TRUE meetings coming up …

A workshop is planned for Ljubljana in November to iron out remaining issues in the design of the project’s multi-attribute modelling and a meeting at the European Commission in December as part of the first major assessment of the project. More to follow.

Australia 2018

Presently (October 2018) visiting Victoria Australia to see more of the forests and cropland in one of the worst droughts in recent decades. The River Red Gum trees by the Murray are magnificent (right). The crops, unless irrigated are at most a few inches tall and will give hardly any yield.  On the other hand, irrigated wheat can yield 10 t per hectare.

Visited Anne Timm’s permaculture garden,  to see her plants, paintings and scupture and also to hear from her about Howie Marshall’s work with the Nathalia Wildflower Group documenting the flora of the area.

European Society of Agronomy Meeting Geneva

Pete Iannetta gave two presentations on legume based ecosystems and socioecosystems at this years ESA congress in Switzerland, 27-31 August 2017. The ESA  web pages give some background to the congress One of the talks explored the disjunction between time sequences of legume decline in the late 1800s and the rise in fertiliser nitrogen usage in the mid 1900s. Article on these pages to follow.

EcoAgriTech event at Knock Farm Huntly 18 July 2018

The Royal Northern Agricultural Society is holding this EcoAgriTech event at Knock Farm near Huntly, courtesy of farmer Roger Polson. Gill Banks from Agoecology at the James Hutton Institute will be there demonstrating the Centre for Sustainable Cropping and in particular the action of worms in soil!

Our surveys in the Atlantic zone croplands show Knock Farm has high soil quality as measured by soil % carbon, water holding capacity, bulk density and related attributes. See A Baseline for Lowland Scotland’s Arable-Grass for detail and more from Roger Polson at Regenerative agriculture : short supply chains.

10 June 2018 – Open Farm Sunday at the James Hutton Institute Farm at Glensaugh

Held today at Glensaugh Farm, near Fettercairn. On the Hutton-LEAF web page and at Find a Farm (search ‘Scotland’, look for Glensaugh and click for details). Highlights of the day to follow …..

Living Field garden on the move after one of the coldest winters, May 2018

What a winter 2017-18. Below zero temperature and rock hard soil well into April. The blackthorn here hardly bothered to flower its white haze before the leaf came. Most annuals including the crops are a month late. The only things that grew well were the weeds in the medicinals bed – what an effort to get them out while not destroying the marsh mallow and viper’s bugloss. (Many thanks to the unpaid helper!) Gladys Wright and Jackie Thomson, with great help from the glasshouse team have grown on thousands of cereal plants and vegetables for this year’s displays, and they are now being hardened off. The small potato plot is being prepared this week for the annual display of the common and the rare.

So to promote the Garden and the wider Living Field project, its media-unsavvy team have now become Tweeters. For updates on the garden and its activities, see @TheLivingfield. This curvedflatlands web site now tweets @curvedflatlands to help connect the Living Field to global issues in sustainability.

Farmers and Nature: Promoting success and looking forward, Perthshire 18 May 2018

Inspiring it was, this meeting. Five people, who manage five very different pieces of land and do it with commitment and vision, told us their stories, in 15 minutes each, at this day meeting organised by Scottish Natural Heritage at Battleby Conference Centre, just north of Perth. They were David Aglen of Balbirnie Estate, Bryce Cunningham of Mossgiel Farm, Lynn Cassels of Lynbreck Croft, Roger Polson of Knock Farm and Teyl de Bordes of Whitmuir Estate. Running through these disparate experiences was a total acceptance that continually farming against nature won’t succeed and that land management is at the mercy of long commodity supply chains.

Today we heard from innovators and disrupters. None of the speakers was content to be controlled. Some rebelled with success against closure and abandonment. Further comment on the day and links to YouTube videos of the presentations can be found on this site at Regenerative agriculture : short supply chains.  Many thanks to SNH for the invitation. [Geoff Squire].

Highlands and Islands Agriculture post-Brexit, Edinburgh 14 May 2018

Farming in the regions of the Highlands and Islands is under pressure from a range of factors including low and uncertain productivity due to soil and climate, distance from markets, and declining technical infrastructure (e.g. veterinary services). Brexit may bring further pressures, one consequence of which could be abandonment of farmland and farming.The current status of the region and potential scenarios after Brexit were presented at a meeting in Edinburgh on 14 May 2018, organised by the Highlands and Islands Agricultural Support Group. The meeting delivered the strong message that any post-Brexit support mechanism should recognise that farming in the Highlands and Islands does far more than provide food and related products. It is essential to the provision of a wide range of Ecosystem Services including regulation of water and nutrients flows, conservation of biodiversity/habitat and continuation of the diverse and unique cultural landscapes created over thousands of years.

A report prepared for the meeting provides much of the basic information needed for action on these issues. A crucial major factor that needs far greater profile is the disconnection between the successes of Scotland’s Food and Drink industry and the far more limited income and opportunities for the people and land that produce food in this region. Major change is needed, specially to reconnect food quality chains, to pay fairly for ecosystem services from the public purse and to integrate of all forms of land use, i.e. not treat agriculture in isolation. Geoff Squire attended. Downloadable report: Post-Brexit implications for agriculture & associated land use in the Highlands and Islands. Highlands and Islands Agricultural Support Group. Authors: A. Moxey & S. Thomson, available at:

EU TRUE Project on legumes – Annual Meeting at Athens 16-20 April 2018

TRUE partners assembled in Athens to consider progress in the first 12 months of the TRUE project. And what progress there has been: active collaborations within each of the regional groups, legume-based case studies well under way, an active knowledge exchange programme in many member states and of all deliverables delivered and targets achieved. TRUE is turning out to be one of the best of the EU projects to date. Check for updates at the TRUE website. Attending from the James Hutton Institute were Pete Iannetta (overall project coordinator), Fanny Tran, Mark Young, Euan James, Marta Maluk and me of course (Geoff Squire). Issues discussed around Hutton presentations will soon be posted on this site.

Legume transitions at the Association of Applied Biologists, Glasgow 21-22 March ’18

Geoff Squire and Pete Iannetta will be presenting an invited paper at the meeting Advances in Legume Science and Practice  to be held on 21 and 22 March 2018. The talk will explore the transition matrix used in EU TRUE defining movement (a) along the quality chain and (b) towards greater sustainability. The argument goes that all crops and field practices open or close channels in the flow of energy and nutrients to different parts of the ecosystem and that sustainability can only be understood and managed by regulating these channels at a range of scales. Grain and forage legumes are valuable in that they open ecological channels to soil and food webs and nutritional channels to plant protein. Options are then explored for increasing legume production from its current very low base using a unique and innovative analysis based on the precise occurrence of peas and beans in crop sequences in over 100,000 fields. A synopsis of the talk with some diagrams and images is given on this site at Transitions to a legume based food and agriculture.

Plant prints and earth paintings

Tina Scopa’s work on plants and soil as both subjects and media for art is gaining wide recognition. The online journal and magazine Art Plantae published an extended article Plants that draw themselves on her use of natural materials, including her collaborations with the Living Field project.

Tina has an exhibition running from 3 to 30 March 2018 at An Tobar, a gallery and creative space on the island of Mull. The exhibition was also brought to wider attention by Art Plantae, in a post which asked the question: Can contemporary art reconnect society to the natural world?

Tina hosted a workshop on plant printing at the last LEAF Open Farm Sunday at the Hutton Institute in June 2017. She used local plants, pressed by hand to transfer their form and colour to paper that visitors (mostly children) could take away with them.

We are hoping to arrange a second workshop at this year’s Open Farm Sunday, which is to be held at Glensaugh experimental farm, near Laurencekirk between Dundee and Aberdeen on 10 June 2018.

The Science Behind Sustainable Resources, 27 February 2018

The exhibition currently running at the University of Dundee in the Beauty and Science of Plants will support a complementary event in the form of several short talks on the topic of Rethinking

Circular ikon: chain of influence to ecosystem services (Marion Demade, Geoff Squire)

Plants: the Science Behind Sustainable Resources. The date is Tuesday 27 February 2018 and the venue The Baxter Room, Tower Building, University of Dundee. Details at Eventbrite. Geoff Squire, Pete Iannetta and Ali Karley from Agroecology will be speaking about various methods devised to combine plant functions in fields and landscapes to create sustainable managed ecosystems.

Geoff will argue that several major periods of ‘crop diversification’, in which new crops are introduced or existing crops combined in different spatial and temporal arrangements, have occurred since the first farmers arrived here 5000+ years ago in the neolithic age. A major new ‘diversification’ event is needed in the next few decades to safeguard against future environmental and societal risks.

TRUE celebrates Global Pulse Day 10 February 2018

The growing of pulses, which are legumes such as peas and beans, was central to the agricultural improvement era after 1700, but for various reasons, their sown area declined in the UK and across much of Europe as mineral nitrogen fertiliser and legume imports replaced home production. In Scotland today, pulses occupy less than 1% of the area sown with arable crops. Pulses are making a come back, however, as their positive benefits to the environment and to human and animal health are increasingly realised.

The EU TRUE project is part of that legume resurgence. Here is some very welcome news from a survey carried out by TRUE partners in Portugal: PortugalFoods and Universidade Católica Portuguesa (

Within the last four years, products containing grain legumes such as beans, lentils or soybeans have registered an increase of 39% in Europe. Meat substitutes proved particularly successful with a growth rate of 451% on the European market. These are the results presented ahead of the Global Pulse Day February 10th 2018 with participation of the Europe-wide TRUE research project to boost the cultivation and utilization of grain legumes.  

A press release has been issued ahead of Global Pulse Day on 10 February 2018: Meat substitutes and lentil pasta: Legume products on the rise in Europe (pr_true_iyp_feb18). TRUE Knowledge Exchange and Communication, E-Mail:

MEMISE: Modelling agroecosystems for Environmental Risk Assessment 8-9 January ’18

A colleague from INRA, France – Antoine Messean – found the funding to invite specialists to a workshop in this topic, stemming from ideas we developed together in EU projects PURE (integrated pest management) and AMIGA (environmental risk assessment).  One of the main concepts

Part of DEXiES (Marion Demade & Geoff Squire)

explored the need to reverse the usual chain of impact from “innovation – life forms – ecological processes – ecosystem services” to a more rounded, holistic approach that first sets out the desired state of the ecosystem, then works out what innovations are needed to reach that state.

After various discussions in 2017, the workshop was  held in 8-9 January 2018 in Cambronne, Paris under the title: Modelling Agroecosystems and their relation to ecosystem services: contribution to Environmental Risk Assessment”. It brought together expertise from GMO, pesticide and plant health (phytosanitary) interests. Its aims were to share common interests, discuss methodologies in system modelling, identify gaps and opportunities and set up a network of competences for future collaborative action. Organisation and background document by Antoine Messean and Geoff Squire [More to follow.]

CAP Greening Group Scotland, report December 2017

It was good opportunity to be invited to join a group of people with interests in farming, food and the environment, collectively commissioned to review the current state and of CAP Greening measures and to explore options for the future. The consensus of the group, also widely held in Europe, is that the current Greening measures do not work, such that some radical change is needed. After several meetings in 2017, the findings were published by Scottish Government in December 2017. The summary report can be viewed and downloaded at CAP Greening Group – Discussion Paper. Further analysis of the report will be presented elsewhere on this site.

Tag cloud from JHI Greening Report Part 3

Before the CAP Greening Group began its activities in 2017, the James Hutton Institute was commissioned to carry out a comprehensive study of the state of agriculture and potential role of current Greening measures. A large part of the work involved a major exercise in mapping current and potential benefits of Greening based on data from the EU’s Integrated Administration and Control System (IACS). This major report was published in 2017: for links to the multi-part documentation, see CAP Greening Review on the SG web site; the section on mapping is Part 3 – Maps by Dave Miller, Doug Wardell-Johnson and Keith Matthews. Geoff Squire and Cathy Hawes contributed a chapter on benefits and limitations of proposed Greening measures to the agro-ecosystem. [GS: 26 February 2018]

TRUE project Atlantic cluster meeting  Peterborough 13-14 December 2018
Decision tree in DEXi software for designing and modelling systems

The EU TRUE Project operates three regional integrated networks (now named ELINs) that aim to bring together a wide range of players from the commercial and scientific fields to take forward legume science and practice. The three ELINs cover Atlantic, Continental and Mediterranean agro-climatic zones. This meeting – hosted at Pulse Growers Research Organisation PGRO near Peterborough covered Ireland, Denmark, the UK and nearby countries. Well attended, with vigorous, no holds barred, debate – in good faith – it was instructive to hear about the stringencies of commercial pulse seed production and distribution.

Pete Iannetta, coordinator of TRUE and member of the Agroecology group at Hutton gave summary presentations on the opportunities for legumes to slow and possible reverse some of the more damaging global effects on current high-input cropping systems. Geoff Squire went into the data analysis and modelling that forms the background to the design of new legume-based systems.

NASSTEC final conference at Kew 25-29 September 2017

Seeds of Anchusa arvensis and Thlaspi arvense, resin-embedded, sliced, false coloured

For much of next week, the NASSTEC researchers will be joining a range of other scientists and technologists working in seeds and regeneration at a meeting arranged to coincide with the end of the project. The Conference: ‘Seed quality of native species – ecology, production and policy’ will be held from 25-29 September at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK. The programme can be viewed at the Conference web site:

Best wishes to all the NASSTEC researchers for their presentations. Pete Iannetta and Tracy Valentine will be attending from the Hutton Institute. More on the EU NASSTEC project.

p.s. The images to the right are of several prepared in the late 1990s by David Crabbe from seed material presented by Gladys Wright and Geoff Squire.

Reconnecting with the Josef Stefan Institute, Slovenia 4-5 September 2017

With funding from the EU H2020 projects TRUE and Tomres, we can continue working with long term collaborators at the Institut Jozef Stefan in Ljubljana, Slovenia, specially Marko Debeljak and his co-workers Aneta Trajanov and Vladimir Kuzmanovski. The flight arrived at Ljubljana from Edinburgh via Amsterdam on Sunday 3 September 2017. Returning for the first time in 7 years, I saw again the distant Julian Alps and Slovenia’s small, green fields with their hayracks.

In Ljubljana, courtesy of gk-images

We had two full days, 4-5 September, working on one of the main problems in TRUE – the matrix between the transition steps and the pillars of sustainability – and on separate but related work on the interrogation of patterns in large datasets, in which the JSI excel. The transition steps express the way an innovation in food or agriculture, moves (or not) to commercial adoption and thence to markets and the consumer. TRUE will take a set of innovations in >20 case studies based on legume crops and foods and examine, first, how to ease the progression along the transition chain, and second, to assess the degree to which which each step is considered sustainable by criteria to be developed within the project. It’s a challenge!

It was not all work of course – there are few nicer things to do than taste local wine and food by the willowed banks of the river Ljubljanica on a warm evening. Many thanks to my hosts.

 And another one – Tomres inaugural meeting Turin 8-9 June 2017

The latest of our EU H2020 projects to hold its kick-off meeting is Tomres, one of a set of projects targeting an important plant family that gives us a range of foods and medicinals – in this case tomato, while related projects (in which I am not involved) direct their energies at potato and similar species.

The Tomres meeting was held 8 and 9 June 2017 in Torino in the Italian Piedmont, a city of vitality and assured substance: old buildings side by side with youth and fashion; livelier than most UK cities. The meeting was held in a pillared and colonnaded edifice. I can’t think of anything so grand in the UK university scene. A selection of phone snaps is shown right.

The Hutton was well represented – Pietro Iannetta (Pete) as workpackage lead, and sundry others, namely Mark Young, Philip White, Graham Begg, Chantel Davies and Geoff Squire.

There are some quite innovative opportunities in this project. For my own interest, there’s scope to combine with H2020 TRUE to advance the methodologies in data mining and decision modelling. Others will develop concepts and methods in N-balances and nitrogen fixation, multiple environmental stresses and databasing.

Perhaps more than anything, it was great to meet friends and colleagues from Greece and Slovenia whom we’d got to know in previous EU grants. EU money had given hitherto unrivalled opportunities to share field sites and ideas across the varied regions of Europe. This project lets us continue to build on these achievements.

[more to follow]

EU 2020 successes

The realisation is gradually filtering through of the major success by Agroecology colleagues in gaining new EU funded H2020 projects in 2017. The first to kick off is TRUE, the short name for Transition Paths  to Sustainable Legume-Based systems in Europe. The first meeting was held in Edinburgh on 19-21 April 2017. TRUE is one of two major projects coordinated by Agroecology people – this one by Pete Iannetta.

And when the meetings were over the remaining team relaxed in pleasant surroundings, as the photograph by Marta Vasconcelos shows. More on TRUE will be posted on this site at New EU TRUE projects holds first meeting.

Agroecology Brazil – Scotland

Strathclyde University lecturer and researcher Brian Garvey contacted Agroecology@Hutton to arrange for visitors from Brazil to see something of the experiments and farm. He has been “working with community organisations in Scotland and social movements in Brazil on agrarian reform and agroecology. We have with us Enedina Andrade who was a leader of the Landless Peoples Movement of Brazil for 20 years and involved in a women’s association in Sao Paulo establishing agroecology and agroforestry projects in an agrarian reform settlement.” Enedina is also interested in preserving and using native ‘creole’ seed, and by coincidence several NASSTEC researchers and students were in the area (see next but one item below). So quite a crowd met on Saturday 11 March 2017 at the Cairn O’Mhor winery cafe for lunch and then to Balruddery Farm to look at landscape management and the Centre for Sustainable Cropping.

It was quite a cold day for the visitors from Brazil, and Spain, Croatia, USA and Italy. The party included, as well as Brian and Enedina, Stephanie Frischie, Maria Marin, Erica Dello Jacovo, Antonio Teixeira, and Marcello de Vitis (all NASSTEC), and from the Hutton, Pete Iannetta (with family) and Geoff Squire. Good to exchange experiences and ideas. Also, very pleasing to see such interest in our work from people on the very front line of issues in food security and the fair and proper use of land.

Feeding the Cities

Talks and discussion under this topic occupied one of the Saturday sessions organised as part of the 2000m2 Fields of Enquiry project organised from Whitmuir Community Farm, south of Penicuik. The session was held on 25 February 2017 at the Lamancha Hub in the village of Lamancha, south of Penicuik. More on Whitmuir Farm, the project and past and future events can be reviewed through the links below.

The 2000 square metres comes from the unit of land that results by dividing the world’s arable (cropped) land by the number of people alive today.  The value in the UK as a whole, and in Scotland, is about 1000 square metres; and while Scotland has much more land area per person than, say, England or the Netherlands, much of that area is not arable – you can’t grow crops on it. It was a great day: great to meet and discuss with people committed to better food and farming. Thanks to Heather Anderson for the invite. Geoff Squire and Ali Karley from the James Hutton Institute presented talks on the day.

Links: Whitmuir Community Farm – a living learning space, 2000m2 Field of Enquiry workshop programme. See also

Native seed for restoration and regeneration

The 3rd annual meeting of the NASSTEC project was held between 31 January and 3 February 2017, hosted in Cordoba, Spain. NASSTEC funding supports and trains 11 doctoral students in the science and practice of seed sampling from the wild, seed biology and the production and marketing of native seed in regeneration and conservation. Pete Iannetta (project lead here) and Geoff Squire attended from the Hutton. Thanks to colleagues from Semillas Silvestres, a native seed company for hosting the meeting and its associated cultural events. More to follow..

Several students in the project have visited the Institute in recent months. Cristina Blandino, from Italy based at Kew, was here in late January to measure biophysical indicators of the soil from her collection sites. Visits by at least two other students are  scheduled before summer. Further information at  Native Seed Science Technology and Conservation Initial Training Network and €3 million project underway to enhance wild plant seed industries.

British Ecological Society December 2016 links …. and links ….. and links

An outing at the British Ecological Society – in fact a paper on the various benefits of intercropping, barley peas and and bean beer was taken on by a couple of press articles (thanks to Pete Iannetta):

Deutschlandfunk Klimafreundliches Brauen – Bohnen im Bier by Volker Mrasek; and Peas and goodwill: an ecologist’s wish this Christmas about pea barley intercrops at the Institute.

And it did not stop there – it was on Swiss Radio on 6 January, see “Bohnenbier” at SRF Wissenschafts-magazin, also by Volker Mrasek (and you might even hear an interview with Pete himself!!)

There’s bound to be more …..

[4 January 2017 … continuing]

Dundee meeting on Landscape and biodiversity 29-31 March 2017

A meeting of the International Organisation for Biological Control (IOBC) is to be held in Dundee 29-31 March 2017. Details at this link Landscape management for functional biodiversity. More later ….  [19 December 2016]

New legume products

Pete Iannetta and colleagues have for some years been aiming to trial and release new commercial products from grain legumes such as peas and beans. The beans4feeds project gave rise to a fish feed products made from locally grown faba beans. Later, trials successfully made bread from bean flour. Then, bean beer was brewed and bottled by Barney’s Beer of Edinburgh – the ale known as Tundra IPA, named after the bean variety used to make it.  The latest is that Pete joined Euan Caldwell from the farm in picking up an award at the 2016 Perthshire Chamber of Commerce Awards on 25 November 2016. For an example of our outreach activities on legumes, see Feel the Pulse on the Living Field web site. [1 December 2016]

Awards for magic margins

The Hutton arable farm near Dundee recently won a second award for its ‘magic margins’ – furrowed field margins, tied at intervals to reduce water runoff, erosion and pollution. The latest recognition came as Euan Caldwell collected the Contribution to Sustainability Award at the 2016 Perthshire Chamber of Commerce Awards on 25 November 2016. Earlier in the year, the farm was presented with the Innovation Award at the RSPB Nature of Scotland 2016 Award ceremony in Edinburgh. The margins have many other benefits – the broadleaf plant patches are a fine habitat for beneficial insects while the furrows prevent unauthorised driving of vehicles round fields.  Read more at the Hutton/LEAF web site and at Hutton Innovation and Excellence recognised at 2016 Perthshire Chamber of Commerce Awards. [1 December 2016]

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