John Wallace has lived and breathed farming all his life. He was inspired to become involved with TMAF, as committee member and then Chair, to answer some of the questions raised in his own farming. He continues to work for Wallace Daniels Ltd, the contracting farming business he co-founded in 2008. Playing tennis is his sport of choice these days replacing his enormous enjoyment of cricket and rugby.
When, why and with whom did you first come to Morley?
I first visited Morley in the late sixties with my father to an open day at which cultivation equipment to prepare sugar beet seedbeds was being demonstrated. My father’s words, new as he was to East Anglian farming, were that “these people are always very practical and down to earth in their advice”.
What did you see as TMAF’s unique strengths?
That very practicality is a huge recommendation for the Morley Agricultural Foundation, as it has now become. It provides any visiting farmer with a chance to view a realistic attempt to put into practice the advice given to farmers.
When did you become a committee member and what roles have you had?
I was invited to join the Executive Committee (chaired by Philip Richardson) of the Morley Research Centre (MRC) in the 1990s after a period of office as Chairman of Suffolk NFU. Government support of plant breeding and other new technologies produced some tremendous advances in British Farming in the seventies and eighties. For many of us at the time, MRC, led by Perry Mclean, was the place to go to see varieties and fungicide treatments in a realistic farming setting.
It was not long before MRC merged with Arable Research Centres and The Morley Agricultural Foundation (TMAF) was formed, inheriting the farm and the considerable portfolio of funds which had been accumulated or given by local benefactors. Under its first Chairman, Nick Steed, I was asked in 2008 to pay particular attention to the running of the farm which by then had David Jones at the helm.
In 2016, I took over the chairmanship of TMAF and realised that as well as continuing our extensive trials work with NIAB, we had to do something about the polluting effects of farming.
What are the top 3 things you’ve seen TMAF do?
We have our clean water scheme, the main aim of which was to try and ensure that all water leaving the farm in its ditches and streams conformed to EU drinking water standards.
Farming also faced criticism that our soil was ‘running out’. Headlines screamed that we only had 50 years of soil left. In spite of the complete absence of any science on which these claims were based, the idea caught the imagination of the press and some leading politicians. The board decided to initiate a long-term experiment looking at the effect that current farming practices in our part of Norfolk, growing mainly combinable crops and sugar beet, was having on our soils.
We called this Morley Soil and Agronomic Monitoring (Morley SAMS). We were greatly helped and encouraged by Professor Andrew Balmford FRS of the Department of Zoology at Cambridge University in establishing how a high-producing farm like TMAF’s should approach the next decades.
Our intention at TMAF has always been to favour near-market research on the basis that it is much more likely to be of relevance to farmers.
What useful role can TMAF continue to play in agricultural research and education?
The delay in introducing genetically modified crops or even the process of gene editing, has meant that Britain has a great deal of catching up to do with the rest of the world.
On my own farm I grew genetically modified sugar beet as long ago as 2002, and yet these technologies – which have so much to offer to agriculture and the wider environment – are faced with delays even now.
That lagging behind may have something to do with the decision by Cambridge University to introduce the Crop Science Centre which is located next to NIAB’s new offices in Cambridge. TMAF are joining in with this new input of interest by supporting Morley PhD students in their various endeavours. It is the intention to make available to the Morley PhD students a link with a farmer during the course of their studies so that the practicality of farming can be imbued into the minds of those young scientists.
I hope that TMAF can continue to support near-market research relevant to farming in the future. There will certainly be a need for it in the ensuing years as technology advances at an ever-accelerating pace bringing with it a need for experimental works to establish how to incorporate new ideas into mainstream farming practice.
To those joining or thinking of joining the TMAF committee, what advice would you give?
To anyone interested in these progressions, joining TMAF would provide a steady stream of ideas to support or dismiss. It has been of great interest to me to be part of it all.