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    “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

    The Application of Science to Realise the Potential of the Agricultural Transition Report was published in November 2022 in a collaboration between the SSFF and Food & Farming Futures. It’s remit was to explore why the UK lags behind other nations in agricultural productivity and innovation despite great work across the industry to progress economic, social and environmental sustainability. 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 resilient agricultural production, achieve carbon net-zero and enhance other sustainability parameters (e.g., biodiversity, animal welfare, ‘rural levelling-up’). Two key recommendations from this report focused on the multiple demonstration farm networks that exist in the UK:

    • 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.
    • 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.

    As a response to these recommendations, the Sustainable Farm Networks has been created by Harper Adams in collaboration with Landex (land based colleges aspiring to excellence) to harness and amplify the proven power of farmer-to-farmer demonstration and learning. The SFN works to improve communication between research, policy, curriculum and farm practice, sharing and championing resulting successes and innovations in every possible way for the benefit of all.

    The Sustainable Farm Networks is working to overcome multiple interrelated challenges, helping to  build a socially and environmentally resilient and regenerative food system in a net zero landscape by connecting diverse demonstration farm networks across the UK to share experiences, findings and best practice.

    Vision

    The UK food system moves more quickly towards sustainable agricultural productivity of healthy food within a biodiverse agri-environment that is operating at net zero and supporting thriving rural communities.

    Mission

    Cascading farm practice and supportive policy change based on the generation and application of evolving science. Coalescence around agreed best practice for and by farmers and land managers based on improved communication between research, advice and lived experience.

    Objectives

    • Demonstration farm network facilitators share experiences, findings, best practice and innovations in a pre-competitive, system agnostic forum.
    • Network facilitators have improved access to training, support and resources, enhancing delivery to farmers and land managers.
    • The SFN collates, amplifies and champions network successes and findings through web presence, research papers, public presentations and policy advocacy, enhancing the reach and impact of networks demonstrating and implementing good practice.
    • Joint supply chain and public policy initiatives such as FAO’s One Health, the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Food Data Transparency Partnership Roadmap are successfully embedded in land use policy and practice.

    Key Goal for Year One

    A valued and growing community of demonstration farm network facilitators who are actively contributing to a collective resource that is informing moves towards more sustainable practices across UK food and farming systems.

    Benefits

    For networks: Improved knowledge exchange opportunities; connected and upskilled facilitators; funding opportunities; accelerated application of innovations; PR opportunities; accelerated transition towards integrated sustainability; industry and policy influence.

    For farmers: Connections with other networks and farms; better access to better advice; benchmarking and marketing opportunities; improved business resilience; policy input.

    For the industry: Meeting operational and sustainability KPIs; upskilling of workforce; streamlining of communication channels; increased reach to farmers; expanded knowledge exchange within and across supply chains; integration and harmonisation of sustainability metrics.

    For the SSFF: Meeting operational and sustainability KPIs; building content to support work pillars; increased reach to farmers; expanded knowledge exchange with and across supply chains.

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