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Putting farmers at the heart of farm research

Putting farmers at the heart of research

You don’t get many giggles on Farming Today – 5:45AM is a bit early for frivolity. But the other day I laughed. We were launching Innovative Farmers, which recognises farmers’ ingenuity and gives them research help and funding to tackle the big challenges in agriculture – the presenter asked if that stopped at creative uses for baler twine. I laughed as I’ve certainly seen it, but that’s actually just where it starts.

Since 2012, we’ve witnessed first-hand how systematic, sophisticated and professional many farmers really like to be in testing and developing new approaches. We have been helping them run ‘field labs’, where they meet in small groups to tackle a shared problem or opportunity. They have addressed topics from reducing antibiotic use in dairy farming to methods in controlling blackgrass, with farmers driving the investigations.

More than 750 farmers and growers have been involved in the last three years, running field labs on 35 topics. This – the Duchy Future Farming Programme – has been funded by the Prince of Wales’s Charitable Foundation, and involved the Organic Research Centre and Waitrose alongside the Soil Association.

The field labs have really struck a chord. We asked the farmers involved how we could make them even better and Innovative Farmers is the result.

We’re now able to match farmer groups with some of the UK’s best research teams, including Rothamsted Research, IBERS and Harper Adams. We’re providing professional support, a web portal where groups share their learning, and access to a dedicated research fund. We aim to award more than £800,000 to farmer groups by 2020, allowing farmers to investigate techniques that will really make a difference on the ground. The network will also help groups apply to the new European Innovation Partnership, unlocking further funding.

I’m very excited that the partnership behind this now includes LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) and Innovation in Agriculture. With The Farmer Network, the Organic Growers Alliance and the Pasture Fed Livestock Association also supporting this, the network now brings together farmers and growers throughout the agriculture.

We’re inviting farmers and researchers to join the network, and encouraging farm advisors to get involved as group coordinators, getting benefits for themselves and the farmers they work with. The first 20 coordinators have already received their free training. So if this sounds like you then please get in touch by emailinginfo@innovativefarmers.org.

You can find out more and join the network at www.innovativefarmers.org.

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