What we're doing
The programme will comprise six strands of activity, which will be fully integrated with the Soil Association’s existing best practice programmes, standards and producer support, and with the Organic Research Centre’s (ORC) Participatory Research and Demonstration Network:
At the heart of the programme are farmer-led learning events, open to all (both organic and non-organic), which will appraise innovative agroecological approaches, share existing best practice and sharpen participants’ problem-solving skills. Taking inspiration from the farmer field school approach, pioneered among low-input farmers in Asia and Africa, these will help farmers address the practical challenges they face and identify where research could help. The field labs will be hosted by farms that are already trialling new practices, and will see the same group of farmers meet several times through the production season to monitor progress and discuss alternative approaches. More about the field labs...
Priorities and partnerships
The research needs identified in the field labs will feed into a formal process of reviewing research priorities in agroecology, involving farmers, researchers and other people with a stake in farming, led by ORC. Through its Participatory Research and Demonstration Network, ORC will broker partnerships between research centres and farmers to pursue these priorities. We will also track relevant research developments and communicate these to farmers.
The themes identified by ORC will shape the priorities for a small new research fund. The fund will support farmers to get involved in research projects and, where appropriate, pilot work to provide a launch pad for larger research projects.
The research priorities will also feature in broader reviews of the challenges facing each major sector (e.g. dairy, poultry, horticulture) and the contribution that agroecology and organic farming can make to addressing them. These road maps will be developed in consultation with farmers, growers and other stakeholders, and will set out shared aspirations and action plans. They will provide the framework for reviewing and improving SA standards to ensure they promote continuous improvements in agricultural, environmental, animal welfare and social performance.
Farm data network
Soil Association Certification's IT and inspection infrastructure, currently collecting data from 2,400 farms certified to Soil Association standards. We aim to develop this resource to help evaluate the impact of the field labs and enable participating farmers to benchmark their performance.
Policy and communications
We want the work we do on the ground to inform and inspire policy relating to research and innovation for sustainable agriculture. We will seek to engage policy makers and leading scientists in the programme, providing opportunities to visit participating farms and learn about the issues alongside us.