Kelvin Cave Ltd are delighted to be involved with NCS, and in this edition of KnowHow, provide a little more detail on some of the participating partners. 

We have focussed, in particular, on those involved in cropping and ruminant production – of most relevance to ourselves and our customers.

Earlier this year saw the launch of a project which promises to have a profound effect on the way UK farmers feed their livestock. Called the Nitrogen Efficient Plants for Climate Smart Arable Cropping Systems (NCS), the project aims to increase pulse cropping in arable rotations to 20% across the UK (currently 5%), and to develop and test new feed rations.

 

This will help the livestock industry reach the project’s overarching ambition, of substituting up to 50% of imported soya meal used in feed with more climate-friendly, home-grown pulses and legumes. This is a massively ambitious target and according to Roger Vickers, chief executive of the PGRO (Processors and Growers Research Organisation) who leads the initiative, ‘there has never been a project on this scale with this much ambition’.

 

Kelvin Cave Ltd will be building on the work we’ve undertaken with our customers over recent years to improve the harvesting, processing, preservation and storage of home-grown proteins.

We were pleased to be invited to take part in the NCS project as it will help us further improve the advice we give to farmers who wish to become more self-sufficient. We see the project as a great way to encourage more farmers to take back control from the compounder, to improve their carbon footprint and protect themselves from fluctuating prices by using more home-grown or locally sourced proteins. For wholecropping in particular, we will be working closely with the UK’s largest forage harvesting contractor, Wilsons Contractors, who we have subcontracted to conduct harvesting efficiency trials on several sites across the UK. These will compare different forager headers and set-up with the aim of reducing field losses and being as efficient as possible to reduce fuel and labour and lower the carbon footprint of the harvesting operation.

Wilson’s Contracting Ltd will be harvesting the legumes grown in the NCS project as part of the Kelvin Cave trials, and maintain a keen interest in improving harvesting techniques. The company farms in Lincs, Lancs and Shropshire, also hiring equipment and offering contracting services in these regions and across much of the UK. Ian Wilson, the company’s MD (pictured above) says: “Harvesting late in the season can put some people off growing legumes so anything that can be done to improve their harvest – whether developing better techniques or breeding earlier varieties – could help with their uptake. “It’s great to be involved in trials which could improve efficiency and cut carbon emissions, and we’re delighted to work with a company that’s pushing the sector forward,” he says.

McArthur Agriculture is taking part in NCS with the aim of quantifying the benefits of roasting and dehulling pulses, such as peas and beans. John McArthur, the company’s MD, says farmers have led the practical work on growing and feeding legumes, particularly in Denmark, where there’s evidence that roasted or dehulled beans can support high yielding dairy cows without the use of soya. Although roasting and dehulling are said to improve digestibility and boost rumen-bypass protein in pulses, the precise mechanism through which this is achieved has yet to be defined. He says: “We know roasting and dehulling add nutritional value to legumes but we need to put numbers on that. A lot of what we know is anecdotal and, in many ways, the farmers are ahead of the science.”

 As a company which was originally a diversification of a small family farm, McArthur Agriculture is now a major designer and manufacturer of grain drying, processing and storage systems for combinable crops. Equipment in a range of sizes suits premises from farms to small local feed mills, which means the company’s aim of giving farmers the chance to add and retain value in the agriculture sector has a commonality with the work of Kelvin Cave Ltd. He says: “I could see farmers growing, roasting and incorporating beans in a total mixed ration, or maybe arable farmers producing and selling a value-added feed product. “We want to give farmers the opportunity to vertically integrate and capture value in their own produce, so reducing costs, increasing profitability and making their businesses more resilient in the long run.”

Kelvin Cave regularly work with independent scientists, and in this project, will be subcontracting some services to silage consultant and microbiologist, Dr Dave Davies (left) and grassland consultant, Dr George Fisher (right). 

Dr Davies’s role will include assessing the efficacy, cost-effectiveness and carbon footprint of different chemical and biological preservatives, for both combined and wholecropped legumes. He will also be comparing NIRS analysis with wet chemistry to ensure the results provided are accurate, allowing farmers and nutritionists to formulate the most cost-effective diets (more on NIRS, page 22). Meanwhile, Dr Fisher will have oversight of experimental design and the collation of data in our on-farm, harvesting efficiency trials, ensuring scientific protocols are followed.

ADAS is well-versed in the business of running on-farm trials, and as such, is perfectly placed for its key role in NCS. This agricultural consultancy will not only facilitate the design and execution of the NCS on-farm trials, but it will also host PulsePEP – a Performance Enhancing Platform at the project’s heart. Dr Pete Berry, ADAS head of crop physiology, says PulsePEP will be an online resource which provides ‘how to grow’ guides, hosts discussion groups and provides up-to-date information on the ongoing NCS trials. To be launched this autumn, he says: “PulsePEP will be a one stop shop – the place to go for anyone interested in growing pulses.” ADAS has already established the Pulse Yield Enhancement Network, which comprises around 50 farmers who are already collecting information and monitoring the performance of pulses on their farms. “This has been insightful in showing the scope for high yields of peas and beans, but the challenge is to achieve those yields every year,” he says. NCS will enable this network to be broadened and to engage a greater range of farmer participants. “The overarching aim is to quantify the reduction in carbon footprint that can be achieved by increasing pulse crops, but to do that we need to undertake a lifecycle analysis,” he says. ADAS will therefore be involved in collating the data from the on-farm trials, which will be fed into the UK’s first comprehensive lifecycle assessment of arable cropping systems, undertaken in work package one.

First Milk is keen to explore how the feed used by its members can have a lower environmental impact as part of its commitment to regenerative farming, and taking part in NCS is considered an important part of that process. Lee Trulove, the co-op’s responsible sourcing manager, says much of the science behind feeding beans and other UK-sourced protein instead of imported soya is already proven, so First Milk will focus on the feasibility of putting this into action. He says: “We want to know if it’s operationally feasible, will there be enough supply and how much will growing and feeding UK-grown legumes reduce carbon footprint?” Informal on-farm trials involving a group of the co-op’s producers will therefore aim to assess the supply chain challenges as well as identify what and if any processing the beans require to deliver the best feed value and whether the crop can be grown in a regenerative way. “Arable farmers keen to grow legumes want to be confident of a route to market whereas dairy producers are keen to have a reliable supply,” he says. Believing First Milk has a role to play in facilitating links between UK arable and livestock production, he says the forever challenge is to improve environmental impact while maintaining business efficiency.

Farm Carbon Toolkit sees the goals of the NCS project as closely in line with its own aspirations, which are focussed on cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and maximising carbon sequestration in agriculture, while producing quality food and goods from resilient and profitable farms. A not-for-profit organisation, set up by far-sighted farmers as early as 2010, FCT has developed one of the most popular carbon calculators, now in use across over 8,000 UK farms. Chief executive, Liz Bowles, says: “Our aim with the project is to measure the impact of practice changes farmers are making to give clear evidence of the reduction in GHGs possible from growing and feeding legumes in different ways.” The practical role of FCT throughout the project will be to support the participant farmers and measure the carbon impact of the changes they make as part of the trials. “The research will then enable us to improve the accuracy of carbon calculators – not just of our own but of any in use in the farming sector,” she says.

BOFIN (British On-Farm Innovation Network) exists expressly for the purpose of bringing together farmers who are keen to test out innovations and be involved in on-farm trials, so is perfectly placed to be at the heart of NCS. Tom Allen-Stevens, who founded the organisation in 2020, says: “We want to get farmers involved with this project and BOFIN will work with them, equipping them with the tools and guidance for the job.” With the ultimate aim of bringing more science and better evidence into agriculture, he says BOFIN’s role in recruiting 200 farmers into the first stage of the project is well under way. These participants will have their carbon baseline measured by Farm Carbon Toolkit (see opposite), some will take part in the trials, and all will have their greenhouse gas emissions tracked throughout. Also taking charge of media and internal communications for NCS, the next event BOFIN will organise is a workshop at which the so-called Pulse Pioneers, who are farmers participating in the project, can take a more in-depth look at the project and exchange ideas. The workshop will be held this autumn – details at www.ncsproject.co.uk.

LC Beef Nutrition Lizz Clarke is the beef nutritionist who will oversee the beef feeding trials in the NCS project, with the key role of measuring whether beans can displace imported soya, and some other protein sources without loss of performance to the cattle. Designing the experiments which will look into beef calf, grower and finishing rations, she will formulate both control diets (including soya/other protein sources) and treatment diets, in which soya will be replaced with UK-grown proteins. Keeping the analysis (eg metabolisable energy and percent crude protein) of the ration in each group as near to identical as possible, she will measure daily liveweight gains, killing out percentages and carcass conformation across breeds and genders in a succession of trials over the course of four years.

A full list of direct participants in the NCS project is as follows:
PGRO (Processors and Growers Research Organisation), AB Agri, ADAS, Agrii, BOFIN (British On-Farm Innovation Network), Cranfield University, Farm Carbon Toolkit, First Milk, GWCT (Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust), The James Hutton Institute, Kelvin Cave, LC Beef Nutrition, LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming), McArthur Agriculture, PBL Technology, SRUC and Wessex Water.

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