Norfolk farming research goal

A long-term practical research project in the heart of Norfolk aims to reduce farming's environmental footprint and maintain arable margins and yields.

A long-term practical research project in the heart of Norfolk aims to reduce farming's environmental footprint and maintain arable margins and yields.

Jim Orson, who is head of research for The Arable Group at Morley, near Wymondham, said the challenge was to find ways of achieving these objectives.

The independent and farmer-owned research centre, established in 1908 as the Norfolk Agricultural Station, is the centre for the five-year project.

Mr Orson said: "The challenge is to increase and maintain margins but at the same time reduce the environmental footprint. I think we have to find ways of achieving these objectives. We're working on several clues but how much we can reduce the footprint, we don't know yet."


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Project co-ordinator Ron Stobart, who heads the new farming-systems initiative at the charity's farm at Morley St Botolph, started work last year. Reducing farming's dependence on fossil fuels will require big changes in attitude and approach.

"If you look at the energy cost of producing one tonne of feed wheat, 53pc of that energy is fertiliser-based hydrocarbon and a further 22pc is diesel. So 75pc of our energy input is coming directly from a fossil fuel."

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Mr Orson said that nitrogen fertiliser accounted for about half of the average carbon cost of growing a tonne of wheat. "Nitrogen produces nitrous oxide; 80pc of the greenhouse gases per tonne come from nitrogen because it produces nitrous oxide, which is a potent greenhouse gas," he said.

He added that farmers would have to look at using less nitrogen, which might be possible by more spring cropping with cover crops over the winter months instead of drilling autumn-sown cereals.

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