Agri-Tech East at Norfolk Farming Conference

Published: 23 January, 2018

Opportunities for farming beyond 2020 is the key note for the Norfolk Farming Conference, and Agri-Tech East Director Dr Belinda Clarke, together with Professor Dale Sanders Director of the John Innes Centre will be looking at the opportunities for innovation.

Exciting farm-based trials 

Belinda will be discussing  a number of farm-based trials that are answering the questions of interest to farmers: –

Lettuce - Forecasting a barbecue weekendThe IceCam project – Forecasting is an area where a small improvement in accuracy could make a huge difference in profitability for farmers and producers.  For example the demand for iceberg lettuce is 24/7 so G’s Growers overgrow by 30 percent to make sure it has enough to fulfil its orders. It was after Agri-Tech East introduced the company to an ecologist at Microsoft that they began to look at new ways to solve the problem.

John Shropshire, Director of G’s Growers describes the outcome:  “Sophisticated monitoring technology has allowed us to identify key growth stages in the lettuce and also to collate data on weather and microclimate.

“We are now able to predict demand better than the retailers and to adjust our production schedules to mitigate against potential shortfalls, reducing waste.”

IceCAM model is now in commercial practice in the UK and Spain.

Digestate farm trial – Digestate, is a by-product of anaerobic digestion and of increasing interest to farmers as it promises a rich source of nitrogen and an alternative to artificial fertilisers, but how to use it effectively to ensure the maximum amount of nitrogen is available to the crop and Allpress Farms Anaerobic Digeterthe best way to prevent it escaping as ammonia gas is still under debate.

It was after discussions at the Innovation Hub at the Royal Norfolk Show last year, that it was agreed to set up a field lab as part of the Innovative Farmers’ network to investigate.

Agri-Tech East is coordinating a consortium of six farmers with the support of Cranfield University, NIAB and the Soil Association. It is the farmers that design the trial and establish what was important to measure. In this case, yield data will be collected and used to determine Nutrient Use Efficiency (NUE).


Use of sheep in arable rotation -Honingham Thorpe Farms is hosting a trial to demonstrate the benefit of introducing sheep into arable rotations for both the grazier and arable farmer

Flying flockAlthough the farm has rented permanent pasture before the trial is looking at a new approach as Jamie Lockhart, Farm Manager at Honingham Thorpe Farms explains: “Rather than just renting permanent pasture to the livestock farmer or growing a specific fodder crop for winter forage, the trial would look at the benefits to soil health and fertility of a grass ley (a mix of grasses, clovers and herbs) grazed and manured by livestock.

“If both parties achieved sufficient quantifiable benefit this could form the basis of new type of commercial relationship.”

Encouraging farmer involvement

The involvement of farmers in these types of trial not only makes the findings applicable in the real world but also means that the end users have a role in shaping and directing the study.

Belinda says: “It is an honour to be invited back to the prestigious Norfolk Farming Conference and to share a platform in the “Innovation Opportunities” session with the Director of the John Innes Centre, Prof Dale Sanders.

“Together I hope we can inspire wider farmer engagement in the R&D process – I’ll be giving some practical examples where farmers are participating in really exciting research and how that is leading to some real-world impact.”

Norfolk Farming Conference

The opportunities for innovation is a morning session at the Norfolk Farming Conference  to be held at the Norwich Research Park, Colney, Norwich, UK, NR4 7UH on 1st February 2018.