Our aim in Farm-PEP is to support farm-centric knowledge generation and sharing, and connect the industry.
There will be no point creating Farm-PEP if it can't be viably sustained into the long term. We are therefore keen to create a revenue generating business model as soon as possible to cover the costs of managing, moderating and developing PEP. We'd strongly prefer not to be dependent on seeking future public or charitable grant funding, but we recognise that there are major opportunities for PEP to do public good which would be appropriate for public funding.
Our immediate opportunity is to provide an online space where any organisation or initiative in agriculture can tell people that they exist and what they do, like having a stand at an agricultural show. To drive initial engagement and content we would make this free to public sector and charitable organisations engaged in knowledge exchange. It will be important from the outset to differentiate commercial from independent content, but just because content is from a commercial source does not make it valueless - farmers have to decide which commercial products to buy from which commercial providers on a daily basis. It therefore makes sense to welcome commercial content in PEP but be clear that this must be paid for by PEP membership. Membership fees could be scaled to depend on the size of the business (from £100 to £500?), including a page to describe the business, link to website and connect to staff users, with potentially additional fees for pages on company projects & products. By paying the membership fee, organisations become Partners.
Rather than seeking to engage with a wide number of companies and users from the outset with relatively small fees, we could seek to begin with larger sponsorship from a smaller number of corporate organisations. This could provide more time to develop depth on Farm-PEP around a smaller number of priority themes, so that the platform is more fully developed and tested and seeded with sufficient useful information before it is properly launched. This could allow PEP to focus from the outset on getting to become a source of trusted knowledge.
Becoming an integral part of the What Works Centre for Agriculture
AHDB has recognised Farm-PEP as a critical component to a recent proposal to Government to support a 'What Works for Agriculture' Centre, which the National Food Strategy has recently called for a £200M endowment from Government to support. We fully support this endeavour and can see clearly how Farm-PEP complements What Works and vice versa. We await the outcome of the current proposal, but we are not delaying any plans to push on independently.
Providing solutions for delivering support for the new Defra R&D Innovation funding
As part of its post-brexit Agriculture Transition Plan Defra has earmarked £280M to support Innovation in agriculture, and is committed to adopting farmer-led and collabotative approaches to this. Three schemes are being planned:
- Industry-led syndicates – connecting farmers and growers with researchers and agri-food businesses to work on industry specific challenges
- Themed collaborative R&D – brings together food businesses and researchers on more fundamental research
- Accelerating Adoption – support for smaller-scale, farmer-led R&D projects to demonstrate the viability of new and existing technologies.
Each of these schemes could be helped by developing the Farm-PEP platform, in terms of forming consortia, knowing what else is going on to avoid reinventing wheels, updating people with project progress and ultimately sharing results and messages. A call is expected for the larger strategic R&D in October 2021.
Defra is represented on the Farm-PEP Steering Group and we are in discussions with Defra & UKRI. We would obviously like Farm-PEP to be recognised as a vehicle for supporting farmer-led Defra R&D, ideally with investment to develop specific functionalities required.
Developing a model to democratise the funding of knowledge distillation and on-farm research within PEP
We can envisage a model in which funds generated by or provided to Farm-PEP could be used within the PEP community to support work that users would like to see funded. PEP users could be allocated credits representing the funds available which they could pledge to projects of interest. PEP users could form ideas and proposals that could be funded by PEP if they receive sufficient support. 'Proposals' could be to distill existing knowledge for a specific theme or issue, they could fund new farmer-led experimentation or they could fund development of the PEP platform with specific new functionalities or upgrades. As well as spending other peoples money, this could include crowd funding mechanisms. Whilst this isn't something that could be immediately implemented in Farm-PEP, some ideas for how this could work are given here.
Seeking academic funding as a knowledge repository
In association with the National Library for Agrifood we could seek to develop their existing knowledge library to make it more widely accessed and exploited by researchers, farmers and industry. Ideally we would fund systematic reviews from the 22,000 resources that already exist, and streamline processes for new resources to be continually added.
Licensing tools to Farm-PEP users for use in on-farm research
Farm-PEP could become a platform where users can access tools or resources under license, perhaps paid for by projects. Example tools include Dynamic Benchmarking or Agronomics Line Trial analysis, as well as services from The Farming Forum (eg FarmIQ). ADAS and partners have been successful with a proposal to the UKRI/Defra Farming Innovation Pathways competition to develop these tools for use by Farm-PEP, starting in October 2021 - more details to follow.
Becoming an Investable Proposition
If we can find a successful revenue-generating business model for Farm-PEP we could consider setting it up as its own entity (perhaps a social enterprise) for which we could seek external investment to enable faster development and growth.
If you have other ideas or suggestions please let us know by email or in the comment box below (visible if you log in).
I have just updated this post. Our favoured approach is to seek substantial sponsorship to generate content around Topics over the first 6-12 months. If you know of organisations (or individuals) that could be interested in supporting this, then please let us know.
Also, watch this space for more details of our new Farming Innovation Pathways project developing tools to support on-farm research for Farm-PEP, starting October 2021.