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ADAS Talisman and Scarab Projects

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A new book published by Defra

Arable farmers are constantly faced with the challenge of maintaining their profitability against increasing production costs and falling returns. The environmental demands on farming have also increased as the wisdom and effects of modern, intensive, farming methods have been questioned. Consequently, environmental protection issues are now a major feature of crop production policy.

This week, a 416-page book has been released by Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to provide an in-depth account of the results and conclusions of the TALISMAN (Towards A Lower Input System Minimising Agrochemicals and Nitrogen) and SCARAB (Seeking Confirmation About Results At Boxworth) Projects, which have provided a unique and valuable insight into the economic, agronomic and ecological consequences of reducing agrochemical inputs in arable crops.

The book is the culmination of reporting activities on the TALISMAN and SCARAB Projects and follows-on from the initial release of findings in a publicity pamphlet published in 1998 and a detailed review of results and conclusions during the TALISMAN and SCARAB Conference held at Churchill College, Cambridge in December 1998. The book now draws together a unique and comprehensive account of the TALISMAN and SCARAB designs, methodologies and results, together with the key implications and messages for the arable farming industry in the UK.

Six years of field work in TALISMAN demonstrated that the lower-input use of pesticides in conventional arable crops can be more profitable for the farmer; across all 66 crops taken to yield, the average gross margin of the low input regime was 2% (£12/ha) greater than the conventional regime. There was scope to reduce the use of all types of pesticides, especially fungicides. However, reducing herbicide inputs led to an increase in the weed burden at some sites, indicating that herbicide use must be managed carefully to avoid long-term increases in weed populations. In contrast, reducing nitrogen fertiliser levels by 50% reduced gross margins by 9% (£64/ha) overall, indicating that a more precise and flexible approach to reducing nitrogen use is required to maintain profitability. TALISMAN has shown that low-input strategies are not necessarily suitable for all sites and crops and that extra knowledge and management skill are vital to determine the scope, extent and financial viability of operating at lower levels of pesticide and nitrogen use.

In SCARAB, a generally re-assuring picture emerged as there were few adverse long-term effects of pesticides on non-target organisms including insects, spiders, earthworms and soil microbes. Following the application of some broad-spectrum insecticides, the numbers of certain species of non-target insects and spiders declined, but recovery usually occurred within the same season. Longer lasting effects were noted only in one of the eight study areas, where the numbers of some species of soil-dwelling insects known as springtails were reduced by the application of a broad-spectrum insecticide. Their numbers showed little evidence of recovery even two years after insecticide use had ceased.

The TALISMAN and SCARAB Projects form an important foundation of economic, agronomic and environmental information of value to policy-makers, environmentalists and farmers alike. The combined results of the Projects have built solidly on the findings of the Boxworth Project1, and provide a wealth of information to contribute to the development of sustainable farming systems which aim to maintain profitability with minimal environmental impact.

Notes to editors

The TALISMAN and SCARAB Projects were major multi-disciplinary field studies commissioned by MAFF in the early 1990s with the objective of answering many of the policy-driven questions surrounding the impact of reducing agrochemical usage and to investigate the ecological impact of pesticide use in arable crops. The MAFF-funded Boxworth Project broke new ground during the 1980s by being the first long-term, farm-scale project to investigate the ecological impact of intensive arable farming practices. TALISMAN and SCARAB subsequently evolved as follow-on studies to the Boxworth Project and were designed to examine in greater scientific detail many of the issues raised by the Boxworth Project.

TALISMAN and SCARAB complemented each other in their aims and objectives. TALISMAN focused primarily on the economic and agronomic issues of reducing pesticide and nitrogen fertiliser use, whilst SCARAB was driven by the need to examine in detail many of the questions surrounding the ecological side-effects of pesticides.

The Projects were managed and led by ADAS Limited (ADAS). Several other leading research organisations including The University of Southampton, the University of Wales, Bangor, the Scottish Crop Research Institute and the The Food and Environment Research Agency, Sand Hutton also worked alongside ADAS as scientific partners in the TALISMAN and SCARAB Projects. The Projects were sited at contrasting locations on ADAS-run farms at Boxworth (Cambridgeshire), Drayton (Warwickshire), Gleadthorpe (Nottinghamshire) and High Mowthorpe (North Yorkshire). Work commenced with a year of baseline studies in 1990/91, leading to six cropping years of the main study period (1991- 1996) which were subsequently followed up with two years of recovery-phase studies, the field work of which was completed in autumn 1998.

Reference details for the book are as follows:

Young J E B, Griffin M J, Alford D V, Ogilvy S E. [eds]. 2001. Reducing Agrochemical Use on the Arable Farm: the TALISMAN and SCARAB Projects. London: Defra. 416 pp. ISBN 0-85521-002-8. Price £25.00, plus £4.00 postage and packing.

Copies of the book may be obtained from:

ADAS Boxworth

Phone: 01954 267666

Fax: 01954 267659


ADAS Press Release, February 2002

Further information

Updated 2016-05-09