Field labs provide evidence to support change

By Rachel Holdsworth - 16 February 2016

It is so mild this year that everything has sprouted early and in some places blackgrass is already above the crops. Across the region farmers will be experimenting with new regimes such as pre-emergence herbicides, later sowing, even grazing by sheep, but how will the learning points from this be shared? The Innovative Farmer initiative has been designed to do just this, and will be discussed at Agri-Tech East Pollinator on Tuesday 23 February.

One farmer comments that there is a real need for field labs: “It is difficult to get proof in agriculture. Lots of things are accepted practice but have few trials or quantifiable evidence to support them. We need practical methods supported by evidence. Proof is more useful than received wisdom and makes it easier to manage a farm effectively. We need simple, tested methods that actually help on real farms, even if it’s not as sexy as GPS guidance or Bluetooth connected machines. There’s not a lot of support for more traditional farming.”

This is one of the benefits of the new Innovative Farmer initiative being discussed at the Pollinator, which aims to bring together groups of farmers with a similar interest to encourage them to share experiences and provide scientific trials ‘in the field’ under real world conditions. At the meeting ‘Pipettes and Ploughs’ will be farmers who have participated discussing their experiences and scientists talking about how to make the results meaningful along with new findings from two of the ongoing Field Labs.

Caroline Drummond MBE, Chief Executive of LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) is to chair the meeting. LEAF develops and promotes Integrated Farm Management through the setting up of demonstration farms and management tools for farmers, and Caroline identifies recent research into cover crops, integrated pest management and soil management, particularly with regard to minimum and zero tillage as of particular relevance.

She says that the meeting will bring “new thinking, relevant research and innovation." She explains: "From our activities we have found that both farmers and researchers have benefited from closer interaction questioning, experimenting and pushing the boundaries to improve performance and bring about change. I am looking forward to the debate.”

Speaking at the meeting will be: Professor Jon West, Senior Research Scientist at Rothamsted Research; Ian Pigott, managing Director of Thrales End Farm; and Liz Bowles, Head of Farming for The Soil Association.

Dr Belinda Clarke, Director of Agri-Tech East, says that bringing the science into the field is beneficial not just for the farmers but also the researchers: “There are considerable variables in the field that are not apparent to scientists working under perfect conditions in the lab. To increase resilience in crops we need more opportunities to experiment with a wider range of approaches.

“Hearing from both the farmers and the scientists at this meeting will be very interesting.”


For more information about “Pipettes and Ploughs: Taking the Lab to the Field” see the Agri-Tech East website

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