions by 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. While measures are voluntary at present there is an implied threat that "Regulations" will be introduced if the voluntary initiative doesn't deliver. This is an ongoing debate and there are many people working to persuade "them" deliver on the environment by broadening their approach and abandoning the narrow view taken thus far. The Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Platform, comprised of about 20 of the usual suspects, funded by Defra and the devolved administrations to provide evidence for a UK specific method of calculating emissions reflecting adoption of mitigations, enabling forecasting, monitoring of performance against targets of CCA 2008. Much the same gang of organisations is also involved in the Agriculture Industry GHG Action Plan (GHGAP) - in response to the Low Carbon Transition Plan 2009 developed by industry partnership to deliver an initial reduction emissions by 2020. These players are heavy-duty - those with alternative views of the future have to work very hard to be heard.

    This is the big debate - which is going on simultaneously with the next incarnation of the CAP. Conservation is only a part of it and no amount of wishing is going to provide easy answers, but there are many people are working to influence the outcomes. Farmers with a concern for conserving the natural environment should get active - don't rely on the usual captains of industry, and don't assume that the CCA doesn't concern you. It does - keep looking behind you ...

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