Michael Wagner, BASF’s business director of agricultural solutions in the UK, Ireland, the Nordics and Baltics says: “Scientific discovery is at the heart of agriculture, and the closer that discovery is to a farmer’s own land and practices, the more valuable it is
“While we know research and development is vital and respected by farmers as a mechanism for progress, our use of small-plot and laboratory-based discovery is considered too far removed from testing on farmers’ own fields, using their own kit and systems.”
It was this desire for farmers to conduct meaningful trials themselves which drove a transformational partnership to be formed.
Mr Wagner says: “Two years ago, we started the BASF Real Results Circle, a three-way alliance between ADAS, 50 progressive UK arable farmers and BASF; our collective mission has been to remove the variability commonplace in farm- scale agronomy trials.
“To prove one system or practice delivers more output, or profitability, than another, requires statistical confidence.
“By its very nature, an individual field on any farm contains a host of variations – some areas may lie wet and cold, while just metres away, the top of a hill could contain very little top soil and a lack of moisture or fertility.”
The Real Results trials utilise the Agronōmics system to give tramline assessments statistical validity. Within the network of 50 farmers, it has been used to determine the performance of one wheat fungicide programme with another.
Daniel Kindred, part of the system’s development team, says: “The Agronōmics approach, developed by ADAS and AgSpace with the British Geological Survey, brings a new and unique scientific credibility to the design, management and statistical analysis of tramline trials.
“Using Agronōmics’ new digital techniques for farm-based research, we have been providing the Real Results farmers with scientific support to help them design better trials as well as providing proper data analysis. This ensures they can have more confidence in the results than they would ever have had before.”
Over the past three years ADAS, funded by Innovate UK, has led the Agronōmics project, developing, with collaborators, the statistics and software to help run on-farm trials.
Dr Kindred says: “Agronōmics is about trial design, the way we analyse the data and about doing farm-scale research well. It is also about having a closer connection between researchers and growers, recognising innovative ideas are just as likely to come from growers as scientists.
“Using Agronōmics to design the BASF Real Results Circle trials will help remove variance. It is crucial to make sure the comparison is fair to start with and the two areas of the field chosen are comparable. We know there is spatial variation in fields and it is easy to come up with the wrong conclusion.”
At present, Real Results is working with farmers to test cereal fungicides, but it could be used Mr Wagner says: “Technology like this will be game-changing in helping farmers take meaningful decisions to help their business bottom-line.
“To put this to the test, we invited farmers to trial a Xemium®-based fungicide programme against their farm standard. Based on our own trials we had confidence a programme based on our products, Adexar® and Librax®, would out yield alternative wheat fungicides.
“What interested the farmers the most was how few of the 50 results were statistically significant. By using Agronōmics we determined that less than 20 per cent of the trials had achieved a statistically significant yield difference between the two spray programmes, yet the farmers said that they would have regarded any yield difference as a valid indication of performance.
“We plan to continue working with the 50 Real Results growers in a number of field-based research projects. Our aim is to partner with farmers to discover a lot more than simply the best fungicide – they will get great insight into unlocking yield potential, making it an invaluable way for them to eliminate some of the uncertainty in farming.
“For BASF, Agronōmics is a vital part of this work. It complements our wider investment in research and development, and importantly, it gives the Real Results community an opportunity to trial our new pipeline of products on their farms.”
Fostering collaboration between farmers and innovative agri-tech
FARMERS themselves are great innovators, whether creating a quick fix to a problem or implementing more long-term solutions. Combining this with scientific knowledge results in a powerful collaboration to create new technologies to benefit farming.
At Farm491, programme manager Dr Ali Hadavizadeh says: “We believe collaboration between scientists and growers is vital to ensure accuracy of technology and also to ensure farmers do not see technology as a barrier. We see several great scientific agri-tech ideas coming forward from innovative entrepreneurs, but they only succeed if sufficient research and development has been undertaken with the end user – farmers. “In our Inspiring AgriTech Innovation [IAI] bootcamps, we have the opportunity to help develop early- stage start-ups with fantastic agri- tech ideas, as we recently experienced again in our September bootcamp.”
Dr Hadavizadeh says: “Farm491’s network of connections in the farming industry means our members and IAI attendees can have access to the farms they need in order to really test their products and services in a real environment. This collaborative R&D is vital to ensure the technology being developed has been developed for farmers, and in a sense, by farmers.
“Farm491 is really excited to see the agri-tech companies coming forward through entering the Agri- Innovation Den competition. We hope to see solutions to genuine farm problems, showing clearly that the end user has been considered in all stages of development.”
For any agri-tech companies who have applied for this year’s Agri- Innovation Den, please get in touch with Farm491 for support in your getting pitch ready for the final.
AGRI-Innovation Den is the perfect platform for fledgling businesses looking to accelerate growth.
Launched by Farmers Guardian’s parent company AgriBriefing in 2015, the competition invites agricultural entrepreneurs to pitch their business ideas to a panel of industry judges and potential investors.
Six overall finalists will each win a unique agri-marketing and business advice package, worth more than £6,000, plus a chance to access a multi-million-pound funding pot.