Support for farmer innovation vital to cope with Brexit change

On Thursday (29 September 2016) over 80 people working in agriculture got together at the first ever Innovative Farmers national event held at Sheepdrove Organic Farm & Eco Conference Centre. The event saw discussion on how practical innovation by farmers is helping businesses across the industry to become more profitable, sustainable and resilient, and what support they need to do this even better.

Tom MacMillan, director of innovation at the Soil Association, said; “So many of the steps farmers are taking to improve soils, tackle problem weeds and boost animal welfare are home-grown, where they’ve taken a risk to try things out and the research has come after to see why it works. The point of Innovative Farmers, which shares that risk and learning, and brings more research rigour, is to help do this faster and better. Strengthening this capacity to innovate will be vital in helping farming cope, and thrive, through the changes after Brexit.”

The Farmer Innovation Day showed the range of challenges that farmers and researchers are teaming up to tackle, with examples from over 40 practical ‘field labs’ completed or underway through Innovative Farmers. Participants included farmers and researchers from across the country, spokespeople from the NFU, ADAS and Defra, and partners in the Innovative Farmers network.

Clive Bailye, TWB Farms and Soil Farmer of the Year 2016, spoke at the event about his transition to zero tillage and improving soil health. Clive said; “I know that with the right tools I can make sure my farm is viable. Innovative Farmers is a vital step in helping give farmers the power and tools needed to do this.”

Lara Clabburn, Anglia Farmers, said; “Sharing information and learning from each other is invaluable. Through the Innovative Farmers network we have been able to link up with more farmers, widen the trials and find even more options for our field lab investigating alternative methods for terminating cover crops to reduce reliance on glyphosate.”

Daniel Kindred, senior crop physiologist at ADAS said; “We need to get better at learning from experience. Working with farmers gives us potential to create a ‘new science’. We know that the conclusions we might make at a research trial scale might not apply when you get to a farm environment. I think we really need a way of doing these experiments at field scale.”

Speakers at the event covered

– Antibiotic reduction: Peter Plate of Endell Vets shared how he has worked with a group of dairy farmers in a field lab to test a tool for the rapid-typing of mastitis infections, to reduce the use of antibiotics on types of infection that would not respond.

– Controlling problem weeds: David Michie of Soil Association Scotland shared news from Scottish field labs tackling rush infestations without herbicides, and Lynn Tatnell from ADAS spoke about comparing a wide range of methods to control creeping thistle.

– Minimum tillage: Andrew Woof, an organic arable farmer in Oxfordshire, shared his research into a roller crimper for developing a min-till system that does not rely on glyphosate.

– Agroforestry: Tim Downes, an organic livestock farmer in Shropshire, talked about the benefits of growing trees on his farm – for livestock and soil.

– New crops: Stephen Jones of the British Quinoa Company shared the steps he has taken to develop and refine British production of a new crop.

Innovative Farmers, part of the Duchy Future Farming Programme, is looking for farmers to get involved in new field labs that are getting started, and invites farmers and advisors with ideas for new projects to get in touch. To find out more about Innovative Farmers: www.innovativefarmers.org

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