A partnership of farming groups has launched a new network to support innovation by farmers.
The Innovative Farmers network recognises many of the best ideas in farming come from farmers, who trial, test and analyse, often in isolation.
The not-for-profit network matches farmer groups with some of the UK’s leading research organisations, including Rothamsted Research, IBERS and Harper Adams. It will provide professional support, a web portal where groups share their learning, and access to a dedicated research fund.
The partners 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.
At the heart of the network are ‘field labs’, where farmers meet in small groups to test and develop new ways of tackling a shared problem or opportunity.
The network is part of the Duchy Future Farming Programme, funded by the Prince of Wales’s Charitable Foundation. The Soil Association, Organic Research Centre and Waitrose have been partners in the programme and are now joined by Leaf (Linking Environment and Farming) and Innovation in Agriculture.
Tom MacMillan, director of innovation at the Soil Association says: “More than 750 farmers and growers have been involved in the Duchy Future Farming Programme in the last three years, running field labs on 35 topics. The field labs really struck a chord. We asked these farmers how we could make them even better and Innovative Farmers is the result. This doesn’t simply recognise that these farmers can share know-how – whether they’re farming to organic, Integrated Farm Management or other principles – but that they can actually pioneer new approaches together.”
Organic farmer John Pawsey of Shimpling Park Farm, Suffolk, has been involved with the Duchy Future Farming Programme since its inception in 2012. He says: “I have enjoyed being a part of a group, meeting with other farmers, and sharing our knowledge.
"Often the field lab inspires discussion and investigation of techniques which I might not have thought about. For instance, I re-introduced livestock onto my arable farm to help with a weed problem, black-grass. Some of the farmers in the group who attended the field lab meetings helped me work out how to manage the sheep in order to get the best performance from them and my crops.”
As well as inviting farmers to join, the network is encouraging farm advisors to get involved as group coordinators, accessing benefits for themselves and the farmers they work with. The first 20 coordinators have already received their free training.
The Innovative Farmers research partners are: ADAS; Duchy College; the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience at Coventry University; the Food Security and Land Research Alliance; IBERS; Harper Adams University; Rothamsted Research and the University of Bristol.