On-farm research opportunities pitched to arable farmers

Thursday, 7 March 2024

Laura James and Matthew Brearley, members of the AHDB Knowledge Transfer team for cereals and oilseeds, outline an initiative that matches farmers with on-farm research opportunities.

AHDB’s position in the agricultural landscape provides unique opportunities. For example, we are often approached to get farmers involved in many research initiatives (from the weird to the wonderful).

With about 25 commercial farms in our Farm Excellence network (Monitor Farms and Strategic Cereal Farms) at any given time, it is easy to see the appeal, especially as each one is fronted by a passionate and curious host farmer. The network is a potential hotbed for innovative research.

Farmer Marketplace

A key success of the network is the farmer-led, farmer-driven agenda. It is a ‘ground-up’, not a ‘top-down’, initiative. So, we have piloted a Farmer Marketplace initiative that honours this key principle.

Much like TV’s Dragons’ Den, researchers rapidly pitch opportunities to farmers. The participating farmers retain the power to opt ‘in’ or ‘out’ of any opportunity, deciding which trials they want to implement on their farm.

The AHDB Knowledge Transfer team triages the opportunities first, picking the ones most likely to appeal. We also expect the projects to release the main findings freely to all farmers.

From this subset, we invite each researcher to pitch their project. The short (5-minute) pitches are expected to clearly outline the work, the requirements (including costs) and the benefits. Following each pitch, attendees ask probing questions.

To test the approach, we invited farmers and steering group members from across the Farm Excellence network to attend the inaugural meeting in January. A total of 15 farmers (including all Strategic Cereal Farm hosts) attended to hear three pitches.

Research pitches

Project: Climate Farm Demo (climatefarmdemo.eu)

Pitchers: Stephen Briggs and Ian Knight – Abacus Agriculture

Patter: This pan-European network (28 countries) tackles climate change. It helps the agricultural sector adapt to the impacts and contributes to carbon-neutral strategies. Participating farms get a free climate mitigation plan, tailored by a Climate Smart Advisor. Each farm is required to host two events across the project, but these can tie in with another meeting. Across the UK, the researchers need to recruit 130 farms (1,500 across Europe).

Project: Leguminose (leguminose.eu)

Pitcher: Jerry Alford – The Soil Association

Patter: This pan-European project takes an evidence-based, farmer-led approach to develop viable production systems where legumes are intercropped with cereals. The project needs farms to host simple strip field trials. In return, the farmer gets free grain, soil and other analyses, peer-to-peer support and some compensation.

Project: Framework for improving nitrogen efficiency (FINE)

Pitcher: Clive Blacker – AgAnalyst

Patter: Very high levels of nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) are theoretically possible. However, knowing how to improve NUE without an unacceptable hit to grain yield or protein is a challenge. This project provides the expertise and exploits the tools needed to optimise NUE in wheat. It is about the right amount of nitrogen, in the right place, at the right time. Commercial field sites are required to test treatments (which include prescribed rates), with access given for soil and crop analyses.

Next steps

At the end of the pitches, the researchers left the meeting to permit open, frank and farmer-led discussions about the value of getting involved.

The Farmer Marketplace was well received with several participants interested in learning more and potentially getting involved. We will keep an eye on developments and the success of the approach, reporting on those projects that have been included in Monitor Farm and Strategic Farm activities.

The beauty of connecting research with our on-farm network is that it provides ready-made opportunities to showcase the work with many farmers, through our regular on-farm events. It also unites fragmented research in a well-established network.

The potential to widen out the Farmer Marketplace to all levy payers is being considered. If you have a research project to pitch to farmers, please get in touch (laura.james@ahdb.org.uk). There is no schedule for the Farmer Marketplace, with the event being driven by the availability of farmer participants and suitable projects.

Image of staff member Laura James

Laura James

Senior Knowledge Transfer Manager – Cereals & Oilseeds

See full bio

Image of staff member Matthew Brearley

Matthew Brearley

Knowledge Transfer Officer – Cereals & Oilseeds

See full bio

David Jones, Strategic Cereal Farm East host, said:

"The Farmer Marketplace was very worthwhile, with good speakers. I hope it happens again. I’d also like to hear from those who got involved, to talk about the successes and the failures."