Farmer-led research gets Royal backing

The Duke of Cornwall joined 150 people in Cornwall on Tuesday 19 July as they celebrated a “remarkable” 10 years of farmer-led research with the Innovative Farmers network.

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Celebrating 10 years of on-farm innovation

His Royal Highness saw demonstrations from farmers and scientists who brought findings to the farming community from field labs that are pioneering sustainable practices – such as using satellite data to manage grasslands and combining trees with farm animals in agroforestry.

Now in its 10th year, Innovative Farmers is celebrating the success of more than 120 field labs that have placed farmers in the driving seat of agricultural research, with the network connecting with around 12,000 UK farmers.

Supported by the Prince of Wales

Hosted by Trefranck Farm in Cornwall, the Prince met farmers, government advisors and influential farming organisations like ADAS, the Organic Research Centre and the Royal Veterinary College to hear how farmer-led research bolsters innovation into nature-friendly practices.
Addressing the event, His Royal Highness said he was “very proud” to have been able to support Innovative Farmers and that the event was a “wonderful opportunity” to see so many people doing “remarkable things all over the country”.

He said: “It’s been fascinating to see the results of these field labs and I’ve learned quite a lot, and I’m particularly interested, I must say, in living mulches, which is the next interesting and very critical area I think which I shall be particularly fascinated to see, and in agroforestry and silvopastoral possibilities.”
He added: “I’ve always felt that nature herself has so many of the answers and that if we read the book of nature carefully enough, we discover that she’s created this astonishing, miraculous really, waste free circularity. And that’s what I hope we can all build on, because technology can’t provide all the answers, the combination of the two, the precision technology and so on, and these extraordinary lessons we’ve learnt from nature can be hugely beneficial and very powerful.”

Living mulch field lab took the spotlight

During the event, the Duke of Cornwall spoke to triallists from several field labs, including one that is investigating “living mulch”. This is a practice of growing a permanent understory of clover that crops can be sown straight into, reducing the need for ploughing, weedkillers, and artificial fertilisers.
Living mulch field lab triallist James Alexander said: “His Royal Highness was really interested in the living mulch trial and he said he likes how if we do something, then he can look at the results and learn from where we’ve gone wrong. And that’s what Innovative Farmers is all about – learning from each other.

“We all do trials year after year, whether it’s by accident or intentional, but never with quite the support that Innovative Farmers gives you. It’s great that farmers can do research they want on their own farms with the knowledge of getting actual scientific results with the help of the partners.”

The benefits of farmer-led research

The event showcased results from the last decade that have shown that farmer-led research could improve the health of thousands of animals, eliminate tonnes of harmful chemicals, and save the farming industry millions of pounds.

Triallists and co-ordinators shared insights on nature-based farming solutions – such as using woodchip to tackle weeds, predatory insects to fight pests, and using on-farm lab kits to cut antibiotic use in dairy cows.

Perspective of Innovative Farmers partners

It also offered the chance to share with farmers Innovative Farmers’ involvement with Farm Net Zero, a National Lottery Climate Action Fund supported project that will be collecting data from farms including Trefranck Farm to showcase how farming can contribute towards the UK’s net zero goals.
Addressing His Royal Highness and the crowd of attendees, Soil Association CEO Helen Browning described 10 years of Innovative Farmers as a “extraordinary achievement”.

She said: “More than anything else, the thing that I celebrate about Innovative Farmers is that it has got farmer-led research on the map. The success that you see when farmers come together to solve their challenges – together with a little bit of support and some rigour from the researchers – and you get rapid results that are taken up really fast. The hundreds and thousands of farmers and research institutes who have come together to make this programme such a success have shown us that when we work together, we can produce our food and farming in ways that are brilliant for profitability, for climate, for nature and ultimately for human health.”

Sir Ian Cheshire, Chairman for the Prince of Wales’s Charitable Fund, said: “We have been delighted to give our support to Innovative Farmers and it has been a pleasure to watch the network grow in strength over the last 10 years. His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales is very supportive of the Innovative Farmers network and that comes from his deep-seated conviction that we have to make fundamental change happen within farming.”

Jake Pickering, Partner and Senior Manager for Agriculture at Waitrose and Partners, said: “Our customers understand that when they buy a Duchy Organic product, some of that money goes into this research being done within the Innovative Farmers network. That means that people who care about where their food comes from can have a direct impact on this really important change that these farmer-led research trials are driving. It has been an inspiring decade and we look forward to seeing what comes next from pioneering British farmers.” 

Read also: Wicked Leeks: Prince Charles ‘fascinated’ by living mulch

See: A decade of field labs

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