When was the last time you communicated with someone outside of your sector – this morning, yesterday, last week? By the very nature of farm working I don’t need to go anywhere, meet anyone or talk to anyone from one day to the next. However, I find that doing so, communicating with other likeminded people, seeing different landscapes and different approaches to the same problem, is like a breath of fresh air; it inspires me to think differently about what I do and motivates me to be innovative.
I would say there is a big gap between science and practical application on farms. Innovation is already happening on farms and in the lab so why are is there not a greater conversation happening between the two? From a farmer’s perspective, it could be because (and I say this from experience) the new thing doesn’t work as expected, its unreliable, or it’s costly to maintain – so many times have I been disappointed. However, it’s time that science and farming worked closer together to help develop systems that do work.
In 2017 I travelled to USA to meet researchers from Virginia Tech and Penn State University to understand how agricultural research is done, who funds it and more importantly how they disseminated information to industry. Although we think we are similar, I noticed our cultures are quite different; for example our attitudes to governments, legislation, and the media. In the USA, the approach of governments to support agriculture, research and education is slightly different but the same challenges exist that we experience in the UK. Many of the conversations I had were around: succession planning; attracting young people to agriculture, research and education; how to disseminate information and encourage change in practice. I discussed with one colleague from Virginia Tech Farm Extension Service how they could begin to overcome these. ‘You form a small group of likeminded people, they meet at each other’s farms, lab, office or place of work, they show each other what they do and share ideas. And the best way of making this happen is with a BBQ and beer’.
The Morley Agricultural Foundation (TMAF) also recognises the need for greater collaboration across all stakeholders within agriculture, closing the gap to drive innovation. This is where Agri-Tech East’s Young Innovators Forum comes in. As one of the projects TMAF have supported for the last 3 years and continue to do so, it aims to bring together farmers and scientists to understand more about each other’s worlds, current innovation and challenges, as well as bridge the gap between research and production. Inspiring events are held across the East visiting working farms, agricultural businesses as well as university and research laboratories. You don’t have to be young; they welcome those young at heart and keen to bring innovation to their work. The hope is that in many years from now people will be talking about a visit or meeting they went to that changed their thinking, changed the direction of their research program or changed a business strategy. When I first spoke to Belinda Clarke, Director of Agri-Tech East, about YIF I asked her how she was going to measure success. Her answer? ‘when I get invited to a wedding’. To find out more about the upcoming visits please sign up to the YIF newsletter.
David Jones, The Morley Agricultural Foundation
Every year The Morley Agricultural Foundation financially supports agricultural research and education projects within the East of England. The need for independent unbiased research does not diminish even with the prospect of fewer acres being farmed and with fewer people employed. New, well proven techniques are needed to enable farmers to cope with new crops, new economic conditions and the implications of extensive new environmental regulation. In particular, TMAF funds research into arable crops and related education project in East Anglia.