Farming, like any other business, has its acronyms. IFM, which stands for integrated farm management, does a terrible job at describing what is in essence an approach to farming which has very exciting prospects. IFM is a holistic approach to farm management that encourages both profitability and high environmental standards. In the video above Philip Huxtable describes the essence of what IFM involves and how it works very effectively for his own farm business in Yorkshire. IFM was the brainchild of LEAF (yet another acronym which stands for ‘Linking Environment And Farming’), an organisation which encourages very high standards in practice and its members manage over 10% of UK farmland, a significant amount. The IFM system works by providing an ethos and a set of decision making tools to enable the farmer to make the best decisions to work with their farm environment in the best possible way (or so is the view of LEAF). LEAF carry out an audit consisting of a number of principles to check that each member is making progress and holding up to the principles of IFM. These principles include: environmental care, market demand, political priority and social responsibility.
According to the James Hutton Institute, IFM involves:
- a commitment to good husbandry and animal welfare
- efficient soil management and appropriate cultivation techniques
- the use of crop rotations
- minimum reliance on crop protection chemicals and fertilisers
- careful choice of seed varieties
- maintenance of the landscape and rural communities
- enhancement of wildlife habitats
- a commitment to team spirit based on communication, training and involvement.
What I like about the system is that it is adaptable both to different conditions and different time periods so it will be able to adapt as political, cultural and environmental changes develop. In essence, it is pragmatic. It marries traditional methods and good practice with modern technology and is very much concerned with precision and knowledge of what the effects of inputs are on the whole system. The main thing I take issue with (as I hinted at in the beginning of this post) is the term ‘Integrated Farm Management’ – it is incredibly dull and even though one could say that it describes the process in a round about way it is of no help at a time when engaging consumers and customers with food and farming is incredibly important. One mention of ‘IFM’ and you have probably lost the majority of listeners. That said, I think the model provides an exciting prospect for the future and I hope that many more farmers take it up in the coming years.