“How could we capture on-farm innovations more effectively?”
“Which other sectors have innovations that could help agriculture”
“Could an independent broker help farmers by evaluating and highlighting new technologies?”
These are just a selection of the questions emerging from the round-table discussions at the Anglian Water stakeholder event last week, during which Agri-Tech East announced its new co-chairs for the Water for Agriculture Special Interest Group.
Delegates heard first from Henry Cator, Norfolk farmer and Chairman of the Association of Drainage Authorities, who elegantly and eloquently outlined the future challenges for integrated water management for agriculture. Key to this, Henry argued, is a return to a more complete form of husbandry of soils, and a culture of trust between the key players.
Case studies from Simon Bowen (AB Sugar), Guy Thallon (Produce World) and Chris Brown (Asda) demonstrated that there is no magic silver bullet, but better collaborations harnessing expertise in different crops and different geographies is critical.
Our collective social, economic and technological journey over the next 40 years needs to see a meeting of hearts and minds to earn and gain trust, new business models incorporating natural capital and ecosystem services, and the adoption of novel innovations which build on our existing knowledge of soil and rotation management.
Alongside the 80-odd delegates from farming, businesses and research, were pupils from Years 10 and 11 from Thomas Clarkson Academy in Wisbech who asked the panel why there is such confidence that now is the right time to build the successful collaborations, harness the technologies, and really make a difference to the way we manage water for food and agriculture. We have, they argued, had the relevant knowledge for many years, so what’s been the barrier to its implementation?
A fine question. As ever, the challenges of technology translation and adoption of emerging ideas and knowledge was seen as a barrier. But now really does feel like the time for change, with sustainability higher on the agenda than ever before.
Who pays for infrastructure supporting new innovation is also a key question – need to build multi-disciplinary consortia to go to funding agencies and build public-private partnerships to help deliver the necessary innovations needed for an integrated water management strategy.
Key actions emerging from the round table sessions were to explore the feasibility of giving real-time feedback to farmers about continuous water flow, not just at key strategic locations, and to help corral the funding agencies around longer-term major projects to help apply new innovations in the context of the existing knowledge and expertise. We hope this will form part of the work of our new Water for Agriculture Special Interest Group.