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Open Farm Sunday 9 June 2013

Open Farm Sunday 2013 logo
Open Farm Sunday at the James Hutton Institute is the opportunity to see first hand how science is helping to balance food production with a sustainable environment

The James Hutton Institute site at Invergowrie, near Dundee took part in Open Farm Sunday on 9 June 2013. 


Picture made from grains in one of our Open Farm Sunday activitiesKen Kennedy from Dundee Astronomical Society writes: "All three of us enjoyed the Open Farm Sunday and, as you saw, we had a great deal of interest from the visitors. The time flew and I didn't realise it was nearly 4pm as I hadn't even looked at my watch for hours. Great to see the enthusiasm, and often remarkable knowledge of the youngsters.  Many of them were really absorbed by the information they were being given and often added their own questions." Ken sent us some photographs of noctilucent clouds and the aurora borealis which can be seen through the link given below.

Latest LEAF eBrief indicates record attendance nationally at Open Farm Sunday this year. Earlier, Val Goldstraw from LEAF emailed: "Open Farm Sunday is here! Over 365 farms are opening and we’re expecting a record number of visitors out on to farms to discover the story behind their food". See news and press releases from LEAF below.

Weather on the day: cloud, temperature >10C (not too warm not too cold), no rain. What could be better!!!

People make Open Farm Sunday

Here's list of those who helped on the day or beforehand. People are named once only even though some helped with several things.

Farm, preparations, tractor exhibits, tractor driving, parking: John Bennett, Jim Bennett, Derek Mathew, Iain Fleming, Paul Heffell, Stewart Ritchie, Graham Dargie, Jim Mason, David Young, Milan Rachici, Gabriel Campan, Mihaita Plotuna, Biser Showing how to pot on plants at Open Farm SundaMetodiev, Stefan Crefelean and Euan Caldwell.

Science exhibits. Phosphorus: Tim George, Jaleh Bahri-Esfahani, Carla de la Fuente Canto, Stephanie Duncan. Legumes – plant blood: Pete Iannetta, Euan James, Laura Lopez, Victor Martinez-Heredia. Soil erosion: Blair McKenzie, Kirsty Binnie, Lizzie Young, Tim Lewis, Ken Loades, Craig Baxter.  Climate Change: Laurence Ducreux, Celine Delabre, Jocelyn Delebury, Linden Forster, Agata Kaczmarek, Ankush Prashar, Vivian Blok. Physical Fruit: Carolyn Mitchell, Ali Karley, Ruth Wade. Quit Bugging Me: Nick Birch, Mark Looseley. Take home a Love Apple: Jim Wilde, Raphaelle Palau, Barbara Franco. Growing food sustainably: Cathy Hawes, Linda Nell. Glensaugh – farming on the edge: Donald Barrie. Photo competition: Mark Young, Lionel Dupuy. Pick and stick landcapes: Gladys Wright, Jackie Thompson, Linda Ford, Sandra Gordon. Dundee Astronomical Society: Ken Kennedy, Phil Rourke, Tony Hayes.Generally getting in the way, serving tea: Gill Banks, Geoff Squire.

Tractor tour guides: Graham Begg, Ailsa Smith, Ralph Wilson, Julie Squires

Events and communications: Pam Cassidy, Samantha Charman, Jane Lund, Kim Malherbe, Keira Stocks, Davina Wyper.

Science and technology at Open Farm Sunday

Demonstrating big machines at Open Farm SundayOpen Farm Sunday at the James Hutton Institute aimed to raise awareness of issues in sustainable farming. It showed how science and technology can help maintain or increase the yield of agriculture without causing permanent harm to the environment. The Institute is working with the farming and food industries to help achieve a balance between economic agriculture and environmental sustainability.

To realise these aims, science must understand how to balance the stores and flows of energy and matter in fields, farms and landscapes. Energy goes in as sunlight and fossil fuels (fertiliser, diesel, etc.). It is stored as carbon compounds in the soil and as living microbes, plants and animals. It is removed when crops are harvested and it is lost as soil erosion, greenhouse gas and pollution in water. The inputs of fossil energy and the losses to air and water are very damaging and costly and must be cut. The stores in soil and living things are being reduced by poor management and need to be repaired. The yields of most main crops in the UK have levelled since the mid-1990s after rising for most of the last century. It is not clear why. There is much to be done.

The exhibits at Open Farm Sunday show the complexity of the issues facing us over the next few decades.

Plant blood - nitrogen fixation in legumes

Photograph of restharrow in the Living Field gardenCrops need minerals such as nitrogen (N) to grow and yield. This mineral N pollutes air and water. Much of our N fertiliser and protein rich animal feed are imported. Plants called legumes (for example, peas, beans, clovers) fix nitrogen from the air. When a legume crop is harvested it leaves N in the soil, which will be used by the next crop. Growing more legumes would reduce pollution and imports.

Nitrogen fixation (from the air) is carried out by a combination of a legume plant and live-in bacteria. The bacteria infect plants through their roots to form a nitrogen fixing nodule. Inside the nodule, at the business end of fixation, is a pigment similar to that in animal blood. We are investigating how to increase the amount of nitrogen that can be fixed by a crop. We are also looking for new uses for legumes, for example in fish food and bread.

Activities: Demonstrations – squashing nodules, collecting “blood” in microcapillary tubes, extraction of a bulk nodule sample for leghaemoglobin (centrifuge use); nitrogen fertiliser usage – perspex tubes with a proportion of “fertiliser” (coloured sand) showing the average volume and cost of fertiliser needed for the different main crops compared to legumes; root nodules in dishes showing their different structures. Field work – taking nodules from legumes in the Living Field garden. Microscopy – legume root nodule structure – hand sections and also pre-prepared sections. Poster of legume roots and root nodules. Contact: Pete Iannetta

Phosphorus is essential for life

Demonstrating the importance of phosphorus at Open Farm SundayCrops need minerals such as phosphorus (P) to grow and yield. Phosphorus used in agriculture can be very polluting. Applying less phosphorus will greatly diminish the environmental footprint of agriculture. Phosphorus supplies globally are running out and too much is flushed down the drain.

New crop varieties are being investigated that use soil supplies of phosphorus more efficiently and plants have ways to release phosphorus bound in soil and take it up before it becomes pollution. New crop varieties are being investigated that use soil supplies of phosphorus more efficiently. We can all interact with the cycle of phosphorus to reduce its use and its waste.

Activities: ‘Feed the World’ interactive demonstration: scenario testing game for use of global resources – involves choice of resources and filling of population tubes with resources. Demonstration of nutrient deficiency symptoms – plants with and without nutrients. Posters of root and root hair traits for P acquisition. Time line of fertiliser use and agricultural development. Information on types and sources of sustainable fertilisers and scientific interventions at our disposal. Contact: Tim George

Building resiliance to climate change

Projected thermal image of a child's face at Open Farm SundayThe earth’s climate has changed many times in the past, but there is now serious concern that changes are resulting from human activity, notably the burning of fossil fuel. Climate affects the major ecological processes and the plants and animals in natural and managed ecosystems. 

Research is finding ways to make food production more resilient to change, better able to respond and recover from years that are hotter or wetter than average, for example. Topics include understanding how crop yields respond to temperature and rainfall and finding combinations of crops such as mixtures of varieties, intercrops and undersowings that will yield well in all years; and of how the ability of pests such as aphids to adapt to climatic shifts can be countered by integrated pest management (IPM).

Activities: Wall length poster and exhibits to explain the main drivers in climate change, the changes that are observed (temperature, rainfall, ice caps melting) and how it affects natural and managed environments. Demonstration – plastic animals and tractor as prompts to talk about impact of climate change on ecosystems and agriculture; food miles – where does our food come from? including map with Lego items to demonstrate fossil fuel; food basket to discuss food miles (local products versus food shipped for long distances). Contact: Laurence Ducreux

Quit bugging me

Winner of youngest age category in design a bug trap competition at Open Farm SundayPests and diseases cause major damage to crops and the world’s food supply. Climate change could make the growing of food harder – more pests and diseases and more plant stress, resulting in higher economic cost to grow more food for more people on the planet. Chemical pesticides are harmful to many organisms.

New systems are being investigated to reduce crop losses to pests and diseases and achieve long term, sustainable solutions using less pesticide. Approaches include new crop varieties resistant to pests and diseases, traps and lures to keep insect pests off crops, growing mixtures of crop varieties to reduce the spread of disease. The whole farm system and the surrounding landscape need to be managed, not just the crop field. Work in the multi-partner EU PURE project is helping to bring together all these approaches into improved systems of pest management.

Activities: Demonstration of insect traps and lures. Competition to design your own insect trap. Diseased barley plants and images of infection / other bugs on leaves. Poster of crop losses and carbon implications. Poster on resistance elicitors. Contact: Nick Birch

Plants get physical

The production of soft fruit in the UK is increasing as well as the demand for fruit free of pesticide residues. However, pests and diseases of soft fruit still decrease yield and quality. The emphasis on modern fruit breeding has been on increasing fruit quality Demonstrating how to wear a 'Visit a farm' shirtrather than pest and disease resistance, but varieties and breeding lines have been found to differ in physical plant traits that confer resistance to attack by pests and disease. 

Investigations are under way on the way the structures and physical defences put up by plants deter insects that eat them or lay their eggs in them. Many insects unseeingly attack plants underground, so root systems are as important in this as shoots; roots and shoots can also communicate with each other when one is attacked. 

Activities: Craft work for children – build a weevil. Demonstrations – microscopy,  looking at leaf hairs and observing varietal differences; look at roots growing and vine weevil larvae feeding on them; compare structural differences in rooting between varieties; live insect specimens; dig for larvae in soil; and ‘Where do you find the insects?’ – stick the insects on the correct part of the plant. Contact: Carolyn Mitchell

Grow a love apple

The food chain for vegetables can be environmentally costly and very wasteful. So much food is thrown away. People can cut the cost of fruit and vegetable production by growing it themselves. Growing your own fruit and vegetables is fun and something Showing how to grow-your-own at Open Farm Sundaythat everyone can do, in very little space with no special equipment. It reduces the environmental costs of sourcing fruit and promotes sustainability by saving seed from previous plants that have grown and yielded well in your conditions (garden, glasshouse, window box).

Activities: Show how to produce home-grown foods from plants using tomato as an example. Potting on for all ages – tomato plug plants that visitors can pot on and take home. Demonstration of open-pollinated heirloom varieties; of how people can save their own plant seed. Contact: Jim Wilde

The soil beneath our feet

Losses of water and soil as a ‘surface wash’ affect agriculture in many parts of the world. Among the causes are a bare soil exposed to rain, compaction of soil and poor soil structure caused by too frequent tillage, loss of soil carbon and damage to the micro-organisms that bind and glue soil particles together. Loss of soil leads to reduction of yield and eventually makes a field unfit for growing crops.

Demonstrating soil erosion at Open Farm SundayThere are many ways to reduce the erosion of soil. High tech methods such as satellite-guided tractors can limit the traffic across fields. The ‘tramlines’ on which tractors run across fields can be disturbed mechanically or sown with vegetation. Soil carbon can be replaced by adding organic matter such as composted urban green waste. Crops can be undersown with legumes so that the soil is not bare after harvest. Many of these solutions are being tested at the Centre for Sustainable Cropping (see next exhibit).

Activities: For children – firing water pistols at slopes with three types of covering – grass, hard surface and soil – to demonstrate the hard surface sheds water immediately, bare soil takes in some water but is soon easily eroded, while grass slows down the movement of water and prevents erosion. Demonstration of mechanism for measuring surface runoff of water from fields.Contact: Blair McKenzie

Growing food sustainably – the Centre for Sustainable Cropping

Intense crop production damages the environment, causing pollution by fertilisers and pesticides, loss of soil, and loss of functional biodiversity. Degradation will ultimately cause a reduction in crop yield and quality, so intense cropping as currently practiced is not sustainable in the long-term.

TPhotograph of viper's bugloss in the Living Field gardeno design an agriculture for the future, science must consider the whole production system over a long period of time. Techniques are being examined to maintain yield and reduce environmental harm at a long-term research platform on Balruddery Farm just outside Dundee. Alternative, sustainable management approaches are being applied as a package. The display at Open Farm Sunday 2013 concentrates on food webs in cropland.

Activities: Around the questions - why is biodiversity important in arable systems and how can it be maintained as part of a productive system? Demonstrations - allowing small numbers of weeds to coexist with crops supports the farmland food web, which in turn controls pests and improves crop pollination; studying food webs by grouping organisms into ‘feeding’ types (herbivores. predators, etc.); mechanisms by which some beetles and parasitic wasps control pests on the crop. Posters of Centre for Sustainable Cropping. Contact: Cathy Hawes

Farming on the edge - Glensaugh Research Station

The need to produce food cheaply and efficiently was recognised when Glensaugh began its existence as a research station in the late 1940s. The slogan 'More Food from the Hills' drove research into how production could be increased in marginal environments.   This need may once again arise as intensive management systems relying on energy intensive inputs come under financial pressure as those inputs become scarcer and more expensive.

Talking about 'farming on the edge' at Open Farm SundayThe aim is efficient production of food and fibre. Inputs of purchased feed and fertiliser are minimised while maintaining economic levels of output in the form of sheepmeat and wool. Farming is therefore extensive and the sheep which are well adapted to their moorland environment. The dynamics of the production system are largely driven by the natural environment and what it can support. A small amount of nitrogen fertiliser is still used, but it has been displaced over the years by clover rich grassland, where we take advantage of clover’s ability to fix nitrogen from the air.

The farming operation is underpinned by our stewardship of Glensaugh’s managed natural environment, which is mainly moorland grazing. Glensaugh’s habitats are being diversified by planting new woods which benefit both livestock and wildlife, and create a sink for atmospheric pollution.

Activities: Demonstration and discussion about farming at the opposite end of the input spectrum to the operation at Balruddery; all production systems need raw materials like nitrogen, which can come from natural as well as industrial sources; using more input than the system can assimilate will cause efficiency to suffer and cause pollution; the role of legume plants in food production is important in livestock farming as well as in arable farming. Poster, aerial photograph and map of Glensaugh showing different land uses and land types. A pen containing a Scottish Blackface ewe and a pair of lambs. Contact: Donald Barrie

Pick and stick - learn about biodiversity, habitats and landscape

Image of a bird made of pick and stick at Open Farm SundayPlants, microbes and animals are essential for the farmed landscape to work sustainably. The landscape needs a range of habitats (wet areas, hedges, trees, meadows) as well as cropped fields to allow these living things to flourish. The different parts of the landscape need to be connected in such a way as to allow living things to move around. Unfortunately, habitats have decreased in variety and parts of the landscape have become disconnected from each other. 

Approaches to improving landscape for wildlife include putting in hedgerows, beetle banks and field margins which take away little resource from the crop; reducing cropping intensity and unnecessary inputs; increasing the diversity and connectivity of landscape; allowing small populations of non-aggressive weedswithin crops. The Institute’s farms are establishing wildlife corridors and creating habitats. Research is modelling how landscapes can be configured to reduce the spread of pests and diseases, yet allow beneficial wildlife (for example, beetles and spiders, mice, birds) to find food and shelter and move around. 

Activities: Craft activity (pick and stick) for children to encourage interest and appreciation for landscapes. Children choose a cut-out from one of the three different landscapes depicted on a large board. They then decorate this cut-out using various materials and then stick the cut out on the landscape board. Exhibit showing a large amount of different foods containing cereals such as wheat, barley, oats and rye. Demonstration of a milling stone (rotary quern) used to make meal and flour out of grain such as oat, wheat and barley. Contact: Gladys Wright

Photography competition

Demonstrating how to look cool and enigmatic at Open Farm SundayThis exhibit and activity has similar background and aims to ‘pick and stick’ described above but uses digital photography. The idea of a photography competition is to stimulate the perception of what is important in the landscape and to draw attention to habitat and biodiversity. 

The Living Field garden is designed to demonstrate different habitats – crop field, pond and ditch, hedge and tree, meadow – and different types of useful plant, including cereals, vegetable crops, medicinals, dyes, herbs and nitrogen-fixing legumes. It aims to encourage interest in the habitats and biodiversity of the rich farmed landscape of eastern Scotland. 

Activities: Photographic competition – three age groups under 12 years (primary), 12-18 years (intermediate), 18 years plus (adult). Cameras were supplied and members of the public asked to take several pictures of differing themes (habitats and plant types) in the Living Field garden. One of the photographs will be chosen by the photographer and be entered into a competition for the best photo of that age group. Photos will be judged at a later date and the winning contestant notified. Contact: Mark Young

Talking about the night sky at Open Farm SundayDundee Astronomical Society

And our friends from Dundee Astronomical Society were with us again, talking about noctilucent clouds, the aurora borealis (images below right) and other wonders. These and other images offered are on the DAS Living Field  web page. Unfortunately there was no direct sun to enable visitors to try out their sun scope. Website and contact: dundeeastro.   

General information on the science exhibits: Gill Banks. Text edited by Squire.

News, media and press releases from LEAF


Once again Open Farm Sunday has received extensive coverage in trade, regional and consumer media - from benefit led case studies placed to encourage registrations, through to mentions across national broadcast channels in the run up to Open Farm Sunday.

This week got underway with Open Farm Sunday featured in Saturday’s Independent ‘Recommended’ column. A story looking at how an increased number of families are visiting farms was then placed with the Sunday Express and also featured in a number of regional publications. Meanwhile a story looking at how shoppers are seeking out British food, run in conjunction with IGD, was featured in the Daily Star, on the MSN and AOL websites, as well as both regionally and on a number of trade websites. On Thursday Open Farm Sunday was featured as one of Martin Lewis’ deals for the week on ITV Daybreak and on Friday morning it was mentioned by both Radio 4’s Farming Today and Zoe Ball on the Radio 2 breakfast show.

Of course, no Open Farm Sunday would be complete without the hundreds of pieces of regional coverage promoting participating farms – as well as being featured as part of the Archers storyline once again on Radio 4.

Social Media

All Open Farm Sunday activity has been supported by extensive social media activity and the conversations have been wide reaching and significantly up on 2012. Followers to the Open Farm Sunday Twitter feed (@openfarmsunday) have increased by 38 % (1,650 new followers) since the start of the year and Facebook fans ( are up by 150 %, with 750 new likes. Make sure you share your Open Farm Sunday experiences online over the weekend and use #OFS in all your tweets. The whole event would not happen without your support – a huge thank you to you and your colleagues.

Open Farm Sunday reception at Cereals, 10am, Wednesday 12 June, stand no. 10-J-1010. Frontier Agriculture has kindly agreed to host a reception for OFS host farmers and sponsors,on Wednesday 12 June. Coffee and pastries will be served from 10am. Caroline Drummond will be thanking everyone for their support at 10:15am. We hope that you and/or colleagues are able to attend and meet some of our Open Farm Sunday host farmers. (Ed. - if anyone from the Institute is attending the Cereals Event, go along for your coffee and pastries and give our best regards to all at LEAF!)

And finally ....  

With all good wishes from the Team at LEAF. 

Annabel Shackleton | Open Farm Sunday Manager
LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming)
T: 024 7641 3911 | M: 079 1246 3151 | E:| Twitter: @openfarmsunday


Euan Caldwell (farm)

Geoff Squire (science exhibits)

And don't forget - Open Farm Sunday 12 June 2011

The previous Open Farm Sunday at the Institute was held on 12 June 2011. A great success enjoyed by all. 

Displays and demonstrations were based at the Invergowrie site near Dundee. The weather held. The farm staff laid out a selection of tractors and other machinery, tractor tours took visitors on a round of the crops and fields, the science groups rolled out 13 distinct exhibits and the Living Field put on extra demos, including one on bread making from heritage cereals. Among others joining us on the day was Dundee City Council's Discovery Compost who process urban green waste from gardens and parks into nutrient- and carbon-rich compost, and who had free samples to hand out to visitors.

The main theme for the day was Scotland’s Sustainable Croplands – examples of the science and technology that will support our croplands through the 21st century and beyond. The welcome mix of ages, included primary school children and the very young, makes OFS a very special day for all Institute staff involved.

The little girl in the photo to the right is surely a future farmer-naturalist! More information on the science displays, together with downloadable leaflets and handouts, can be found on the Living Field website. 

Learning & Resources

Printed from /learning/leaf/ofs2013 on 04/03/24 12:03:27 PM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.