By Andrew Blake
MAKING MORE of the LEAF Marque to promote sustainable farming practices to the public, while protecting farm profits, is the goal for Tony Worth, new chairman of the Linking Environment and Farming initiative.
Learning from sister organisations across Europe will be a key element in achieving that, says LEAF chief executive Caroline Drummond, after a UK meeting of the European Initiative for Sustainable Development in Agriculture last week.
A first meeting with EU farm commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel, whose husband runs a fruit farm using integrated crop management in Denmark, proved fruitful.
“She well recognises that organic farming is not the only sustainable solution,” says Mrs Drummond. The challenge now is to harness good experiences from around Europe to push ICM ahead in the UK.
To that end about 40 representatives, from France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and Sweden, as well as new members Austria and Hungary, met last week at Shuttleworth College, Beds.
In some areas, like the LEAF farm audit, the UK leads the way, notes Mrs Drummond. But other ideas have come the other way. “The bio-beds concept came from our LEAF equivalent in Sweden, and for our virtual farm walks we took our cue from German colleagues.”
With growing emphasis on recycling and waste management, the UK could learn from German and Swedish experience, she believes.
About 60% of all German plant protection containers are recycled under a voluntary collection scheme run by suppliers, notes Andreas Franenberg of LEAF-equivalent FNL, the Association for the Promotion of Sustainable Agriculture.
Transforming public perceptions of farming remains a complex task, notes Mrs Drummond. “It is never a case of one size fits all.”
But FNL”s participation in an EU-part-funded “Discover Agriculture Anew” project at Germany”s recent Green Week was a good move, says Mr Franenberg. It focused on milk, vegetable and fruit production. “We had almost a whole farm within one 4000sq m hall.”
Delivering a more financially secure and environmentally sustainable future for farming is LEAF”S priority, says Mr Worth, who took over the LEAF chairmanship from N Yorks farmer Robert Campbell last month.
“These changing times for farming will mean that LEAF will have to respond in the same way as farmers are having to – with vision, innovation and optimism. LEAF will also have to become more commercial without losing site of its founding objectives.”
LEAF Marque is already working with assurance schemes to offer an environmental “add on” for farmers wanting to demonstrate their environmental credentials. It is supported by Waitrose, Safeway and Marks & Spencer, and could extend to combinable crop products in future.