Integrated Crop Management (CPA Book)

Organisation, Monitoring and Auditing


Introduction

Any successful business needs an organised and structured framework in which to operate.people must have a clear idea of what they are expected to do and they need to see this in the context of what the business is trying to achieve as a whole. Individual performance is likely to be better if the business objectives are explained so that they can see how their individual effort contributes towards the overall achievement. The business itself must set realistic targets and progress towards them needs to be measured. Above all, any business must be flexible and adapt to changing circumstances. New technologies, or changing customer requirements, must be continually monitored and the business plan modified where necessary.

...accountability and integrity

The result is that not only does the business thrive, but, by looking at the records, it can see where mistakes were made. This experience can be used to improve future efficiency. Above all, the business is fully accountable, whether to directors, partners or customers. If the records have been kept, people can make their own judgements about the overall business integrity.

Integrated Crop management requires all this.

Farming is a business more vulnerable than most to the vagaries of climate and customer choice. If an industry where remarkable technological advances have been made over the past 50 years, and farmers and growers are no strangers to adaptability and change. For most of them, the adoption of ICM practices is a case of fine tuning and, adopting a systematic approach, rather than wholesale change. But for some the discipline of setting targets, monitoring progress and constantly auditing performance may be new.

What needs to be done?

...time

Like any management policy, Integrated Crop Management requires an investment of time and commitment to make it work. Time is a valuable resource that requires personal time management as well as appropriate delegation of work, setting priorities and checking progress. This involves planning, and throughout this booklet there has been emphasis on creation of plans in all the activities as well as contingency planning for emergencies. Awareness of these measures would form part of a staff development and training plan in which all requirements are identified and achievements monitored. The staff themselves should contribute to the creation of all the farm plans.

...targets

Setting targets is more difficult, but the golden rule must be to make sure they are realistic and measurable. The first action in the implementation of an ICM system is the creation of a written farm policy setting out the aims and objectives. Areas that might be included are financial targets for the business, crop performance targets (yield and quality), fuel consumption, nitrogen use, water quality. The keeping of full and accurate records is itself an achievement target.

Targets in ICM

Setting achievement targets is analogous to putting milestones on the road. They are the measure of progress and the record of success. They might include:

  • Environmental tasks e.g. hedge planting;
  • Financial (i.e. profit) targets;
  • Crop performance (yield and quality);
  • Fuel consumption;
  • Water quality;
  • Staff training;
  • Farm performance (e.g. in competitions).
 

...information and advice

Technological advances in farming have meant that nobody can hope to keep abreast of it all. Information and professional advice is certain to be needed from tine to time and this is a crucial part of the decision making process. The first step is to decide what information and advice is needed. Ideally professional advisors should be independent, although the quality of the advice given is the important thing. Fertiliser or pesticide advisors should be FACTS or BASIS qualified respectively. Other means of keeping up-to-date are by reading journals and literature, using information services, including the Internet, and attending conferences, demonstrations (including LEAF demonstration farms) and shows.

...communication

Effective communication plays an important part in business. Staff need to be kept informed about the overall business as well as the day to day tasks. Understanding the reasons for farm policies and actions is an important part of gaining staff commitment to the system. Similarly management needs to hear, and respond to, staff suggestions or complaints. Externally it is important to remember that 'customers' extend far beyond those whom direct business is done. By its very nature, farming embraces whole communities and, eventually, the general public as consumers.

The essence of ICM is not just the adoption of environmentally responsible practices. It includes the communication of the benefits to a public that harbours, with justification in some cases, scepticism about modern methods. The best way is to invite them to see and hear what is being done. This is done by liaison with the local community through meetings and farm visits, and by hosting external demonstrations. Customers should not be excluded from the process. they all have businesses to run and a reciprocal appreciation of needs and policies avoids misunderstandings and improves relationships.

Monitoring

Monitoring is the regular checking of measurable objectives and targets, such as fuel consumption or fertiliser use. The information gained provides a series of markers against which performance can be plotted. Subjective judgements of things like the amenity value of a woodland, although important, are imprecise management tools because they are unquantified. Management requires measurement.

In many ways monitoring is a means of updating the information gathered in the initial site survey. The structure of the soil, the condition of hedges, fences and walls and the state of ponds and waterways all form part of the routine day to day  observations.

...crops and pests

Whatever management system is practised, growing crops should be inspected regularly to check vigour and growth stages, and to note the appearance of any pest problems. This should be more frequent as the time for treatment approaches, or after weather conditions known to favour the spread of a particular problem. Infestations should be counted or assessed and compared with treatment thresholds to help in decisions about control measures.

pest incidence, especially the precise location of some weed infestations, such as wild oats, should be carefully recorded and mapped for use in future seasons. Similarly, any pest carry-over from previous  crops, or spread from neighbouring fields or farms, should be noted. Wherever possible, pest incidence should be quantified by use of traps, baits, diagnostic kits or simple weed counts and matched against any known thresholds.

...soil, wildlife and landscape

Crop walking should include routine soil checks on moisture content, erosion and compaction. Regular soil and leaf tissue analyses help with the calculation of fertiliser requirements, and actual fertiliser use should be monitored. For each field a nutrient balance sheet should be kept quantifying nutrient inputs and offtake and so allowing calculation of field surpluses or deficits.

Cultivation machinery maintenance should be checked regularly and records kept of all cultivations carried out., including a note of any problem areas. Simple monitoring of selected wildlife indicator species gives a measure of the impact of other farm practices and helps to show the effect of any changes made to the management system. Crop inspections can be coupled with checks on hedgerows, field margins and nesting sites in stubbles and set-aside.

The state of footpaths and bridleways, stiles and gates, and signposts should also form part of the routine monitoring. Footpaths in particular, after a wet winter and during the onset of spring growth, may well need attention. Good relationships with the local community are not fostered by leaving footpaths in an unwalkable condition. For their part walkers may seek alternative routes which can result in damage to fences and hedges, and even to crops.

...energy, waste and pollution

Monitoring gross fuel consumption is relatively simple, although the allocation of the costs to individual pieces of equipment requires more detailed record keeping. Regular servicing of vehicles can lead to savings in petrol and diesel fuel. The state of nay insulation can have a significant effect on the use (or waste) of heat. Records should be kept and monitored. Fertiliser spreaders and pesticide sprayers should be routinely calibrated and in-field performance regularly checked by operators. Necessary repairs should be carried out promptly.

Whilst some waste is inevitable it should be minimised. Achievement of the targets set in the farm waste management plan should be monitored to see that the guidance in the Codes of Good Agricultural Practice (Air, Soil and Water) is being followed. Disposal of surplus pesticide and used pesticide containers requires specialist treatment. Where this involves burning (together with other plastics) emissions of smoke must be strictly controlled. Other pollutants, such as effluents, smells and even noise, must be monitored and checks made to ensure that reduction measures are working effectively.

Water quality must always be watched carefully. Unlike most features on the farm, water is not self-contained. It passes through and may be used elsewhere for a variety of purposes., one of which might be the supply of drinking water,. Agriculture produces a variety of potential water pollutants: these include silage effluent, slurry and other organic waste, fertilisers and pesticides. Management to protect water quality starts with a general survey of its existing condition from which a long term management plan can be formed. Where fertilisers and pesticides are concerned this involves careful evaluation of storage, transport, use and disposal.

The water quality itself should be monitored by observation of the wildlife living in and around it. This will include a range of water-living insects and snails, together with floating and emergent plants. Guidance on the indicator species to look for can be obtained from the local Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group advisor.

Finally, routine checks should be made to ensure that staff are aware of the farm procedures for handling emergencies.

Auditing

Audit definition

A management tool comprising a systematic, documented, periodic and objective evaluation of performance.

 

Routine monitoring gathers information about what is happening on the farm. Auditing is the process of using this information to review achievement against the agreed targets and standards that have been built into the overall ICM plan for the farm.

Ideally a farm audit should be carried out annually, and the LEAF environmental audit is a ready made management tool designed for this purpose. Essentially it is a critical self-analysis of the impact of the farming practice on the surroundings. It answers the question 'what are we doing now?' and poses the questions 'what do we want to achieve?' and 'what do we need to change?' . This helps the decisions about what improvements or changes, if any, are necessary.

Total package traceability

As well as evaluation of existing practices and identification of areas for improvement, auditing carries a number of long-term benefits:

  • Improving economic performance;
  • Enhancing environmental protection;
  • Meeting insurance requirements;
  • Meeting legislative requirements;
  • Gaining commercial advantage;
  • Addressing public concerns:
  • Financial planning and control.
 

Integrated Crop Management seeks to ensure the economic, but profitable, production of crops using methods that conserve and enhance the environment. An audit provides a quantitative measure with which to demonstrate that this is being achieved. There are a number of benefits that arise from this. Internally, it helps in the achievement of targets and greatly facilitates the management of environmental protection. Externally, it indicates a quality standard and provides information about the business for insurers and bankers. Most of all, it provides reassurance for customers and the public that the business is carried out responsibly and professionally but also sensitively.

Conclusion

There are no absolute measures to what constitutes good performance in an Integrated Crop Management system. Every farm or holding has to draw up its own plans and set its own targets in which every decision has been considered and justified both economically and environmentally. Auditing progress against these targets is an essential part of management and helps to determine priorities for action. Setting standards and targets provides a means by which the benefits of ICM can be quantified and demonstrated. The process requires leadership, input of management time and commitment from everyone concerned.

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© University of Hertfordshire, 2011