Integrated Systems

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Definitions ] Sustainable Development ] Indicators of Sustainable Development ] Sustainable Agriculture ] [ Integrated Systems ]

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Try the LEAF Linking Environment and Farming web site

 

Source: Röling, N.G & Wagemakers, M.A.E. (1998)

Previous subjects have dealt with the historical problems associated with production orientated agriculture and consequential environmental build up. This subject area examines the concepts of, and need for long term agricultural sustainability. The flow chart above, details, the concepts of integrated farming systems and their evolution. 

In the UK it is not always possible to keep livestock alongside arable crops, and for this reason Integrated Crop Management was developed:

There are two definitions of ICM in use in the UK at present:

Sustainable Development White Paper:

To provide an adequate supply of food and other products in an efficient manner. To minimise consumption of non-renewable and other resources. To safeguard the quality of soil, water and the air and to preserve, where feasible, biodiversity in the landscape.

British Agrochemical Association, in conjunction with the ATB, LEAF and Sainsbury's:

ICM is a method of farming that balances the requirements of running a profitable business with responsibility and sensitivity to the environment. It includes practices that avoid waste, enhance energy efficiency and minimize pollution. ICM combines the best of modern technology  with some basic principles of  good farming practice and is a whole farm, long term strategy.

ICM is a 'whole farm approach' which is site specific and includes:

bulletThe use of crop rotations
bulletAppropriate cultivation techniques
bulletCareful choice of seed varieties
bulletMinimum reliance on artificial inputs such as fertilisers, pesticides and fossil fuels
bulletMaintenance of the landscape
bulletThe enhancement of wildlife habitats

Maize and clover intercropping. The clover provides ground cover (erosion minimisation) and nitrogen fixation therefore reducing artificial inputs. Sustainable?

One of the main objectives of ICM is the reduction or replacement of external farm inputs, such as inorganic fertilizers, pesticides and fuel, by means of farm produced substitutes and better management of inputs. Total replacement is not possible without significant loss of yields, but partial substitution of inputs can be achieved by the use of natural resources, the avoidance of waste and efficient management of external inputs. This would then lead to reduced production cost and less environmental degradation. The principals and practices of ICM are outlined below:

Crop rotations:

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Increase diversity of crop species to prevent disease and pest carry over from crop to crop 

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Ensure effective nutrient uptake by scheduling crops with different nitrogen demands in the correct sequences

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Preserve soil fertility, structure and minimize erosion by ensuring adequate crop cover, good rooting depth and reduction of compaction

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Use of disease resistant cultivars to minimize the need for agro chemical inputs

Soil protection:

Minimal cultivations to:

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Reduce energy usage (i.e. fuel)

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Reduce soil erosion 

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Reduce adverse effects on soil invertebrates such as earthworms and predatory beetles and spiders 

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However, there should be effective seedbed preparation and crop establishment

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Cultivations dependent on soil type, climate and topography of individual farms

Crop nutrition:

Nutrient inputs should be carefully balanced in respect of: 

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Individual crop requirements

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Crop off takes

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Soil residues and residues from previous crop

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Regular soil analysis is recommended

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Use of cover crops/green manures before spring sown crops to minimize leaching and erosion

Crop protection:

Integrated pest management

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Minimal use of well selected pesticides, i.e. ones that have minimal off target effects

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Alternative husbandry techniques such as mechanical weeding

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In crop monitoring systems (such as traps) to assess pest levels to scale pesticide use to the level of the problem

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Improve habitat for predators to increase natural level of biological control

Wildlife and landscape:

Planning a programme for the whole farm (cropped and non cropped areas) to enhance biodiversity and landscape features:

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Hedges, ditches, field margins, beetle banks and conservation headlands allowing wild species to establish and migrate, and to provide recreational areas for people

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A greater diversity of broad leaved weeds may be left within crops to provide food sources for birds and insects, providing the aggressive crop damaging weeds are contained

Energy efficiency:

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Detailed analysis of energy use, especially fossil fuels

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Remedial action to minimize waste

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Consider alternative energy sources

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Change in cultivation practice, i.e. less passes

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Replacement of high fuel consumption machinery, with more efficient alternatives

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Rationalization of vehicle movements

Pause for thought.........Do farmers generally take into account fuel efficiency when purchasing machinery, or are they more concerned with horsepower and versatility?

Efficient machine or expensive fuel guzzler?

Pollution and waste:

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Strict following of codes of practice

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Recycling of crop residues

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recycling or safe disposal of non organic wastes

There are currently four large scale ICM research projects in the UK, the largest of which is Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF). This is a charitable organisation, launched in 1991 who's main aim is to promote ICM. LEAF currently has 24 demonstration farms on commercial holdings, with a over 500 farmer members. LEAF encourages farmers to take up ICM through the LEAF audit, and provides further guidelines on which farming practices to choose and avoid when working toward an integrated farm management system. Individual Farm membership costs from £58.75/year and includes an audit, information pack, regular newsletter etc.

LEAF Linking Environment and Farming web site

ICM in practice

The environmental benefits of ICM are difficult to quantify and are related to longer term processes. On the long term projects, biodiversity has increased, there have been improved bird numbers and  reduced nitrate leaching and soil erosion. Data from the experimentation, trial farms and various projects has indicated:

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Generally a 5 - 15% yield reduction but indications that this is reducing as experience grows

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Quality of produce is generally maintained

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Variable costs reduced by 20 - 30%

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Gross margins maintained or slightly increased

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Pesticide inputs reduced by 30 - 70%

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Nitrogen inputs reduced by 16 - 25%

The drawbacks:

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The control of some weeds is very problematic

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Omission of ploughing and herbicide treatments can lead to a build up of cleavers, blackgrass and other weeds

 

Pause for thought.......List 5 methods you could use to monitor whether ICM was working on a particular farm. 

 [ Back to Subject List 5 ]

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Definitions ] Sustainable Development ] Indicators of Sustainable Development ] Sustainable Agriculture ] [ Integrated Systems ]

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