3 September 1999

ENVIRONMENTAL CONSIDERATION

MAKES A LOT OF SENSE

PUTTING figures on the value of farming paying more than lip service to the environment is not easy, admits Keith Harris. But by adopting integrated crop and farm management he believes he can stay ahead of impending legislation, allay public concerns and avoid too much disruption to the business.

Efficiency is a key aim on his family-run 400ha (1000 acre) operation, near Gillingham; and ICM, with its emphasis on considering the environment in every operation, is the way to achieve it, he maintains.

"In integrated farming one thing leads to another and quite often there are real benefits."

Growing pressure from the public and bodies outside agriculture, like the Environmental Agency, exemplified by the recent introduction of pesticide disposal licences, make it essential for the industry to react positively, he says.

"Things like disposal licences are not going to go away, so the sooner we get our house in order the better."

In this case he had already fitted an £1800 flow rate governor to the farms GEM 2000 trailed sprayer. "I put it on to target inputs more precisely. But the offshoot is that I have minimal dilute chemical and washings to dispose of and so have pre-empted the EAs groundwater regulations."

Manor Farm, Silton and nearby Lower Zeals Farm in Wilts became a LEAF demonstration unit in 1997. But environmental awareness has long been ingrained. His father built a waterwheel driven pump to distribute spring supplies, and all heating for the farmhouse and office comes by burning timber sorted from waste brought to an on-farm landfill site.

Mr Harris acknowledges it is relatively easy for him and wife Sue to adopt environmentally-friendly strategies initially requiring extra expense. "As a fourth generation farmer, and with the farm nearly doubling in size over the past decade, we certainly dont have the high associated costs some others do."

That said he reckons the £15,000 outlay in creating four lakes on previously hard-to-farm valley land four years ago would be considerably reduced by grants if the work was done today.

More targeted use of phosphate and potash fertiliser and improvements in spreader technology benefit both the environment and the bank balance, he believes. "Father always used a blanket 0:24:24." Computerised planning and regular soil analyses have had a dramatic impact without impoverishing soil indices.

"It has knocked over 30% off our P and K bill." But a switch to liquids seems the only way to keep fertiliser out of hedge bottoms, he says.

"I put in grain stirrers because they seemed cost-effective and suited my operation. The spin-off is that I have ended up with maybe the most energy-efficient way of drying crops."

Not all the Harriss environmental efforts have been so successful. A stab at composting green council waste to help boost the stone brash soils organic matter content has fallen foul of Environmental Agency concerns about airborne pollution. But Mr Harris hopes those fears may yet be allayed in the light of an impending EU Directive forcing councils to recycle such material.

Plans to widen all field margins to 2m (6.5ft) failed in last years Countryside Stewardship Scheme application. "So for this years application the margins have been targeted alongside woods, streams and bigger hedges."

That and a move to put more set-aside down to restored pasture are both likely to go ahead anyway. &#42