Four Pillars for progress

Poster paper given at IFS 2022 by Daniel Kindred, Roger Sylvester-Bradley, Pete Berry and colleagues.

Conventional routes to generating knowledge of ‘what works’ in agriculture have relied on (i) farmers developing their experiences and passing these on locally, and (ii) researchers conducting small plot experiments on a limited number of sites, analysing data and drawing conclusions in a more generic top-down fashion. The advent of the internet, the ability to share ideas and data widely, and precision farming technologies that enable farm trials provide the opportunity to interconnect the top-down approach with a more robust farm-centric bottom-up approach.

For 10 years now ADAS has operated the Yield Enhancement Network as a route for farmers to share ideas, benchmark data and learn together what drives the large variation in crop performance (e.g. White et al., 2022). Since 2017 ADAS has been promoting the concept of ‘Agronomics’ in which farmers across the UK and beyond, conduct Line Trials comparing products and practices in side by side field scale experiments robustly analysed with spatial statistics (Marchant et al., 2019). ADAS now supports around 200 commercial line trials per year. These demonstrate that when co-ordinated groups of farm trials are analysed together they can achieve greater precision than is normally achievable with small plot trials (Roques et al., 2022). This approach constitutes part of a global movement towards On-Farm Experimentation (OFE) (Lacoste et al, 2022; Bramley et al., 2022).

A new platform for farm-centric knowledge generation is now being co-created across agricultural industry to combine the YENs and Agronomics with more conventional knowledge generation. This is FarmPEP – the Farm Peformance Enhancement Platform (Kindred et al., 2021). FarmPEP has four pillars to its approach: (1) a shared understanding of concepts that determines key measures; (2) metrics that can be shared, benchmarked & analysed; (3) design thinking to identify questions and potential solutions; and (4) on-farm tests of decisions, products or systems.

The first of these pillars is now being supported by the development of a new knowledge exchange website at www.farmpep.net. The aim is to connect across agriculture providing a space where farmers, industry, advisors, researchers and knowledge exchange practitioners can share information on useful organisations, initiatives, resources and events, with everything connected by Topics. Each Topic has a page where current trusted knowledge is distilled in a Wikipedia style summary facilitated by ‘Stewards’, with further information sources being recommended. Unstewarded opinions and observations connected to that Topic can be posted by any member of the community at the bottom of the page. This is sorted by popularity.

The approaches of YEN, Agronomics and FarmPEP are especially applicable to crop nutrition.  Enabling data sharing and benchmarking of data at scale in YEN Nutrition (www.yen.adas.co.uk) is already yielding new insights to be discovered for agronomic science, as well as for individual farms (Sylvester-Bradley et al., 2022). Farmers can readily test their fertiliser decision making through Line Trials, for example by simply applying 50kg N/ha more or less to alternate tramlines (Kindred et al., 2018). A new Innovate UK project is seeking to support growers in testing fertiliser applications in 50m patches where a product is either applied or omitted, and findings are analysed and shared in Crop Nutrition Clubs.

Bramley, R., Song, X. (2022) Did someone say “farmer-centric”? Digital tools for spatially distributed on-farm experimentation. Agronomy for Sustainable Development 42 DOI:10.1007/s13593-022-00836-x

Kindred, D., Clarke, S.M., Sylvester-Bradley, et al. (2018) Using farm experience to improve N management for wheat (LearN). AHDB Project Report No PR596

Lacoste, M., Cook, S (2021) On-Farm Experimentation to transform global agriculture. Nature Food (2021).

Marchant, B., Rudolph, S., Roques, S., Kindred, D., Gillingham, V., Welham, S., Sylvester-Bradley, R. (2018). Establishing the precision and robustness of farmers’ crop experiments. Field Crops Research 230. 31-45

Roques, S., Kindred, D., Berry, P., Helliwell, J. (2022). Successful approaches for on-farm experimentation. Field Crops Research 287 108561

Sylvester-Bradley, R., D. Kindred, B. P. Marchant, S. Rudolph, S. Roques, A. Calatayud, S. Clarke and V. Gillingham (2017). "Agronomics: transforming crop science through digital technologies." Advances in Animal Biosciences: Precision Agriculture (ECPA) 2017 8(2): 728-733

Sylvester-Bradley, R., Roques, S., Baxter, C. & Kendall, S. (2022). Nutrient harvests: the essential yardstick to transform crop nutrition. Proceedings International Fertiliser Society 874, 2‑56.

White, C., Wilkinson, T., Kindred, D., Belcher, S., Howard, R., Vickers, R., Sylvester-Bradley, R. (2022). The Bean YEN: Understanding bean yield variation on UK farms. Annals of Applied Biology

 

Related Organisations

Connected Content

ADAS provides ideas, specialist knowledge and solutions to secure our food and enhance the environment. We understand food production and the challenges and opportunities faced by organisations operating in the natural environment

Farm-PEP aims to bring together all the sources of useful knowledge for Agriculture, whether from academic science, applied research projects, industry trials, farmers own trials or simple on-farm experience. Listed below are useful websites, organisations and websites that we know of.  Add any we've missed in the comments box or by adding as new content, or better still, as a new Group.  

YEN

Yield Enhancement Networks (YENs) were launched in 2012 to support and energise on-farm learning-by-sharing and thus to enhance farming progress.

The initial Farm-PEP project funded under the Innovate UK competition 'UKRI Ideas to address Covid-19'.  ADAS led consortium to assess the impact of Covid-19 on knowledge exchange in agriculture, and to develop the Farm-PEP web solution at www.farmpep.net. The initial Farm-PEP project began in January 2021 and ran to February 2022.

  Supporting farmers with robust design and analysis of on-farm experiments in tramline trials.

Farm-centric research generally involves On-Farm Experimentation and may be better described as 'Farm Action Research', i.e. research conducted at least in part by and for beneficiaries who also farm. 

The ideas behind Farm-PEP came together in ~2018, drawing from the developments of Agronomics, the YENs, AHDB's Monitor Farm programme and the idea of a 'What Works' Centre for Agriculture. 

Agricultural research is conducted by a range of organisations, from individual farmers, through advisors, distributors, manufacturers, charities, societies, supply chain companies, levy bodies, universities and research institutes.  This page aims to connect across these often disparate sources.

The development of Farm-PEP Performance Enhancement Partnerships to support on-farm knowledge generation through shared ideas, data and experimentation. Funded as part of Farming Innovation Pathways programme from Defra and Innovate UK Transforming Food Production.

Knowledge Exchange in Agriculture in the UK is diverse, with many organisations involved. That is part of the reason for creating Farm-PEP, to help provide connections to what many percieve as a fragmented landscape.

Many of the most telling innovations that make a difference on-farm come from farmers themselves, or from close collaboration between farmers, advisors, industry and researchers

Annual conference of International Society Fertiliser at Robinson College, Cambridge, on 7-9 December 2022