TMAF demonstrated again at its annual meeting how it maintains its role at the heart of agricultural development. Illustrations of the research it is supporting was combined with discussion of key current issues such as measuring farming’s real carbon footprint and asking what the science of regeneration actually looks like.
An audience of over 50 East Anglian farmers, advisors and other agri-professionals gathered to hear the afternoon of talks and debate. For, while field walks and online talks are one way to feel the pulse of the current challenges, there is nothing as satisfying or as inspiring as hearing research updates and perspectives in person from those at the forefront of discovery.
Trial and tribulation
Whether or not virus yellows disease becomes an issue for the region’s beet crop in 2023 remains to be seen. The extraordinary weather and the beet moth infestation in 2022 certainly posed challenges for the research underway at Morley to test varietal resistance to these yield-damaging infections, according to Suzannah Harder.
Suzannah’s TMAF-supported research is well underway, as she has reported recently. She shared the trials (and tribulations) of rearing six variants from three strains and the aphids to inoculate them into her sugar beet plots at Morley. “No-one else I know has put six variants of disease into a beet field trial. It is very stressful but very rewarding.
I have found significant differences between varieties’ in-bred resistance, and adjusted yield tonne/hectare from the harvested crop, and is making me think we have to make changes to a strain, such as BBRO BMYV that have been kept and multiplied for years now. It might have gone a bit ‘soft’ and should be replaced with a strain more akin to the wild strains, such as I received into the lab in my ‘bouquets’ of infected beet leaves sent to me.”
No longer in a state of flux
Soon there will be new structures appearing in Morley fields. BBRO’s Dr Georgina Barrett is the driving force behind the new TMAF-supported project to assess the carbon dynamics in sugar beet. The means to measure the carbon emissions will be two flux towers. As wind pockets flow across the fieldscape, the instruments capture samples and, through “clever maths by CEH” will give information on CO2 production.
Dr Barrett explained that this will happen over the farming year with sugar beet from bare soil, through drilling and the full season of growth. “This is a long period to measure capture or release of carbon. Also, what is novel about the plan here at Morley is that this trial will just focus on sugar beet. What’s more we will have two flux towers to be able to compare management systems.”
It is recognised that there could be a push to reach net zero for sugar beet and the research at Morley could provide the data to show what is possible. “The data from this work could help British Sugar with carbon mapping, guide growers with the best practice to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, contribute to wider soil health objectives and add value to UK grown sugar in the supply chain.”
Regenerating research along same lines
Contributing to the science of regenerative farming was the topic addressed by the final TMAF annual meeting speaker, NIAB CEO Mario Caccamo. He began by stating that food production must undergo a transformation in order to tackle the multiple challenges of producing enough food, restoring biodiversity and averting climate change.
“In 100 years of NIAB’s work” he said “we have worked on the same issues and crises. Our priority areas remain crop improvement (with gene editing and precision breeding), new farming systems and getting crop perfomance data.” He also says he advocates the production of tools to. make measuring easier, such as with NIAB’s Soil Health cards.
For John Wallace, the TMAF annual meeting was his last as Chair. For his seven years of leadership he was thanked and presented with a silver platter. Longtime trustee Philip Richardson, also retiring, was also presented with a gift.
In his acceptance of the engraved platter, John announced that his successor will be Richard Wilbourn, assisted by new Deputy Chair Sue Lord. He also took the moment to reflect on how, since he very first visited Morley as a young Suffolk farmer, he has continued to be inspired by the evidence from the TMAF research at Morley of what good agricultural practice can be. On such foundations and with the outlined expectations TMAF’s next year will be a positive one.