06 Mar

First year of co-composting FYM finds leaf phosphate concentration up to 20% higher

An Innovative Farmers field lab has found higher phosphate concentration in plants from wheat and rye grass crops that were treated with co-composted rock phosphate and farmyard manure, compared to crops where they were applied separately.

The Soil and Root Innovators, a group of farmers in the South West, have been exploring how co-composting GAFSA (reactive rock phosphate) with FYM may improve soil biology, yield and phosphate availability for cereal crops since autumn 2016, with these first annual results encouraging them to continue their research into 2018 and 2019 harvests.

From samples of rye grass, leaf phosphate concentration treated with co-composted rock phosphate and FYM was found to be around 20% higher (mg P g-1 Dry weight) than plots treated separately. The effect was most observed where co-composting process had been at least four months. Timing of GAFSA application may also have an effect. There were also positive indications of greater biomass and flag leaf P concentrations in wheat plots on two of the three trial sites (where they had co-composted longer): although the results were not statistically significant, the group think it is worth repeating the experiment. They hope to expand the number of sites and see if this effect can be observed again.

The study is a great example of farmers leading the way in research and development. It is being funded by its members, and co-ordinated by one of the participants, Adrian Hares.

Adrian farms 130 acres of mixed beef and combinable cereals in Wiltshire, and as an independent soils adviser was keen to understand the potential effects on soil health. He said: “We’re really pleased with the results and we’re confident that we can repeat and improve in the next year of research. One of the best things about doing research in this way – when it’s practical, in-field and replicated across several farms – is that we have a genuine representation of the influence co-composting has, both on our own land and on a wider scale. Doing this kind of research individually gives you a single outcome, but working together we have multiple representations on different soil types and crop varieties, which means the results can be useful to a wider network of people.”

The group are collaborating with Dr John Hammond from the University of Reading, who said: “The results suggest that co-composting can have an influence on phosphate availability to the crop, especially on these alkaline soils. Co-composting for a minimum of four months and applying ‘little and often’ appears to have the best results, so we can use this to inform our trials going forward. We’re also hoping to use larger trial plots to get an even more conclusive set of results next time around. This has been an interesting and valuable process so far, so I’m very pleased we are able to carry on with these trials and refine our research.”

You can follow the trial progress at www.innovativefarmers.org

Adrian Hares will be speaking at the Innovative Farmers Network Day on Wednesday 9 May 2018. Open to members and non-members, this Innovative Farmers event will discuss past, present and future field labs and look at what the future of farmer-led research could look like. What are the biggest challenges facing farming, and how can ground-level research and development help tackle them? The event will take place at Sheepdrove Farm, Berkshire. Find out more, see the full event schedule, and book your place at www.innovativefarmers.org/events


09 Feb

Hedgehogs on the Edge: new report shows hedgehogs plummet by half in British countryside


At least half the population of our native hedgehogs has been lost from the British countryside over the last two decades, warn two wildlife charities in a report issued today, Wednesday 7 February 2018.

The State of Britain’s Hedgehogs 2018, published jointly by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) and People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), is the only comprehensive review of the status of Britain’s hedgehogs.  This new report shows that hedgehogs in rural areas are in severe decline, with their numbers plummeting by half since the Millennium.

“There are many reasons hedgehogs are in trouble,” explains Emily Wilson, Hedgehog Officer for Hedgehog Street, a public action campaign run by PTES and BHPS. “The intensification of agriculture through the loss of hedgerows and permanent grasslands, increased field sizes, and the use of pesticides which reduce the amount of prey available, are all associated with the plunge in numbers of hedgehogs in rural areas.”

However, with approximately 70% of land in the UK managed by farmers, BHPS and PTES are planning to engage with the farming community to help protect this iconic creature.

“Farmers play a vital role in producing food, but they’re also well placed to help protect, maintain and enhance our countryside,” continues Wilson. “The Government recently reiterated plans to reform the EU Common Agricultural Policy to reward landowners for delivering environmental benefits. Many farmers already have a sustainable approach to agriculture, and we think there’s a great opportunity to work more widely with them to stem the alarming decline of our country hedgehogs.”

Whilst The State of Britain’s Hedgehogs report highlights a worrying decline in our countryside, it shows a more positive outlook for hedgehogs in our towns and cities: although the species has declined by a third in urban areas since 2000, the rate of decline is slowing. Hedgehogs are not disappearing from urban green spaces as rapidly as they were fifteen years ago, and might even be returning. Where they are found, numbers too, appear to be growing in some places.

It is exciting to think that the combined efforts of thousands of volunteers who have joined Hedgehog Street and pledged to make their gardens more hedgehog-friendly, may be making a difference. PTES and BHPS launched Hedgehog Street in 2011 to inspire the British public to help hedgehogs and other wildlife that depend on their gardens and, so far, over 47,000 Hedgehog Champions have signed up to help.

Wilson concludes: “Urban and suburban areas are becoming increasingly important for hedgehogs, so we need more people in those locations to sign up as Hedgehog Champions.  Hedgehogs are a generalist species, so the more people can do to help them in their own back garden, the more they will also benefit other wildlife.”

How to help hedgehogs


Visit www.hedgehogstreet.org and:

·         Become a Hedgehog Champion and find simple advice on making your garden and neighbourhood more hedgehog-friendly

·         Pledge to make a small hole – no bigger than a CD case – in your garden fence, wall and other barriers so that hedgehogs can access different gardens in their search for food, shelter and mates

·         Log your ‘hog sightings – dead or alive – on The BIG Hedgehog Map


22 Jan

Smallholding Scotland Conference 2018

The first Smallholding Scotland conference will take place on Friday 16th February at Pitcairngreen Village Hall. Details of the full programme and how to buy tickets are on the conference website.

Tickets are only available on-line and only until Wednesday 14th February; £20 for members of Smallholding Scotland and £25 for non-members. There’s a special offer of a year’s membership of Smallholding Scotland (to 31st March 2019) and a conference ticket for £40.

22 Jan

Humane Slaughter Association (HSA) develops new online guide for humane killing during disease control

As part of its strategy to promote the highest standards of welfare worldwide for food animals, the Humane Slaughter Association (HSA) has produced a new online guide which covers the humane killing of livestock during disease control operations.

The guide has had input from industry experts to ensure that all of the information is relevant.  Primarily aimed at the veterinary profession, slaughter personnel, farm staff, livestock handlers and government agencies, the guidance – with illustrations – is intended for the global industry.  It covers a variety of species from neonates to adults, the various methods of humane killing of livestock, protocols, types of equipment available and gives examples of best practice and information on risk assessment for both the operator and animal welfare.

Charles Mason, Technical Director of the HSA said: “This guide pulls together a wealth of information and materials into one resource and has been made readily available to enable easy access worldwide to this information for high animal welfare standards that may otherwise be difficult to obtain.

The guide joins others already available on the charity’s website, providing a portfolio of best practice in humane handling and slaughter and can be found at www.hsa.org.uk/diseasecontrol.  HSA staff are currently working on plans to develop interactive multi-media options for the HSA online guides – the aim being to enhance the users’ experience by allowing them to test their knowledge and take part in simulated situations in which their actions may directly affect the outcome, so making the training more realistic.

16 Jan

Women in Scottish Agriculture

Smallholding Scotland Trustee Keesje Avis attended the “Women in Agriculture” event held at the Scottish Parliament on 10 January 2018. This event highlighted the work by the Task force set up last year co-chaired by Fergus Ewing, Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity and Joyce Campbell, a crofter in North Sutherland.

A key resource to inform future policy and the work of the task force is the findings in the “Women in Farming and Agriculture Research Report” available here. Commissioned by Scottish Government in 2016 this research combined one-on-one interviews and a questionnaire that was completed by 1300 members of the Scottish agricultural community. The response far exceeded the 300 people hoped for indicating the subject’s importance, as well as providing a considerable remit for any policy changes.

One of the recommendations highlighted at the event is that agricultural organisations should have a minimum of a third of board members/trustees as women and Smallholding Scotland is happy to reflect this in their trustee membership. We hope to ensure this going forward. Further issues include inheritance and succession planning, available training, access to land for new entrants and the need for increased on farm safety. This is only a snippet of the research and findings so please have a read of the report and come back to us if you have any comments or suggestions of how Smallholding Scotland can respond to this very important issue and support an egalitarian rural Scotland.

31 Aug

Scottish farmers to benefit from £1.5 million The Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme for second year

Small farm businesses across Scotland are being invited to take part in the second year of the highly successful The Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme, run by The Prince’s Countryside Fund.
Proven to help small farms improve their way of working, the programme will provide free business support, skills and planning tuition, and one-to-one guidance to 20 small livestock and mixed family farm businesses.
The programme will be running at two locations in Scotland – one on the Isle of Arran, and another in Dumfries. Applications open on the 1st of September, and close on the 31st of October.
Feedback from participating farms has been unanimously positive, with farmers who have completed the programme feeling far more confident about the future of their farm business.
William, a farmer from Lanarkshire who took part in the first year of the programme said: “I’d recommend the programme to families who are looking to solve the challenges they face on their farm. If you’re wanting to create change within your business, the programme is really useful – it’s good to take a step back occasionally and look at what you’re doing.”
The programme aims to tackle some of the biggest challenges being faced by small farm businesses across the UK. Developed off the back of The Prince’s Dairy Initiative, which has helped strengthen the UK dairy supply chain since 2012, the £1.5million programme will support up to 300 farm businesses this year.
Farmers will be given the skills to evaluate their viability and make informed decisions about the future by using the Business Health Check Tool. The programme also brings together like minded family farm enterprises in local networks so they can review their current activity, and identify opportunities and improvements that can be made on-farm to build resilience.
Claire Saunders, director of The Prince’s Countryside Fund said: “We are thrilled to be bringing The Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme to more locations this year, building on the excellent response to its first year.
“The skills training and expert advice provided by the programme help farmers to cope with the many challenges that their businesses face, and allow them to plan for the future more confidently.”
Research commissioned by the Fund and carried out by the University of Exeter into the future of the small family farm in the UK revealed a steep decline in numbers since the beginning of the century, and declining farmgate prices has led to the average farm income falling below £20,000 for the first time since 2007. With uncertainty caused by Brexit adding extra pressure to farmers, the Programme is more important now than ever.
If you are interested in taking part in The Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme, or would like to find out more, please visit www.princescountrysidefund.org.uk/farmresilience or contact:

Isle of Arran: Ailsa Currie, on 07740 986803 or bellevuefarmcottages@btinternet.com

Dumfries: Heather Wildman at Saviour Associates on 07773 519995 or info@saviourassoc.co.uk


31 Aug

ScotGov Consultation on Crofting Law 2017

The Scottish Government is committed to reviewing the modernisation of crofting law in this parliamentary session. A consultation is underway and runs to 20th November. The Trustees of Smallholding Scotland are minded to submit a response to the consultation and will be consulting its members, with a view to informing this response. Of course, individuals should also consider making their own response.
20 Jul

“Two Crops from One Acre” Shropshire Sheep and trees

The Shropshire Sheep Breeders Association (SSBA) has created a new edition of its booklet “Two Crops from One Acre”.

Shropshire sheep have become well-known as “tree-friendly” and are used by many commercial tree growers to control herbage between trees. The breed society has gathered information on how to best manage a variety of scenarios, some from overseas, including France and Australia.

Copies of the 48 page booklet are available from SSBA fro £1.50 (plus P&P) and can be ordered via shropshire_sheep@hotmail.com or the booklet can be downloaded from the breed society’s website.