Radical thinking was at the heart of The Arable Group’s new research project looking at ways of reducing farming’s environmental footprint, technical director Jim Orson said.

The five-year project, funded by three farming charities, will focus on reducing farming’s carbon, energy, nitrate and input usage.

“Rising energy costs are forcing growers to re-evaluate their use of cultivations, rotations and crop inputs.

Up until now, they’ve relied on high input use, particularly nitrogen, to be competitive.

But the cost and implications of this are being felt sharply.”

The first objective would be to identify what were the most important targets, what were the major energy use points, and then to set targets for their realistic reduction.

To help with that process TAG would appoint an independent committee to oversee the project, he said.

“We hope to have delivered significant progress after three years.”

Some of the planned approaches would be radical, he suggested.

Trials are already being set up to look at the role of catch cropping in preventing soil mineral nitrogen from leaching and clover bi-cropping.

“We’re looking at clover to provide nitrogen for crops.

A self-seeding subterranean clover has been very successful in Australia, so we’re seeing if that will transfer over here.”

Some failures were expected, he said.

“But if the industry isn’t prepared to look at clover bi-cropping, novel tillage methods and soil mineral nitrogen management we will never know whether they can be developed into practical techniques for the UK.”

mike.abram@rbi.co.uk