Farming out new ideas

An innovative new project is bringing farmer-led research to the fore, says Rothamsted’s Will Macalpine

Farmers are by nature great innovators. They continually strive for new and better ways of doing things – and when it comes to their own land, have an unrivalled level of knowledge and expertise.

But there can be barriers to innovation. Trying something new usually involves financial risk.  Yields may suffer if a new idea doesn’t work. Farmers may also lack the skills needed to design robust experiments that can deliver meaningful results.

We wanted to support the spirit of discovery that drives so many farmers by taking away some of the risks and by providing them with specialist support.

FarmInn is a new initiative designed to catalyse innovative on-farm research projects. Together with our funding partner AHDB, and a broad coalition of industry representatives, we want to provide real-world scientifically proven solutions to challenges faced by UK farmers. Ultimately, we want to have a direct, positive and lasting effect on business efficiency, productivity and sustainability.

Thought up, co-designed and run by farmers, all selected FarmInn projects receive up to £3000. So the scheme enables farmers to rigorously test new ideas whilst de-risking the process of trying innovative practices. Farmer-focused projects bring together Rothamsted Research scientists and expertise with UK farmers to provide real-world worked examples of scientific research which can be implemented on farms throughout the UK and maybe even further afield.

We recruited our first batch of scientist farmers earlier this year and have been bowled over by their enthusiasm and creativity.

One project, for instance, is looking at the potential for cross drilling in wheat. Another, led by Hertfordshire farmer Ian Pigott, is investigating starter fertiliser requirements of crops in conservation agriculture systems

“For farmers to thrive, we need to experiment with practical innovations on our farms,” Ian told me. “That’s why I was so keen to get involved. With scientific help in experimental design, I can try out new ways of crop management that are directly relevant to how I farm that will benefit not only myself but other arable growers too.”

Rothamsted Research has a strong reputation for world leading agricultural research. This is performed on our experimental farms and in our cutting-edge laboratory, glass house and controlled environment facilities. Linking Rothamsted Research scientists with farmers who are pro-active and innovative builds better relationships and creates a dialogue to influence future research projects. We provide free access to Rothamsted’s researchers and facilities, and pair each farmer with an expert in the field

FarmInn projects are planned and conducted in a robust scientific manner. Collecting data in this way will hopefully deliver the best chance of providing compelling evidence to answer the farmer’s original questions. Furthermore, we are committed to sharing our results through on-farm demonstrations, blogs, videos and press releases. There will also be an annual knowledge exchange event to present results from the project. This event will also provide a platform for networking and to attract and encourage new FarmInn proposals.

We will make sure the findings of this work are shared as widely as possible, so that these real-world, proven solutions can be implemented on farms throughout the country.

Visit our stand at Croptec 2019 to find out more, or online at:

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