THIS autumn, a series of workshops hosted by the National Farmers Union (NFU), the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF) and Innovative Farmers, among others, will ask farmers what research would be most useful to their business, now and in the long term. They will hear views from all major agricultural sectors, across a wide diversity of farming systems.
Each of the groups hosting the workshops will send out invitations through their own networks but any farmers or growers who would like to participate can visit the website of the Centre for Effective Innovation in Agriculture (CEIA), which is coordinating the process, for a full list of workshops and to get in touch with the organisers directly.
Professor Tom MacMillan, Elizabeth Creak Chair in Rural Policy & Strategy at the Royal Agricultural University (RAU), and one of the organisers, said, “The need for innovation in agriculture has never been more urgent.
“Our industry is grappling with rapid changes in policy and trade, heightened volatility, and climate and nature crises. Research is vital to help understand these challenges and find ways to address them. As researchers, there is certainly more we can do to make sure our work is truly relevant on the ground.”
The workshops are supported by organisations including Innovate UK and the Agricultural Universities Council (AUC), which brings together 16 UK universities that carry out research in agriculture.
In May, the AUC published its joint research strategy setting out how the universities would work together to help address challenges facing farming. Top of the list was working more with farmers and others at the sharp end, to understand their priorities and shape the research agenda.
Dr Helen Ferrier, Chief Science Advisor for the NFU, is part of the commissioning group for this work and will be hosting workshops. She said, “It is so important that the voices of farmers and growers are heard when research strategies are developed. These are the people who will be turning scientific knowledge into practice in their businesses and they therefore play a key role in enabling Government funding to show a return on investment.
“The positive impact of innovation in our sector can be extremely significant if the research and development and knowledge exchange system works well. Priorities do shift over time and I’m really pleased that the Feeding the Future work to identify research needs, which was first published in 2013, is being updated again now, hearing from a wide range of farming sectors and systems.”
Rebecca Swinn, Manager of Innovative Farmers which is running one of the workshops, added, “Farmers are used to experimenting and adapting to changes in climate, farm payments and supply chain demands. No one knows their land better so I’m pleased to see researchers valuing their knowledge by working together to set research priorities.
“This collaborative approach can benefit every stage of the research process, giving researchers the opportunity to ground truth their work, make an impact and add some scientific rigour to on-farm trials.”
The findings from the workshops will help shape research and innovation priorities for the whole industry. The AUC will use the outcomes, in the context of global goals for sustainable land use and food systems, to develop a shared list of priorities for researchers to focus their work on.