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Launch of Defra’s Sustainable Intensification Research

A series of projects to investigate ways to increase farm productivity while reducing negative environmental impacts (sustainable intensification) will receive £4.5 million from Defra.  Three interlinked research projects will establish the Sustainable Intensification Research Platform (SIP).

The University of Exeter’s Centre for Rural Policy Research and BBSRC Rothamsted Research will lead a consortium of 22 organisations to deliver one of the SIP projects.  The £2M project will develop ways to understand the actions that are needed to ensure that landscapes can, at the same time, deliver profitable farming and food production alongside a wide range of environmental benefits such as biodiversity, alleviating flood risk and carbon storage.  

This will involve developing an understanding of how different components of landscapes - water, grassland, arable and, woodland, etc - interact. It will also focus on the need for farmers within particular landscapes to collaborate so as to enhance agricultural and environmental outcomes. For example, farmers might benefit from sharing specialist labour or machinery.  Landscapes might benefit from farmers working together on a range of challenges– from improving wildlife habitats to manure management.

Professor Michael WinterDr Matt Lobley and Dr Rob Fish of the Centre for Rural Policy Research and Dr Adrian Collins of BBSRC Rothamsted Research will also be working closely with a core project team drawn from the universities of Nottingham and Bangor, the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, ADAS, FERA and NIAB.

Speaking before the Defra Sustainable Intensification Research Platform workshop, Professor Winter said: “We’ll be doing surveys of farmers, workshops, events, learning from farmers and stakeholders – it will be an interactive programme. We’ll be looking at how to best implement the findings of agricultural and environmental scientists. What do we understand of farmers’ knowledge and perceptions on these issues? Are farmers in a position to implement research findings and how do we finance the changes?”

Dr Lobley went on to explain that: "A lot of people think sustainable intensification is impossible! Our project will take these doubts seriously and examine whether it is possible and how to implement it at a landscape scale.”

Farming Minister George Eustice said: “Supporting our farmers to become more productive whilst also protecting and improving the UK countryside is one of this government’s priorities.

“The £4.5 million we are giving these research organisations will help open up new opportunities for intensive, sustainable farming; boosting our farmers output in a way that safeguards the future of our environment.”

The other SIP projects are led by NIAB which will investigate ways of improving economic, environmental and social performance though integrated whole farm management practices. These will be tested on study farms, covering a range of locations, environments and farming types within the major crop and livestock sectors. The third project being led by ADAS is a 6-month scoping study to examine the influence of external drivers on the sustainability and productivity of English and Welsh farming.

Date: 1 October 2014

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