Farming Today about 10 years out of date

I enjoyed the piece on Farming Today this morning where a farm was monitored for 10 years and by sensible application of agri-environment schemes its farmland birds increased and remained as profitable as farms around it. That’s obviously good news.

And it appears to be a good replicate of the findings at the RSPB’s Hope Farm which demonstrated the same thing 10 years ago. Only a decade ago…

the idea that all that

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3 Replies to “Farming Today about 10 years out of date”

  1. I didn’t hear the piece on Farming Today today so I can’t comment on it but it is very likely that it refers to the same study reported in the Gaianurd this week that caught my eye because it carried a nice picture of a Gatekeeper. This has been a Gatekeeper year in the garden and especially in the farm track verges and headlands round here. Lots of Ringlets and Brimstones too, more Commas than usual but fewer Red Admirals and Peacocks. So far. The stuff anecdotes are made of – but anecdotes are not considered evidence so it was with interest I clocked the article headlines: “Nature-friendly farming does not reduce productivity, study finds. Results of 10-year project reveal that rewilding areas can boost biodiversity and crop yields” because I’m interested in crop yields, productivity, nature-friendly farming and biodiversity (especially genetic diversity within cultivated species as a disease-limiting strategy). Rewilding – not so much.

    When I was a student Walter Heydecker frequently gave us published papers to critique and especially to pose the question – “Is This True”. This may have been in relation to latent viruses in Rhubarb or priming of vegetable seeds before sowing but it was a useful exercise with wider and later applications – if only for the “Is this True?” bit.

    It was The Heydecker Test that popped into my head after reading a few words of the Gaianurd piece. I downloaded the paper in question from the link given. The paper reports on bird and butterfly abundance over a long period on a farm where some AES options were applied. It carries a cautionary section very clearly acknowledging the study’s limitations. It did not report on any aspect of yield or farm output. The words yield, yields, productivity, average, output, rewilding do not occur anywhere in the paper. It does note that pesticide inputs on oilseed rape on the non-AES areas of the study farm were not altered.

    Applying The Heydecker Test to the Gaianurd article:
    • Nature-friendly farming does not reduce productivity, study finds: Fail
    • Results of 10-year project reveal that rewilding areas can boost … crop yields: Fail
    • researchers succeeded in boosting numbers of wildlife essential for agricultural production such as pollinators and predators of crop pests: Fail
    • overall yields at Hillesden were maintained – and enhanced for some crops – despite the loss of agricultural land for habitat creation: Fail
    • nature-friendly farming methods boost biodiversity without reducing average yields.: Fail
    • lead author said: “Investigating changes in populations over a significant period of time, and comparing these with other sites, means we can be confident that agri-environment options can bring long-term term benefit. Hillesden is a typical, large arable farm with conventional agricultural practices, in an ordinary landscape with no large patches of natural habitat. Therefore, it is likely that the results of our long-term study indicate what can be achieved on other commercial farms with good good planning, implementation and management of agrienvironment measures.”: Pass

    Comments by a conservation manager at an East Anglian estate, not part of the Hillesden study, revealed an embarrassing take on the calculation of total and average crop productivity.

    The Hillesden study was an interesting, carefully considered and sometimes cautious paper that did not make undue claims and demonstrated some effects that AES can have on butterfly and bird populations. It’s such a pity that it was so misrepresented in that article – which was widely re-twatted on Twatter in an exemplar of Pork Pie Proliferation.

    Here’s the link – if you are interested in what the Hillesden study revealed you should read the Journal of Applied Ecology paper: https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1365-2664.14246

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