The aim of the project is to assess the environmental impact of horticultural and agricultural cropping and to improve the understanding of how the environmental burdens from those different sectors affect a local area. This will be achieved by undertaking small scale, but detailed, case studies within two different geographic areas of mixed agricultural and horticultural production. The areas chosen will also contain smaller areas of intense horticultural cropping.
Horticulture covers a wide and diverse range of crops, including field vegetables, top fruits, soft fruits, protected crops and ornamentals, grown both outside and under protection. The area occupied by horticulture, excluding potatoes, is one-twentieth of the land occupied by cereals, and covers under 1% of the total UK agricultural area. Because of its small area, there is an assumption that horticulture has minimal impact on the environment, and hence that there is little to be gained from reducing impacts on the environment compared to other sectors of agriculture.
A previous project (WQ0101) used environmental footprinting to assess the generic environmental impact of twelve different horticultural and agricultural crops and showed that although the environmental impact of the horticultural sector at the UK scale was indeed minimal, some horticultural production, notably the protected sector (glasshouses and polytunnels) and field crops, with high nitrogen fertilizer requirements, had environmental impacts at field scale that were greater than arable crops.
This project will undertake detailed case-studies in two different parts of England to assess the actual environmental impact. Different geographic areas, which support contrasting cropping will be chosen. Within these areas, we will identify a continuous block of land, under multiple ownership and growing a representative selection of crops, that lies within a single catchment area. We estimate that the area of crops under investigation within each geographic area will not exceed 1500 ha and we suggest the most likely areas are:
1. Field based vegetables (Lincolnshire)
2. Salads and protected crops (West Sussex)
Within each of the two areas, we will collect data, at field scale, on the use of: direct and indirect energy use, pesticides, fertilizers and water. Using this data and the methodology similar to that used in WQ0101, we will construct field scale environmental footprints.
The individual field scale environmental footprints will describe the environmental impact of all the horticultural and agricultural cropping within the selected geographic area and will be aggregated, presented and discussed in the following categories:
1. By crop - the environmental impact of individual crops or livestock types with the assessed area.
2. By sector - the proportional environmental impact of horticulture v arable v livestock within the assessed area
The results will also be mapped to clearly shows the areas of high and low environmental impact in relation to the water courses and catchment boundaries.
Defra's land use statistics will be used to extrapolate the results up to catchment scale and will be discussed with reference to other Defra initatives, e.g. Nitrate Vunerable Zones and Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF).
A report will be produced which analyses the environmental impact within each selected catchment. The two catchments will be compared and the results discussed. In consultation with the local CSF officers and the Horticultural Development Council we will make recommendations to reduce environmental impacts.