New field lab on Lucerne will be programme's 100th

New farmer-led research exploring the benefits of sheep grazing on lucerne is launching this year in what marks our 100th field lab.

The field lab will look at grazing ewes and lambs on only lucerne - a legume that is widely used as forage for sheep in New Zealand and valued for its high yield, drought tolerance, protein content, and digestible fibre.

Farmers taking part in this field lab - the 100th research project launched by Innovative Farmers since 2012 – will assess lucerne’s potential in finishing lambs quicker, tolerating low rainfall, and reducing fertiliser inputs by fixing nitrogen in the soil.

The trial will also provide key insight for the sector on how best to manage the feed to ensure health of the animals as a high protein content can increase risk of bloat and disease.

The idea for the field lab came from a group of farmers who were inspired by a visit to New Zealand and are now working with Dr Liz Genever, sheep and beef consultant, and the Innovative Farmers network to co-design the trial. The group will benefit from Liz’s experience including her involvement in the publication of the AHDB guide ‘Growing and feeding Lucerne’.

Benefits to the farm

Triallist David Cross farmed for 18 months in New Zealand and runs an arable farm in Norfolk with his father, where rotational sheep is a key part of the business model.

He said: “We are trying to move towards using more legumes to get our lambs finished quicker and to give us summer resilience against droughts. There have been years where we have had to grow specific crops to move lambs onto midsummer to finish, which has a cost involved and is taking land away from our arable rotation. Hopefully lucerne will reduce costs across the arable land by fixing nitrogen alongside improving soil structure and organic matter levels. We have a real drive on lamb growth rates and hopefully the more consistent pasture growth through the summer will mean we can get our lambs finished quicker. If we can work out how to overcome the health issues related with grazing lucerne, then everything else should fall into place because there are so many positives to lucerne. Most agricultural research in this country is trial based and it’s not always relatable to on farm situations - the only way to know properly is in a real farming situation.”

Any farmer with lucerne already established can get involved in the field lab (get in touch on – as the crop is not usually suitable for grazing in its first year. And any farmer interested in the trial can stay up to date on its progress via the online Field Lab Portal.

Important milestone for the programme

It is hoped the farmers taking part in this trial will join the 60% of farmers who reported significant learnings in field labs and the 25% who said they made changes to their farming practices after taking part.

Established to enable and promote farmer-led research, the Innovative Farmers network currently has more than 300 farms in field labs actively involved across the country and has awarded over £300k of funding in small grants to groups of farmers since it was established in 2012.

Helen Aldis, Innovative Farmers Programme Development Manager, said: “The lucerne field lab is a great example of how essential it is for farmers to be supported to carry out research on their farms so they can be confident of its practical application and can quickly transfer this knowledge to others. It is exciting that this valuable research marks such an important milestone for the model of farmer-led research as the 100th field lab for Innovative Farmers. More people are recognising that the results from this form of research have a higher chance of being implemented by farmers as they are much more realistic to the needs of real working farms. Everyone involved in Innovative Farmers is proving that farmer-led research is wanted, needed and valuable, and should be more integral to mainstream agricultural research in the UK.”

Contact us get involved

To keep informed of how this field lab and others are progressing sign up and become a member of the Innovative Farmers’ network. Got your own idea for a field lab? Submit it here and we'll pin it on our online pinboard

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