18th LEAFunit set up and next target is 35
WARES Farm is the eighteenth LEAF demonstration unit to be set up in the UK since 1991, when the scheme began. Similar sister projects exist on the Continent. Principal aim is to develop and promote the principles and benefits of integrated crop management (ICM).
"Our target is to get to 35 here in the next three years," says co-ordinator Caroline Drummond. Beyond that one tentative idea is to develop a network of "support farmers" to help identify potential visitor groups and maybe take over from current LEAF farms who wish to end their contracts.
LEAF was originally sponsored mainly by the European Crop Protection Association with a grant of £70,000 for three years. But as other organisations have joined so the funding has become more diverse.
By next June the ECPA, which extended its original offer, is likely to be contributing only 25% of the current £90,000 a year budget.
"We now have 62 corporate members." They include retailers such as Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury and Tesco, and a wide range of organisations more directly involved with agriculture.
With "traceability", "risk assessment", and "due diligence" becoming ever more familiar phrases within the food chain, LEAF hopes soon to attract the interest of processors and insurance companies.
Most LEAF farms host 10-15 group visits each year. There are no plans to open them more widely to the general public.
"The NFU did a very good job with the Food and Farming Year events.
There are also many open farms which attract school visits, and there are lots of commercial demonstration farms," explains Miss Drummond.
"We dont want to duplicate them. But we also have very specific aims." These include making sure visiting groups represent certain views to improve dialogue. "We need to be working together as a whole industry."
Ultimately the hope is that a common definition of ICM will permit it to be used as a food industry standard, she says. The results of a £25,000, part MAFF-funded, feasibility study on this are expected soon.
The Department of the Environments recent grant of £10,000 towards LEAF acknowledges its growing influence, according to chairman David Richardson. "LEAF is not about going back 100 years. Its about adapting the best of the old and adopting the new."
Interestingly, he notes, only three bodies received any significant mention in the recent White Paper on Rural England – the NFU, FWAG and LEAF.