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Further information

LEAF Open Farm Sunday 12 June 2011

At The James Hutton Institute, Dundee (formerly SCRI), 11 am to 4 pm.

An extended set of scientific exhibits on the theme Scotland's Sustainable Croplands will join the ever popular displays of farm machinery, tractor tours and short lectures by special guest Heather 'The Weather' Reid. The restaurant will be open for drinks and snacks.



Scotland's Sustainable Croplands - summary of science exhibits

In 2011, the science exhibits will be found near the reception area, in the Living Field garden and study base and at locations around the farm. Collect your map and directions at reception.

The theme of this year’s Open Farm Sunday at The James Hutton Institute is Scotland’s Sustainable Croplands. We present our work on the improvement of soil, the efficient use of diminishing resources, the role of biodiversity in field and landscape and the suppression of pests without reliance on chemical pesticides. Please pick up a map at reception, visit all or any of our displays and exhibits, join in the games and talk to our researches who will be pleased to answer your questions. We hope you have an enjoyable and interesting day.

A major emphasis will be on biodiversity - the plants, microorganisms and animals of farmland that keep everything working and without which there would be no farming and no food. Topics include pollinating insects and their food plants, wild legumes for fixing nitrogen, the mutually beneficial associations between plant roots and fungi (mycorrhizae), the live-in bugs that aphids (e.g. greenfly) can’t do without, and the wild plants that form the life support system for farmland fauna.  

Visit displays on cereals through the ages, featuring the crops that make some of Scotland’s most important global brands, including whisky, porridge, bannocks, beer and biscuits. You’ll find ancient crop species, displays of grain, flour and meal, bread made from heritage cereals and the latest research on cereal yield and diseases.

Learn about the great challenges that agriculture now faces – the need for more efficient use of essential fertilisers - nitrogen and phosphorus; for methods to reverse the declining carbon content and quality of agricultural soils; and for ways to defeat pests with less reliance on chemicals.

Looking to the future, see how the JHI is working to fit all this together in the Centre for Sustainable Cropping, where a 40 hectare, long-term field research platform will combine science and farming to test new crops and new methods of managing land.

To find your way around the science exhibits - pick up a map from Open Farm Sunday reception; pick up the list and short description of the science exhibits; follow the map to see all exhibits or go to the ones you want to see. Some of the exhibits have activities for children. Please check at reception.

Contact for science exhibits: Geoff Squire at the James Hutton institute. 


Scotland's Sustainable Croplands - description of exhibits

The Centre for Sustainable Cropping: a long-term facility for research

The long-term viability of farming in Scotland depends on the sustainable management of our agricultural habitats. We need to achieve a balance between maximising crop production, conserving arable biodiversity and maintaining ecosystem functions. The Centre for Sustainable Cropping (CSC) is a new experimental research platform at Balruddery Farm near Dundee. It is the first of its scale in the UK and will provide a test-bed for new sustainable management practices and crop varieties, designed to maintain yield quality and yield stability at lower levels of agrochemical inputs, to reduce GHG emissions and nutrient leaching, and to enhance soil quality and arable biodiversity.

Exhibit: pictorial display of the Centre, your questions answered.



Use and abuse of mineral nutrients – improving our future relationship with phosphate

For the last 10,000 years, humans have been growing crops for consumption and trade, but only in the last 200 years has industrialised fertilizer production been used to sustain crop production. In just two centuries, we have all but used up our readily-available mineral resources and in doing so created a number of environmental problems. This abuse of our natural resources has led to the development of high yielding, yet inefficient, production systems which are wasteful, prone to economic volatility and environmentally damaging. Now, we need to improve the way in which crop nutrition is managed by finding ways in which we can use inorganic fertilizers more effectively and develop alternative sources of mineral nutrients for agricultural use from waste streams. We will demonstrate, in an interactive fashion, how different sources of P (inorganic fertilizer, animal manure, green manure, human waste and urban waste) can be used as fertilizers and how technological interventions, including plant genotypes, agronomic approaches and engineering solutions, can be used to improve the use, and reduce the abuse, of our natural resources.

Exhibit: timeline, interactive demo.



What to do about nitrogen

Modern agriculture depends on nitrogen fertilisers to produce the high crop yields needed to feed the ever increasing population. Every year over 100 Tg of nitrogen (N) fertiliser are made using energy-expensive processes. The cost of fertiliser N from fossil fuels is increasing as the cost of energy increases. Fertiliser N pollutes air and water. Current levels of fertiliser N production and use on land are not sustainable, so we need to find other ways of getting the N. To do this, we study the flows of N through the field and food chain - where it comes from and where it goes. We ask how much can be replaced by nitrogen-fixing legumes (peas and beans) or recycled wastes. Solutions are explored using a model of the nitrogen cycle in crop production and promising options will be tested at the Centre for Sustainable Cropping.

Exhibit: measuring nitrogen loss to air and water, computer model



Cereals through the ages

Barley, wheat and oat have been the mainstay of farming since the first settlers arrived here in the Neolithic (late stone age). Emmer wheat, spelt wheat and black oat were once grown widely here. Today, the main cereals are barley, bread wheat and oat. They occupy half the cropped area of the lowlands in any year. Modern cereals are high yielding but need heavy inputs of fertiliser and fuel from finite resources. Most local cereal production goes to make alcoholic drink and animal feed, while most of the cereal food we eat is imported in the form of bread, flour, rice and pasta. Our research is looking at ways to maintain high cereal yields, to diversify their products, and to reduce the fertiliser, pesticides and fuel needed to grow them. The display on cereals is part of the learning resource in the 5000 years project:

Exhibit: heritage and modern cereal plants and products, the cereal trail (game), bread making



Weeds: a life support system for farmland fauna

Arable plants harbour many more types of insect than do crop plants. Maintaining manageable levels of weed diversity and abundance is critical for the health of the arable food web and the continued productivity of our farmland. This is because weeds support a wide range of insects that carry out vital functions such as pollination. A diverse weed community also supports a wide range of natural enemies that control the populations of insect crop pests, and provides food for farmland mammals and birds. Information on the ‘ecosystem services’ provided by arable weeds is being used to choose the best sustainable farming practice at our Centre for Sustainable Cropping at Balruddery Farm.

Exhibit: match the insect to the weed (game), identify weed seeds (microscope)



Intimate relations between roots and fungi

Plants have a very intimate relationship with soil organisms, because soil organisms can recycle nutrients, attack plants or even promote plant growth. One of the most important groups of soil organisms is called arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi. AM fungi and plants are mutualists. Mutualists are organisms that benefit each other. In the case of AM fungi, plants provide carbon (a food source for the AM fungi), and in return AM fungi act as a second set of roots that pull up nutrients (predominantly phosphorous and other trace minerals) and water for the plants. In this way AM fungi can improve plant growth. However, there is great variation among plant species in their association with AM fungi. At the “Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungal Plant Host Tour” in the Living Field garden you will be introduced to AM fungi, and plant species that associate with AM fungi as well as plant species that never associate with AM fungi. 

Exhibit: tour of plants, learn how to say ‘mycorrhizal’




Insects that pollinate plants perform a great service for agriculture and horticulture and for many wild plants. Crops and garden vegetables such as peas and beans, soft fruit and orchard fruit such as apples, plums and pears, all need insects to enable them to set seed or fruit. Many wild plants also need insects for pollination. Hive bees and bumble bees are the pollinating insects you are most likely to see, but many other types of insect transmit pollen from one flower to another. The Living Field garden is a haven for pollinating insects. Some insects visit only certain types of flower – the flower and insect have evolved to be dependent on each other.

Exhibit: see pollination in action, make your own flower.



Aphid endosymbionts: good or bad bacteria?

Aphids (such as greenfly) are one of the most common insect herbivores in arable fields, feeding on the sap of weeds and crop plants. Although aphids can reproduce at a prodigious rate, their survival depends on the presence of bacteria that live inside them, known as endosymbionts. The symbiotic bacteria can also protect them from attack by enemies including fungi and parasitoid wasps. Find out more about how these bacterial symbionts influence the abundance of aphids and their control by natural enemies.

Exhibits: microscope work, do your own experiment with aphids, short slideshow.



Legumes for nitrogen fixation and biodiversity

Legumes are a kind of plant that forms a symbiosis with bacteria in the soil. The bacteria live in small nodules that form on roots. The bacteria get carbon compounds from the plants. The nodules fix nitrogen gas from the air to form nitrogen-rich compounds for the plants. Some legume species are crops (beans, peas) or fodders (white clover, lucerne), but many others grow in the wild in Scotland, where they do much to provide habitats with nitrogen, and in addition support a wide range of insect life. Many wild legumes have taken up residence in the Living Field garden - find out how and why?

Exhibit: look at root nodules, learn about nitrogen fixation, see the variety of wild legumes in the garden.



Reducing reliance on chemical pesticides through IPM

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) seeks to combine new and old ways of protecting crops from pests in order to reduce pesticide use and to increase sustainability and security of food production. At the James Hutton Institute, IPM is most advanced for soft fruit, where it combines aphid-resistant varieties of raspberry, biological control including naturally occurring and commercially available predators and parasitic wasps which suppress pest aphids, and semiochemicals - pest attractants that lure the pest into traps by mimicking the colour and smell of their favourite host plants. The big challenges now are to develop similar systems for major crops like cereals (part of our new EU PURE project with European partners) and to work out how best to use IPM tools at different scales (e.g. field margins, polytunnels, landscapes).

Exhibit: aphid-resistant cultivars, the raspberry beetle trap and lure, biocontrol, video, etc.



Cereal pathogens - the good the bad and the undecided!

Microbes can be pathogens causing disease, beneficials helping plants to be healthy, or both or neither depending on the environment. They can also interact with each other forming a complex community on leaf surfaces. Resistance breeding and crop protection have to take all this into account in developing methods for sustainable agriculture.

Exhibit: examine cereal disease, learn about pathogens



Improving Scotland’s arable soil productivity – carbon and nutrients

Organic matter is vital to soil quality but it has been in decline in Scottish soils, leading to increased erosion, losses in biodiversity and a degraded seedbed. Alternatives to inorganic fertilisers are also needed due to increased costs and decreased supply. Composts and animal waste provide both carbon and nutrient inputs to soil. The experiment at the Low Pilmore field investigates changes to soil properties depending on the level of animal waste (cattle manure) or compost (Dundee Council, Discovery Compost) applied. Positive impacts of compost included decreased inorganic fertiliser demand, improved crop establishment and yield (up to 7% rise) and improved soil physical conditions for crop growth.

Exhibit: demo of soil condition under different compost treatments



Improving Scotland’s arable soil productivity – tillage and crop traits

Pressures on farm incomes and perceived environmental benefits have resulted in almost half of the UK’s arable land being cultivated with reduced tillage. Data on the impacts of reduced tillage to crops and the environment are missing in Scotland. In 2003 we established a field experiment to investigate the long term impacts of cultivation depth. Treatments were no-till (0 cm), minimum tillage (7 cm), ploughing (20 cm), ploughing (20 cm) + compaction and deep plough (40 cm). Over 100 winter and spring barley varieties were trialled, showing that the best performing varieties under ploughed soil were not the same as for under reduced tillage. Crop traits, especially in the roots, are being investigated that could improve yields and resilience to environmental stresses in reduced tillage. Mixtures of barley varieties have also been trialled and shown to be more resilient to pathogens and yield than monocultures. In the maritime climate of Scotland, no increase in carbon storage or microbial biodiversity was found for reduced tillage. However, clear differences in soil structure were measured

Exhibit: demo of soil condition and crop performance under different tillage treatments



What is LEAF Open Farm Sunday?

Open Farm Sunday is an annual event sponsored by Linking Environment And Farming LEAF.  The Living Field takes part in Open Farm Sunday by putting on displays, exhibits and games for visitors. It is an event for both families who like a day in the country and for anyone who wants to get to know more about the farmed environment, crops, biodiversity and ecology. Staff from research and the farm are on hand to talk to visitors and show them some of the wonderful plants and insects of croplands.

The James Hutton Institute is a LEAF Innovation Centre with a remit to take research to practice for the betterment of farming and food production.