The Morley Agricultural Foundation (TMAF) was formed to continue to care for the investment and legacy of farmers who, starting back in 1908, invested in research and education when the Norfolk Agricultural Station had a trial site at Jex Farm, Little Snoring before moving to land at Sprowston in 1921 and then to Morley in 1964.
TMAF is respected for its contribution to many aspects of agricultural research and education. To give the scale of our impact, in the four years 2018-2022 TMAF considered over 125 applications for grants. Full details of current TMAF activities are reported in the Summary of our Activities booklet which is produced annually.
Roots of our TMAF research
In 2003, much of the research on-going at Morley Research Centre (MRC), at the time of the merger with Arable Research Centre (ARC) and the formation of The Arable Group (TAG), was taken on by TAG with support of grant funding from the newly formed TMAF. This took a sizeable chunk of the income. It was important to maintain the trials work at the Morley Farm, as well as establish the newly acquired national focus through the National Agronomy Centres of which Morley was one – namely the Eastern Region Agronomy Centre. The Centres were set up alongside the New Farming Systems work undertaken at Morley by TAG.
In the early days of TMAF, the Board undertook to archive MRC trials work for public record. Mike Nuttall scanned to disc member publications prior to them going to the Norfolk Records Office (NRO). These are available online in the TMAF library.
Careful steps to become a charity
The formation of TMAF required considerable energy in setting up the charitable status and working out the parameters for the charity’s activity.
With a teaching background prior to farming, trustee Christine Hill was designated to take special interest in TMAF’s investment in education. To this end, a sub-committee was set up consisting of Nick Steed and John Wallace with Christine Hill as Chairperson, and invited members Jim Orson (TAG) and John King (BBRO).
This committee looked at the ‘what, who, where, how and when?’ for grants, the TMAF application procedures and associated annual timetable and TMAF’s requirement for progress reporting. This clarified the aims and objective of the charity and the Board members consider these carefully when awarding grants.
Investing in children and young people
TMAF sponsors a range of activities which involve a wide range of ages, from school children to mature students, and from in-job day courses to 4-year PhD’s. TMAF has a wide remit for the giving of grants. Some projects are just for a day. Others can be over the course of the study or even longer term.
One important area for TMAF is the encouragement of young people to be interested in food production and consider all the many careers available. TMAF helps promote an understanding and interest in food production in young people currently through sponsorship of specific areas in county events at the Royal Norfolk Show, the Suffolk Agricultural Association and the Essex Agricultural Society. It has also given grant funding for similar sponsorship at the Aylsham Show. School-focussed food and farming events, group visits to the Morley farm and other small grants have also been funded.
Junior age school children have been supported by TMAF through the Farming and Countryside Education (FACE) which published a ‘Crunch’ booklet about food; they also joined with The Science, Art and Writing Trust (SAW) to produce ‘Lunchbox Science’.
Support for study
Discretionary small bursaries up to an annual limit are available for students living and studying locally to help with study expenses at college or university. About 2010, The Holt and District Farmers Club were organising the 6th form days each year to which TMAF donated £1000 towards costs. These days proved very popular and well attended with good feedback from both staff and students. They continued the success that the former Norfolk NFU Secretary Ken Leggett built up organising study days for 6th form students using farmer volunteers. TMAF currently has a 5-year arrangement with UEA (latterly with JIC) Plant Genetics and Crop Improvement School to sponsor a student hoping to gain an MSc to then go on to a career or PhD in plant research.
Investing in professional development
Investment has been made to further an individual’s ability and value to agriculture in its widest sense and where there is possibility of progress and best practice for the farmer. TMAF has also been involved in longer term research.
Individuals have gained grant funding towards courses which further their knowledge and career prospects; some courses have taken only a day, others take multiple one-week training sessions over a winter period. One course which has been very popular has been the John Forrest Award for communications skills for potential leaders in various agricultural roles. It is jointly funded by the Felix Thornley Cobbold Trust (FTCT) and TMAF. This award was set up in memory of John Forrest, a very valued TMAF member who served FTCT, MRC and TMAF well.
Investing in young scientists and PhD research
TMAF PhD funding has from inception involved partial awards towards the costs of study. It is considered important to spread funding as wide as possible to make best use of available budget and encourage TMAF getting known.
The first PhD to be part-funded from Morley was instigated by MRC by Jim Orson in October 2002. It was during the time of compulsory set aside dictated by the EU Common Agricultural Policy. This first PhD looked at the management of pernicious weeds in over-wintered stubbles (Harriet Marshall).
It was followed soon after by another PhD looking at crop establishment using strip tillage to reduce environmental impact and save costs (Nathan Morris). Both were based at Reading University. Nathan undertook some of his practical PhD work at the Morley farm (importing one of the first strip-till machines from America). Nathan continues his research as a farming systems and soils senior specialist for NIAB based here at Morley.
The third PhD involved funding from TMAF, TAG and the Home Grown Cereals Authority (HGCA) and investigated geographical location and its effect on phoma stem canker and yield of oilseed rape in the UK. There was an apparent discrepancy between advised disease treatments in the north of the country compared to the south and the research gave the cause: geographical location favoured different strains of the fungus. At this time TMAF had a budget of £30,000 per year to spend on these research projects, roughly £10,000 being spent on each. All three PhD students spoke at the 2006 TMAF AGM.
In 2013 TMAF part sponsored a PhD study into soil-borne pathogens of OSR, looking at distribution and yield decline at Harper Adams University (Alex McCormack). 2013 also saw the completion of TMAF part grant funding for a student on the 1-year MSc course in Plant Genetics and Crop Improvement at the UEA (in collaboration with JI) looking at Ramularia in mildew resistant and wild type barley (Stuart Fawke). TMAF went on to support this student through a PhD at the Sainsbury Lab in Cambridge looking at late blight in potatoes and the RAM2 gene. This was jointly funded by TMAF, the Royal Society and The Gatsby Foundation.
Over the years other PhD’s part-supported by TMAF have included work analysing the impact of farm practice on soils; the issue of compaction; effect of tyre pressures and controlled traffic; the effect of rotation, cover cropping and fertility on soil health and soil biological activity. Much of this work, done through several different universities and research institutions over the last 20+ years, has taken on wide practical significance for arable farming in the 2020’s.
Several of the recipients of TMAF grant funding have had successful agricultural careers and their work having direct influence on practical farming. For example, Dr Tim Chaman’s (D.Eng. PhD) research studying soil compaction and controlled traffic farming. This was sponsored by TMAF, The Chadacre Trust and Bomford UK, completed in 2011 and has been widely applied practically by many farmers over the years since published.
Morley PhD Studentship Programme
A significant development for TMAF has been the start in 2019 of the Morley PhD Studentship Programme, led by Dr Steve Rawsthorne with Board support. This was initiated in partnership with NIAB and Cambridge University to sit alongside a BBSRC-funded Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) that would provide a high-quality training environment and administrative support. This has its own separate budget, financing one student per year, and by October 2024 will have four TMAF-supported PhD students.
The Morley PhD Studentship is linked with five DTPs across the UK providing a rich diversity of potential project topics. Through this TMAF became a partner in the BBSRC-funded Collaborative Training Partnership – Sustainable Agricultural Innovation (CTP-SAI) which involves groups of universities and businesses/agri-charities working together to give the student academic and industry experience. This is led by G’s Growers and was awarded a total of 30 PhDs. Of ten PhDs in the first tranche in 2022, there were two students studying agricultural subjects of interest to TMAF. TMAF will eventually support four PhD students through the CTP. The activity in the CTP-SAIs involves only a relatively small contribution from TMAF financially but also considerable input of time is given to support of students and management of the CTP programme by TMAF trustee Steve Rawsthorne.
Through these new PhD initiatives TMAF can have more influence over the choice of research it sponsors, select the best of the projects put forward annually, and promote TMAF to the students who undertake study. It is intended that these initiatives will develop a growing cohort of scientists who will spend time during their studies at Morley and will continue to keep in contact and take an interest in the work that is on-going on the farm.
The TMAF budget has increased from the original £30,000/year to £100,000/year for educational projects and £125,000 is allocated to the Morley PhDs.
Research with our TMAF legacy in mind
Not all applications to TMAF are granted funding. TMAF is conscious of its roots, to give emphasis to East Anglia and research undertaken with potential for a positive outcome for East Anglian farming best practice.
New Farming Systems (NFS) and the TMAF Agronomy Centre were the two big projects run by NIAB and funded by TMAF for the long term more or less from the start of TMAF. NFS work was born through MRC, originally setting up trials to look at how famers could reduce their production costs or gain further income during a very challenging time in the 1990’s when commodity prices were very low. It aspired to investigate novel ways to lower inputs, especially applied nitrogen, the use of soil amendments, possibilities for bi-cropping and wheat/clover inter-cropping using 12m x 36m plots which could be subdivided should details need to be investigated further in the future.
Ron Stobart led much of this work alongside the Sustainability Trial for Arable Rotations (STAR) work based at Otley College looking at rotations and different cultivations, yield and financial margins. The Morley Centre for New Farming Systems was funded mainly by TMAF with contributions also from The John Mann Trust. It expanded on the work already on-going, looking at possibilities to reduce energy input, increasing or maintaining yield with less environmental impact and reliance on pesticides.
STAR was jointly funded with the Felix Cobbold Trust and looked at different rotations, cultivations and yields. The cost over 60 months (2006-2011) for TMAF approached £50,000. The Morley Agricultural Foundation Agronomy Centre for East Anglia (2006-2011) required approximately £125,000 -150,000 per year. It continued many of the long-term trials begun by MRC.
Time proved the long term research done by NFS to be valuable and almost ahead of its time with much attention being given to this area of research in recent years and the agronomy trials were used to successfully challenge the DEFRA soil indexation system in the RB209 edition of the time soil used for the NVZ inspections. It gave farmers vital independent views on key advances on agronomic aspects of crop production.
By 2009, TMAF had become a member of the Agri-food Charities Partnership (AFCP) which draws various smaller agri-charities together to augment influence and provide grant funding for research and education. AFCP has enabled a constructive dialogue with the newly formed Agricultural Universities Council regarding future projects for support.
By 2010, TMAF was granting money to several different projects besides those mentioned above. Examples include contributions to the East Anglian Research Studentship (EARS) which collectively with other bee groups funded honey bee studies. TMAF gave grants towards three PhD research studies, the first two looking at varroa and dwarf wing virus (Sheffield University (EARS 1), Aberdeen University (EARS2)) and lastly a PhD study on bee diet/forage availability and disease progress at Newcastle university (EARS3).
TMAF also helped The Arable Group (as part of NIAB) who were running an Asset programme which encouraged students undergoing their first degree study to compete for an undergraduate bursary and direct practical contact with NIAB TAG staff and NIAB TAG publications. Easton College has applied for various grants over the years towards development of courses, lecturer training and student attendance at conferences.
TAG, led by Jim Orson, looked at the concept of Ecosystem Services in 2010-2011 and the value given to the environment over and above the production of the crop. The biodiversity provision and flood prevention was considered to be in the region of £400/ha in East Anglia. The findings were presented at public meetings in March 2011.
TMAF took on the care of the Saxmundham Experimental site in 2014, signing an agreement with Rothamsted who lease the land from BBSRC (until 2030). This site has a fascinating and long history worth mention. In September 2011, Ed Brown approached TMAF about the Saxmundham Experimental Station. This was started by the East Suffolk County Council in 1899, intending to demonstrate that ‘artificials’ (N, P, K) could achieve the same results as farmyard manure. The ‘difficult land’ was chosen purposely as much similar soil type was becoming derelict in the depression of the time. Experiments were meticulously written up until 1940. Since then there has been some work on drainage and atmospheric deposition but by 1986 it was mothballed and remained under grass until 1998/9 when the Harwoods field (2.8ha) was brought back into cultivation by Rothamsted, Levington Agriculture and Norsk Hydro to celebrate the centenary of the site. With the demise of Levington it was then only British sugar which was required to rotate beet on all 4 blocks of Rotation I on Harwoods field. On a further field Rotation II was not cropped. Ed Brown undertook to crop the intervening years on Rotation I. However, by 2003 there was no longer interest in the maintenance of the site and Ed Brown took over the challenge completely to crop it for the next seven years and care for the demarcation of the plots. Ed approached TMAF in 2011 at which point the site was again likely to be mothballed by Rothamsted. The long-term experiments have provided much interesting study since 2014 through the work of NIAB.
Investing in practical help – training and tools – to help farmers’ knowledge
On various occasions TMAF has had requests for financial help towards leadership training for farm managers or other training to promote knowledge and careers. An example of this was a Statistic and Design training course aimed at on-farm experiments at Nottingham University run by Prof Debbie Sparkes in 2019.
TMAF has occasionally sponsored the purchase of equipment such as the special microscope and camera now used by BBRO which was at the time jointly sponsoring a PhD with TMAF researching sugar beet nematodes at Nottingham University (Alistair Wright 2015/16). Alistair gained his PhD in 2018 and is well-respected for his work at BBRO.
In 2022 TMAF bought two flux towers to support part of BBRO’s work on sugar beet on the Morley farm. The flux towers measure carbon absorption from the sugar beet crop.
The flux towers will also be used on the TMAF’s own research project started on the Morley Farm measuring the carbon emissions from normal farm practices and rotation. This is part of the project Morley Soil and Agronomic Monitoring Sites (SAMS) that will look at soil health measurements continuously taken in the same location of over time, comparing these with impact on yield, profitability and resilience. This project is being run with NIAB and is intended to be on-going for the long term and will build a unique and independent data set.
TMAF is also sponsoring the Morley Farms Ltd Clean Water Project which aims to ensure the water leaving the farm is as clean as or cleaner than when it arrived. It aims to use simple interventions which could be used widely on East Anglian farms.
Morley has been known for long term studies long before the creation of TMAF. These provide valuable data but few facilities are able to undertake this work. However, the Morley farm is uniquely placed for such studies. Morley LoTS (Long Terms Studies) involves work on wheat, barley and sugar beet.
The first 20 years of TMAF has continued and updated the Morley Research Centre work, while demonstrating best practice on a commercial farm and being open for farmers and interested parties to visit, discuss and learn. Thanks go to all those who have contributed to the success of all the studies and projects with which TMAF has been involved.
If you would like to find out more, an annual summary of TMAF activities is published each year and published on the TMAF website..