More effective engagement with farmers in agri-tech solution development essential

As the Innovative Farmers network prepares to launch its 100th field lab in the next few months there remains a need for farmers to be collaborated with earlier on in the agri-tech development process. If farmers are engaged and consulted from the outset then there is an increased likelihood that the agri-tech solution developed will be relevant and valuable for farm businesses to invest in and use now and in the future.

Last week I spoke at an event organised by the Knowledge Transfer Network of Innovate UK. The topic was Supporting Early Adoption of Agri-Tech Innovations and with some 20 or more contributors sharing their experiences and ideas there was a huge amount to take in and plenty of questions from the floor. What struck me was the ongoing challenge for researchers, scientists and engineers to engage with farmers. Also, no matter where you are on the innovation journey there are so many different stakeholders to navigate and choices to make on the best way forward.  It’s no wonder there’s not a simple solution!

When it came to my slot to present a 15-minute whistle stop tour of Innovative Farmers with a case study example I selected our partnership with the IKnowFood project led by the University of York in partnership with the Universities of Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool. I was chuffed to have input from fellow attendee Tom McNamara, Research Associate at Manchester University to share his first hand experiences of collaborating with farmer groups to co-design technology solutions. This four-year programme has brought farmer groups together in Yorkshire and the Scottish Borders with engineers and academics at the University of Manchester. During the second stage we will co-design these solutions in each field lab to ensure they are context specific and useful. The third stage will look at trialling some of these innovations on farm.

How a group, or individual farmer with an idea or a problem to solve, navigates the range of agri-tech options open to them seems almost impossible, however, this is where I hope Innovative Farmers can come in. Through working with our partners we help farmers bring their research ideas to fruition. This introduces them to the technology that can help tackle their concerns whether its reducing antibiotic use in their dairy herd or potato growers using remote sensing drones to assess in-field variation of potato dry matter. With access to our research fund groups can help unlock these new technologies. As a not for profit network, I hope that we can engage even more entrepreneurs and engineers to share their technology and help farmers learn side by side how the right agri-tech solution can transform their understanding of their farming practices. This will hopefully help inform their decisions to secure the future sustainability of their farm business.

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