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    The Application of Science to Realise the Potential of the Agricultural Transition Report was published in November 2022, its remit was to explore why the United Kingdom (UK) has lagged other nations in productivity and innovation. The group concluded that a key factor is fragmentation at all stages in the delivery of scientific knowledge which is impacting the sector’s ability to advance agricultural production, achieve carbon net-zero and enhance other sustainability parameters (e.g., biodiversity, animal welfare, ‘rural levelling-up’). Two of the key recommendations from this report focused on the network of Demonstration Farms that exist in the UK:

    1. While in-person, facilitated peer-to-peer events at monitor/demonstration farms should continue to be an important part of the extension effort, the tools of interactive electronic communication should also be harnessed to help farmers in developing their knowledge.
    2. National co-ordination of demonstration farms throughout the UK should be encouraged. These farms are currently managed within the ecosystems of various agricultural innovation and technology organisations.

    The Sustainable Farm Network aims to address these challenges through a coordinated approach to Farm Demonstration activity in the UK, this will be achieved by a mutual coming together of the Demonstration Farm Networks across the UK, supported by the School of Sustainable Food and Farming (SSFF) and the LANDEX college network.

    The Sustainable Farm Network (SFN)

    The School of Sustainable Food and Farming in collaboration with Landex have founded the Sustainable Farm Network (SFN). LANDEX is a specialist membership organisation representing 36 land based academic institutions in England and 3 members in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The SFN aims to provide links between farm demonstration networks across the UK, in essence a Network of Networks (see Figure). A basal network, run by SSFF and LANDEX, consists of the LANDEX College Farms, SFN will then facilitate connections across existing farm demonstration networks with the LANDEX partners a focal hub to support activity. The SFN will:

    • Connect farms within networks to support their net zero pledges (and wider sustainability targets – biodiversity, welfare etc.)
    • Share best practice through organising workshops and farm visits across the networks focused, but not limited, on four key priority areas:
      • Productivity (best practice)
      • Reducing and refining inputs
      • Soil health and carbon capture on farm
      • Green energy
    • Trial Carbon Footprint calculators and data platforms across the networks
    • Share data and best practice with the aim of developing a common data platform hosted by SSFF at HAU as agreed by member networks (we realise not all farms or networks will be able to share data)
    • Collate material as case studies to map journeys towards net zero / BPS transition.
    • Link together, promote and support farm network innovation.

    Why join the SFN?

    The SFN will be a coming together of like-minded farm networks to share pre-competitive best practice, innovation and findings to realise ‘a whole’ which is greater than the sum of its parts. This approach will collectively realise a Net Zero agriculture most efficiently through combined investment across the networks. The LANDEX Colleges and Universities will act as Regional Hubs and will link together with layers of national demonstration farm networks to provide regional access to training and demonstration. Farms within existing networks, which will make up the SFN, can connect as deeply across the SFN as they feel comfortable with ownership of their network fully residing with the original partners. SFN in essence allows a farm in a network tackling a particular pre-competitive issue e.g., carbon auditing, to connect not only with farmers within their network but also across an array of other networks to collaboratively work on the issue. Furthermore, those farms have the support of a regional LANDEX member to advise and offer support accordingly.

    SFN Project Manager

    The SFN will have a dedicated Project Manager funded by the SSFF. Their role will be to drive, focus, facilitate and coordinate the SFN and support the connections across the many networks that will form the SFN. They will help to identify areas for further collaboration and identify opportunities where Networks are able to work together to provide greater benefit to all.

    SFN Website and Learning Platform

    The SFN will look to establish a Network of Networks Website and communications platform which will highlight and publicise each Demonstration Farm Network and the planned activity available to farmers, it will also showcase success through case studies, video’s, blogs and webinars as well as highlighting those journeys which will ultimately have bumps in the road to achieving Net Zero.

    Sharing best practice

    Sharing best practice will be a key aim of the SFN, by joining the SFN your network will benefit from quarterly coordinator meetings (in person and online) so that challenges and opportunities can be discussed, and future activity and events can be explored and shared amongst the leaders of the demonstration networks for further dissemination to their groups.

    Annual Conference

    The SFN plans to have an annual conference and farm walk, the focus to be determined annually by its members; but would focus on sustainable farm production with a key focus on productivity within a Net Zero landscape.

    How will joining the SFN affect my network?

    The SFN is not going to change any of the day to day running or operation of any farm network. Networks will be controlled and operated as they are now, and each demonstration farm network will continue to have its own aims and objectives throughout the year.

    The purpose of the SFN is to connect between networks and to help “spread the word” around this activity, both to other Farm Demonstration networks but also to the wider farming industry in each region.

    Costs of joining the SFN

    Joining the SFN is linked to involvement within the SSFF either as a delivery partner or partnership 

    “The journey towards sustainable food production has begun. What we need now is national coordination of demonstration farms  to share and develop our knowledge – a network of networks. Together we’ll create an exemplar for the UK and the world.”

    Simon Thelwell, Director 
    School of Sustainable Food & Farming

    Outdoor lecture

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