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:
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 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:
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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