British Growers Association, the UK’s leading horticultural body, has welcomed the launch of ‘Innovative Farmers’, a new network to support innovation by farmers and growers, putting growers firmly in the driving seat of horticultural research.

Created by an unprecedented partnership of farming groups, the new ‘Innovative Farmers’ network, launched at the Houses of Parliament on 12th October 2015, provides growers with research support, funding and it matches growers with some of the UK’s best research teams, including Rothamsted Research, IBERS and Harper Adams University.

The not-for-profit network is part of the Duchy Future Farming Programme, funded by the Prince of Wales’s Charitable Foundation, and partners include The Soil Association, Organic Research Centre, Waitrose, LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) and Innovation in Agriculture, to ensure the new network represents farmers and growers across the industry.

Jack Ward, chief executive of British Growers Association, said: “We wholeheartedly welcome the new ‘Innovative Farmers’ initiative which gives growers additional research support and funding on their own terms.

“Maintaining a globally competitive industry is a constant challenge for UK growers. Many overseas competitors have significant advantages through favourable exchange rates and reduced labour costs. This new initiative will supplement the high level research with grower focussed projects which can address current and future opportunities at the farm level. 

“Innovative Farmers supports this principle and will extend the role that R&D can play at a very practical level, something which British Growers Association truly welcomes and supports.”

‘Innovative Farmers’ provides professional support, a web portal where groups share their learning, and access to a dedicated research fund. The partners aim to award more than £800,000 to Innovative Farmer groups by 2020, allowing growers 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.

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

‘Innovative Farmers’ is sponsored by the Produce World Group and Anglia Farmers. It is supported by the Farmer Network, the Pasture Fed Livestock Association and the Organic Growers Alliance. And its research partners are: ADAS; Duchy College; the Centre for Agroecology, Water & Resilience at Coventry University; the Food Security & Land Research Alliance; IBERS; Harper Adams University; Rothamsted Research; and the University of Bristol.

Tom MacMillan, director of innovation at the Soil Association said; “More than 750 farmers and growers have been involved in the Duchy Future Farming Programme 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.

Guy Thallon, Head of Research, Development and Innovation at the Produce World Group, said: “Sharing knowledge is vital to making our food system more sustainable. At Produce World Group we believe that Innovative Farmers provides an effective platform for developing new approaches and are excited to get our grower groups up and running.” 

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

Farmers, researchers and co-ordinators can find out more and join the network by clicking here.