New Innovative Farmers network launches

Launch of Innovative Farmers project
Scottish Rural Network

A new network to give farmers research support and funding on their own terms has launched.

The Innovative Farmers network recognises that many of the best ideas in farming come from farmers. The not-for-profit network matches farmer groups with some of the UK’s best research teams, including Rothamsted Research, IBERS and Harper Adams. It provides professional support, a web portal where groups share their learning, and access to a dedicated research fund.

More than £800,000 will be awarded to farmer groups by 2020, allowing farmers to investigate techniques that will really make a difference on the ground. The network will also help groups apply to the new European Innovation Partnership, unlocking further funding.

The Innovative Farmers network is part of the Duchy Future Farming Programme, funded by the Prince of Wales’s Charitable Foundation, which is also partner of the Future Farming Scotland programme. The Soil Association, Organic Research Centre and Waitrose have been partners in the programme and are now joined by LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) and Innovation in Agriculture, ensuring that the new network represents farmers and growers across the industry.

Caroline Drummond from LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) said:

"We are committed to the delivery of more sustainable food and farming. We welcome the opportunity to be involved in this forward looking partnership which will build on the strength of each of the organisations involved in order to expand our reach and bring about change. We are pleased that Innovative Farmers will have an active role in Scotland and enable farmers to meet and share ideas. The work of the Innovative Farmers partnership will complement LEAF’s active network of Scottish Demonstration Farms and Innovation Centres, recognising the importance of building on what already exists and developing those opportunities further."

At the heart of the network are ‘field labs’, where farmers meet in small groups to test and develop new ways of tackling a shared problem or opportunity.

Liz Bowles, head of farming at the Soil Association said:

"More than 750 farmers and growers have been involved in the Duchy Future Farming Programme across the UK in the last three years, running field labs on 35 topics. The field labs really struck a chord. We asked these farmers how we could make them even better and Innovative Farmers is the result.

"We’re excited to be joined in this by LEAF and Innovation for Agriculture, so our partnership represents progressive farmers across the industry. This doesn’t simply recognise that these farmers can share know-how – whether they’re farming to organic, Integrated Farm Management or other principles – but that they can actually pioneer new approaches together."

The network focuses on finding sustainable answers to farmers’ practical problems, from managing weeds and pests with fewer chemicals to testing more sustainable animal feeds. Field labs have already tackled topics from reducing antibiotic use in dairy farming to methods in controlling blackgrass, with farmers driving investigations. The field labs were inspired by the ‘farmer field schools’ that started in Indonesia, now a movement that has involved more than 10 million farmers in teaming up as groups to learn and solve problems together. The new network adapts this approach to suit the UK’s most innovative farmers.

David Finlay, Cream O’Galloway, Rainton Farm, Castle Douglas, Scotland said:

"I think people come along to the field labs because they are interested in a sustainable and economically viable system. A lot of farmers are going direct to industry for help when they should be working with advisors and other farmers."

As well as inviting farmers to join, the network is encouraging farm advisors to get involved as group coordinators, accessing benefits for themselves and the farmers they work with. The first 20 coordinators have already received their free training.

Farmers, researchers and coordinators can find out more and join the network at