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FABulous Farmers update - December

FABulous Farmers update

FABulous Farmers is a European project designed to support farmers in the transition to more agroecological practices on their farms.

We rounded off 2019 with a host of FAB activity, here are some highlights from three learning network sessions; if you want to learn more then do get in touch kstill@soilassociation.org

farmers standing in a field

SW Agroforestry Learning Network Session (6 Nov) in Devon.

This session started with members of the group sharing their current experience of agroforestry. The majority had not yet implemented any agroforestry in their systems. Those that had gave informal presentations on what they had done and some of the key lessons they had learnt. There was a range of scales represented from smallholdings of just a couple of hectares up to larger farms.

After lunch there was a farm walk to look at the agroforestry systems at Dartington farm. This was followed by a more targeted discussion around how the network could benefit the members and what they wanted to learn, topics grouped under design and plant choice, markets and supply chains, tenancy and payments and carbon topped off with ideas for Innovative Farmers Field labs

SW Herbal leys Learning Network Session (13 Nov) in Somerset.

We started the day discussing Herbal leys in practice at Godminster Farms, an organic dairy farm that has implemented FAB Practice and is part of an Innovative Farmers Field lab looking at how best to manage herbal leys to retain species diversity. There was great discussion around species abundance, identification and the benefits of the herbal ley to soil structure and species diversity. The Farm Manager also highlighted the success of the herbal leys during drought and the ability of the diverse forage to maintain milk production and support animal health.

Sam Lane from Cotswold Seeds provided very valuable input on species identification, the establishment of the leys and also the value of deep rooting species.

learning at a famer's meeting

Diverse Forages Project

After lunch David Humphries (University of Reading) presented the Diverse Forages Project. The projects aim is "To achieve acceptable yields of good quality forage for livestock production whilst having a positive and long term impact on the environment." The findings to date demonstrated diverse forages were able to achieve comparable livestock growth rate to standard rye grass leys without nitrogen fertiliser input. The leys also performed significantly better in drought conditions.

Pasture for Pollinators

Sinead Lynch (Bumblebee Conservation Trust) and David Edge, leading farmer on the project provided shared their initial learnings from Pasture for Pollinators project. This includes 6 Welsh dairy farmers looking into different farm management options for grass-based farms which benefit pollinator populations. Predominantly the management approach they have taken is leaving ungrazed or mown strips around fields, planted up with diverse species that provide excellent forage for bumble bees. Some initial findings from the project showed higher numbers of floral units and bumblebees/ pollinators were seen in the uncut margins, compared to the cut margins. Also results indicated a positive correlation between the number of floral units and the number of bumblebees/pollinators recorded in a field margin.

We concluded the networking event with a session to share other projects and activities happening in the SW on herbal leys. This was a great chance to share project opportunities, learnings and provide an opportunity to develop new trials and research to fill knowledge gaps. Particularly around soil benefit of herbal leys.

Learning Network Session in Norfolk focusing on cover crops (11 Dec)

This session focussed on the role of sheep in destroying cover crops, although several topics were covered as the group walked around the farm. A full session note can be found here.