This article was first published in the April issue of British Farmer and Grower magazine. Written by Clemmie Gleeson.
Despite not being able to meet in person, farmers involved with AHDB’s monitor farm programme have continued sharing knowledge and ideas via online webinars.
Across the country, 28 farms specialising in cereal and oilseed production, are now at the forefront of the AHDB Farm Excellence Programme and signed up for three years as ‘monitor farms’. Three are based in the North East and the farmers involved commit to hosting visits and sharing detailed information about their farm business which is also the subject of discussion.
Knowledge exchange is central to the concept of monitor farms, so the current restrictions on gatherings has called for a re-think and a move to online meetings – along with the rest of the world. But while everyone involved misses the face-to-face interaction that on-the-ground meetings offer, the virtual webinar events scheduled over recent months have led to a 40% increase in the number of people taking part.
This is good news for AHDB’s North East cereals and oilseeds knowledge exchange manager, Rose Riby, who’s charged with making sure the programme is a success. “We take great care when selecting our monitor farms,” she says. “Suitability is as much to do with the farmer as their farm.
“If there is diversity on the farm that is helpful, but we look for somebody who is open to discussing what they are doing and how that could change. Some farmers have clear objectives about what they want to get out of the programme, others don’t, and that is fi ne too.
Labour and machinery reviews are carried out alongside soil tests to provide baseline fi gures. Adding in an initial carbon audit is also being considered. Throughout, the farmers are asked to keep track of costs via the AHDB online benchmarking tool, Farmbench.
“The group comes to me with possible scenarios – it could be anything from tackling blackgrass to cultivation experiments – and I invite experts to discuss the technical side before the group agrees a way forward,” added Rose.
Ideas for visiting experts are usually the result of requests, including one session organised after a member raised the issue of wellbeing. “Farmers are terrible for working long hours and not taking holidays, so this was useful ,” Rose says. “But overall, the best attended meetings have been on subjects like carbon, soils and ELMS.”