Sustainable agriculture challenges identified

Inconsistent messaging from policy and a lack of transparency have been named as the main challenges that farmers face when it comes to practicing sustainable agriculture.

Farmers and researchers were invited to an event held at Harper Adams University recently, which had the aim of identifying whether research can address the everyday problems and barriers that farmers face.

Part of this was an opportunity to have a say on research priorities to ensure that future work is applied, to improve day-to-day management and enable sustainable practice.

Director of the Centre for Evidence Based Agriculture (CEBA) at Harper Adams University, Dr Nicola Randall, said: “Following the event, we were able to summarise all of the discussions to highlight the main outcomes of the meeting.

“Policy was the most highly-ranked challenge in sustainable agriculture, due to inconsistent messaging, legislation and a lack of transparency.

“Delegates also highlighted the challenge of economic sustainability – maintaining profitability when faced with issues such as extreme weather conditions.

“We discussed the importance of thinking laterally and having the ability to look backwards as well as forwards when finding solutions to challenges, as existing research may help.

“Everyone agreed that sharing knowledge and best practice is an extremely useful tool whether it be networking, research knowledge transfer, or consultancy. It is important that we share our knowledge globally as well as within the UK.”

During the event, bite-sized potential research solutions to challenges in sustainable agriculture were presented on subjects such as waterproofing wheat crops to prevent drought damage; exploiting the behaviour of pests to implement biopesticide control as an alternative to broad spectrum insecticides; and using cameras and lasers to target weed control and reduce reliance on herbicides.

The subject of what sustainable agricultural actually is was raised, with delegates concluding that it means different things to different stakeholders, but overall combines social and economically viable food production with environmental protection.

Delegates also discussed the benefits of longer-term research projects for a duration of up to 15 years, given that most research projects only receive funding for much shorter periods of time.

The event was funded by the British Ecological Society and hosted by the CEBA at Harper Adams University. Attendees included representatives from LEAF, AHDB and the Woodland Trust, as well as Shropshire dairy farmer, Tim Downes.

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