Farm Net Zero Demonstration Events

One of the core activities of the Farm Net Zero project is the development of Demonstration Farms. Led by our colleagues at the Farm Carbon Toolkit (FCT), the Demonstration Farms have the target of reaching Net Zero over the course of the project. The Demonstration Farmers are:

  • Andrew and Claire Brewer, Ennis Barton.
  • Mike, Alison and Sam Roberts, Blable.
  • Tim and Claire Williams, Erth Barton

The three Demonstration Farms held their launch events in the autumn of 2021. At each launch event, the farmers outlined how they plan to achieve this target.

Andrew and Claire Brewer milk 500 Kiwi cross cows on a grass-based system. Net Zero plans include monitoring cow performance on herbal leys compared to standard ryegrass/clover pasture and the use of woodchip bedding for calves with the potential to produce compost for application to the fields.

The Roberts’ family have 150 Stabiliser suckler cows. Much of the farm is in herbal leys, with rotational grazing used to manage the sward for optimum productivity. Cattle are housed on green waste compost; this has reduced bedding costs and produces an excellent source of fertility.

Tim and Claire Williams contract farm 300 acres of former arable land, taking ground back from the previous tenant. These fields go into a diverse cover crop and are mob grazed by cattle to add soil carbon and boost the soil biology. Compost is also a feature, with Tim and Claire making their own to apply both as a solid and liquid application and as a seed dressing.

Attendance at all three Demonstration Farm events was very good, with fantastic discussions breaking out across the group. These discussions were wide-ranging and covered rotational/mob grazing, reducing fertiliser use, growing herbal leys and the use of compost amongst other topics. The discussions will be used to inform the work carried out across the Farm Net Zero project, from trials led by FCT and Innovative Farmers, to workshops for farmers to learn from one another.

To follow the progress of the Demonstration Farmers and the Farm Net Zero project, subscribe to the newsletter here: https://farmcarbontoolkit.org.uk/farm-net-zero/

Farm Net Zero Upcoming Events

The first Farm Net Zero events will be held in the autumn of 2021. These events will introduce the project via three Demonstration Farms, each of which are working with the Farm Carbon Toolkit on the challenge of reaching Net Zero by the end of the project in 2025. The Demo Farms will continue to hold events over the course of the project and will encourage discussion and learning within the community of farmers in East Cornwall.

 

Please book to attend each event. The Demo Farms and dates of each event are below:

Andrew Brewer, Ennis Barton. Dairy.

Mike and Sam Roberts, Blable Farm. Beef and arable.

Tim Williams, Erth Barton. Beef, sheep and arable.

Farm Net Zero

Duchy College has been awarded over £1.2 million from the Climate Action Fund to run a project tasked with helping the farming community of East Cornwall reach net zero carbon emissions.

The National Lottery-backed project, which will run for five years, is called ‘Farm Net Zero’ and will see a number of organisations work alongside the college. 

Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture have been in the spotlight in recent years, with the UK Government committing to moving the country to net zero emissions by 2050 – and the National Farmers’ Union setting the agriculture industry the challenge of reaching the same goal by 2040.  

Alex Bebbington, Project Officer at Duchy College’s Rural Business School, said: “Farm Net Zero is an exciting opportunity for farmers to lead the development of net zero practises at this important time for agriculture and society as a whole.  

“There is a lot of valuable work going on in this sector and we look forward to bringing the community together to share this knowledge.” 

Duchy College’s Rural Business School, part of The Cornwall College Group, will be responsible for the overall management of Farm Net Zero, but the project will see a close partnership between leading local and national farming organisations, including the Farm Carbon Toolkit, Westcountry Rivers Trust, Innovative Farmers, Innovation for Agriculture and Just Farmers.  

Becky Willson, Project Manager for Farm Carbon Toolkit commented: “The Farm Net Zero is a fantastic opportunity to work with farmers to develop practical solutions on achieving Net Zero.  

“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and building soil health can be complicated and multi-faceted, but through this project we will be able to work together to showcase the fantastic practices that farmers are already doing, and inspire others to take part and meet the challenge head on.” 

Activities throughout the project will include an annual ‘soil sampling’ exercise and ‘carbon foot-printing’ on 40 monitor farms. 

Three demonstration farms to act as examples of how to reach net zero will also be developed and the venture will see field labs and citizen science projects established alongside events and workshops to encourage learning and discussion in the farming and wider communities of East Cornwall. 

Farming language; software company solves digital barriers

Digitalisation has changed the way farmers record, curate and receive data. But with business-critical information now online, how easy is it to find what you are looking for? Not very, until now.

Software company SimSage has revolutionised the way website search tools can be used by agri-businesses and organisations to better connect farmers with the information they need. It has developed a downloadable plugin website search function, which uses artificial intelligence to understand agriculture’s natural language.

A farmer typing ‘artificial insemination’ into the Google search bar will provide a colourful list of results, but unlikely will it be the shade they were looking for. “In industry, natural language is the use and interpretation of words and phrases that are specific to that sector,” says co-founder Sean Wilson.

And acronyms are another sticking point. “Type AI into any popular search engine and ‘Artificial Intelligence’ will dominate the search results – even when combined with ‘agriculture’ – but standard search functions aren’t configured to the broad range of agricultural language.”

While this example may seem trivial, it reflects on the incompatibilities creating barriers for an industry trying to keep digital pace. “When looking at farmers’ web use, Duchy College’s Rural Business School (RBS) found that farmers are online to find important information; most frequent in those searches were government websites,” explains Mr Wilson.

Additionally, finding information is often hindered by inadequate search engines– with participants calling for a ‘farmers google’.

The information gained through the RBS survey highlighted an opportunity for the business to adapt its original software. “SimSage started up in May 2019 with our core product – software aimed at streamlining a business’s internal information storage and sourcing,” explains Mr Wilson.

“While the original software has been successfully implemented in agri-business – including Glas Data’s knowledge base and data connect platform – we could see our core technology tackling challenges raised through the RBS survey.”

With the help of grant funding through Agri-Tech Cornwall and the Cornwall Development Company, SimSage brought in a range of partners to speed up this development.

SimSage is now working with Farming Health Hub to enable access to information covering multiple farming topics from a wide range of sources in one place. “Ordinarily, the more information there is, the more complicated and time consuming a search can become, but the plugin simplifies all that,” says Mr Wilson.

However, once configured, the plugin uses artificial intelligence to understand farming language and searches. From which frequently asked questions can be automated.

This means farmers can type in a question or keywords into the Hub’s search tool and quickly find specific information, no matter how they pose their query, he explains.

So what difference could this make to farmers sourcing information online?

The biggest problem is that business websites are not intuitive; most are company-centric rather than customer-centric, says Mr Wilson. “They might be industry relevant and look great, but still not have the pathways in place to make information on the site easy to find. Global market research provider IDC says 25-30% of the working day is spent trying to find information.”

A significant proportion of farmers’ time online is therefore wasted – even when technology is supposed to be increasing efficiency and freeing up time for farm work.

Installing the plugin to business websites will make them more easily searchable, so Mr Wilson is encouraging all farming organisations to use it to benefit the wider industry. “We developed the plugin search tool on WordPress as around 93% of UK websites are built on that platform; immediately that makes this tool widely implementable,” he explains. “Any website using WordPress can apply it directly from the internet.”

The software also benefits the business or body behind the website, allowing them to see what farmers are asking in real-time. “If agri-businesses are able to look at what farmers want to know, they can build and update the information and answers presented when these topics are raised as questions,” he explains. “An effective search tool on a website can generate anywhere between two and six times better engagement and revenue.”

“Titan” of rural education and development retires

After 15 years with Duchy College, we bid a fond farewell to Richard Soffe.

During his time as Director of the Rural Business School (RBS) Richard has helped generations of farmers and land managers

Richard Soffe, a “titan” of land-based education, research and rural development, is retiring from his college career to lead a team at AHDB developing a strategy for the dairy industry.

Mr Soffe, director of the Rural Business School (RBS) at Duchy College, has been instrumental in developing land-based businesses, shaping industry leaders and informing government over the past 15 years.

“Richard has helped generations of farmers and land managers,” says John Evans, principal and chief executive at the Cornwall College Group. “This is an incredibly fond, albeit sad farewell to an absolute titan of the sector.

“It is testament to how well he is thought of that he was handpicked to lead a team at AHDB.”

Mr Soffe has a wealth of achievements to his name, including creating multi-million pound professional development and knowledge transfer programmes for Defra. Recently he helped drive the pioneering research and education facility, Future Farm at Duchy College, which launches later this year.

When Mr Soffe joined the college in 2005 he realised the significance of connecting educators and the wider industry. “We knew that we could do something incredibly important in terms of helping with knowledge exchange and upskilling across SW England,” he explains. “This led to the formation of the RBS, with the intent of providing a step change in knowledge transfer among farmers.”

The RBS now works with five other universities across the country to produce the annual Farm Business Survey, providing independent evidence and insight into the financial state of farming, informing farming unions, Government and the Bank of England.

“It is these relationships with other organisations that I am perhaps most proud of, whether that be Exeter University, Rothamsted Research or Cornwall Council,” says Mr Soffe. “This has helped us achieve more than £30m of commercial contracts.”

While the rural sector faces short-term challenges like Covid-19 and Brexit, Mr Soffe believes those businesses that succeed will be the ones who focus on good management across the board, particularly financial performance.

“Duchy College has a very bright future: RBS is pivotal in helping land-based businesses, and I am sure that many more farmers will join the more than 18,000 who have been involved with one of our courses in the past 10 years.”

Several of them – including Melanie Squires, South West director of the NFU – attended the Challenge of Rural Leadership course – one of the most prestigious high-level land-based courses in the UK, which Mr Soffe oversaw.

“Richard has taken RBS from strength-to-strength and has cemented its status as a key body in the UK’s land-based sector,” she says. “I have benefited from his expertise within our role at the NFU, on behalf of our farmers, as well as during leadership programmes for myself, members of my team, and many of our local members and officeholders.”

Stepping into the director’s role to continue this work will be Robin Jackson, director of Agri-tech Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly Project – a position he will continue. Previously, he was chief executive officer of Peninsula Innovations, a subsidiary of the University of Exeter which ran the University Innovation Centre and the Exeter Science Park Centre with support for high-growth-potential businesses.

Sarah Houghton – formerly assistant land-based principal at Reaseheath College – has joined the team as assistant principal of land-based education. Having been a lead moderator for City and Guilds L3 Animal Care, she will be running the development and delivery of land-based education at Duchy and Bicton Colleges.

“We are so pleased to have a dynamic new team headed by Sarah, who will be building on Richard’s legacy of work,” says Mr Jackson. “We are confident that the RBS will continue to grow from strength to strength and further support the land-based sector across the South West.”

Mr Soffe remains an emeritus fellow of the RBS and will be director for the Challenge of Rural Leadership course’s 25th anniversary in 2022.

Virtual Field Day: Multispecies Leys

Date and Time
Thu, 21 May 2020
11:30 – 13:00

This virtual event is part of a 2 part series in a collaboration between Agricology, Duchy College, AgriTech Cornwall, FABulous Farmers, CFE , FWAGSW and Rothamsted Research.

Multispecies leys combine complementary grass, legume and herb species. A more diverse sward can provide greater resilience to climate extremes, benefits for animal health, soil quality and biodiversity. Learning about multispecies leys is a work in progress and this event will provide opportunity to join farmers, advisors and researchers in the virtual field to share ideas and experiences.

For more information and how to register, please click here.

World-renowned rural leadership course hailed huge success

One of the world’s leading rural leadership courses is celebrating the conclusion of another successful year.The Challenge of Rural Leadership course, now in its 24th year, was lauded by delegates and organisers.

Managed by the Rural Business School (RBS) at Duchy College, part of The Cornwall College Group, on behalf of the Worshipful Company of Farmers, delegates from across the globe came to Dartington Hall in Devon to undertake the intensive and rewarding programme.

They have returned to their businesses with new found confidence and skills to enable them to thrive in an ever-changing agricultural industry, according to Director of RBS, Richard Soffe.

“It was great to work with another outstanding group of international, high potential managers on the Challenge of Rural Leadership this year, as well as using WH Bond as a local case study,” he explained.

The Worshipful Company of Farmers chair of education Richard Davies, along with the Master David Bolton and other members of the company, joined the course for several sessions. Everyone was impressed with the beautiful Dartington Hall, and the enthusiasm of the delegates.

Two Nuffield scholars from Australia were in attendance, along with the Head of Arable for AHDB, and the Agriculture Consultant for McDonald’s Restaurants Ltd.

“Our very own degree students got the opportunity to listen to guest speaker Professor Allan Buckwell do a session on Climate Change and another on Sustainable Food Systems,” Richard added.

The first week of the course formed a case study that focused on a local business. The delegates had an overview of every process that currently makes the business work.

During the second week, the focus turned to the individual. There were sessions on psychometrics, the media, time-management and how to present yourself under scrutiny. There were also a large range of guest speakers, all of whom brought a unique perspective on their own paths to leadership.

Farmer, parish councillor and Natural England sector lead, Martin Hoddinott, said: “The confidence and inspiration the Duchy College team have shown us is a complete life changer for me and I’m fairly sure I can speak for every member of our group.”

Assurance Manager with LEAF, Jennifer Clark, said the course “has impacts that cannot be adequately put into words”.

Richard said he was greatly looking forward to the 25th Worshipful Company of Farmers’ Challenge of Rural Leadership.

“The application process has just reopened on the Rural Business School website,” he added.

BVD Stamp It Out Project

Duchy College’s Rural Business School (RBS) has helped to sign up just over 2,000 farmers on to the BVD Stamp It Out Project. This is a massive 74% of the overall SW target, with lots more work projected to happen over the winter months.

These farmers are spread over 37 different vet practices, with another five practices yet to start delivery of the project. The map below reflects the number of farmers, with each dot representing a signed-up farm, with each colour depicting the vet practice with which that farm works.

The RBS supported a successful bid by the Scottish Rural College (SRUC) and SAC Consulting to deliver the EU/Defra- funded ‘Bovine Viral Diarrhoea disease (BVD) – Stamp It Out’ project, aiming to engage 8,000 herds across England.

The methodologies to control BVD through the highly acclaimed RBS Healthy Livestock (HL), which ran from 2010-14 have been taken up in the three-year BVD Stamp It Out project, which runs until 2021.

New Soils Project with the Tamar Valley AONB

The Tamar Valley AONB, together with the National Association of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (NAAONB), has been successful in securing funding to conduct tests and trials to help shape the development of agricultural policy and payments to farmers. The future of the Basic Farm Payment and Agri-environment schemes will be replaced with the Environment Land Management System (ELMS).

The Test and Trial project is focused on Soil Organic Carbon (SOC). Soil Carbon is a good indicator of soil health, biological activity within the soil and is reflective of biodiversity above ground. As such, higher levels of soil organic matter can be linked to water quality, drought and flood resilience, as well as sinking and sequestering Carbon from the atmosphere. Therefore there is a strong argument that a payment directly related to Soil Organic Carbon can be seen as delivering public goods.

From an agricultural and business perspective, healthy soils with increasing soil organic matter levels can also be related to consistent sustainable agricultural productivity. The test and trial is therefore looking to road test new to market technology, namely soil scanners. We are seeking to see if they are reliable, accurate and consistent in how they measure the level and amount of soil Carbon. If the technology can deliver good results, it opens up a new revenue options for farmers to be rewarded in a very different way.

This project is being delivered with Duchy College Rural Business School, the Farm Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) and the National Association of AONBs and is funded by Defra.

Farm safety top of agenda for young farmers

In a bid to help tackle the number of accidents that take place on farms, agricultural colleges in the region are continuing to highlight the critical issue among students.

The number of fatal accidents on farms is refusing to drop, with 167 people killed in the last five years, according to the Health and Safety Executive. Farm safety experts spent a day working with around 60 Agriculture apprentices and students at Duchy College Stoke Climsland to highlight the issues.

Specialist for the Farm Safety Foundation, Stephanie Berkeley said the problem of accidents on farms is “not going away”.

“We are not naive enough to believe we can solve this entirely but by digging deeper into the detail and engaging with the younger farmer, we have found that significant improvements in behaviour are possible,” she explained.

“As the farmers of the future, young people with a solid knowledge of safe working practices will have a greater capability to make informed and safe decisions which stands the industry in greater stead. Working closely with highly committed colleges like Duchy, it is hoped that together we can make a difference and change attitudes to health and safety in tomorrow’s farming community.”

The workshop was held at the Duchy Home Farm and involved the students visiting four accident scenes. The scenarios included 2 machinery-related incidents, a fall from height and a crushing injury from working in a pen with cattle.

The students then spent time working out what had happened at each one, deciding what immediate action should be taken in each case, contemplating First Aid implications and deciding what measures should be taken to prevent the accident happening in the future.

Level 2 Agriculture Student, George McIntyre, said it had been “a really good morning”.

“It was all based outside rather than in a classroom and I liked the way we went around to the different scenes and had to work out what had happened,” he explained.

“The instructors gave us information to help us do this. I have learnt a lot!”

Falls constitute one of the most common farm accidents and accounted for 23 fatal accidents in the last five years. It’s hoped that by targeting young people it may help to influence the older generation.

“Young people are such an important target group for this farm safety message as the future of the industry,” said Curriculum Lead for Work Based Learning, Roger Clarke.

“As technology advances within farming, the risk of accidents can actually increase,” he continued.

“While the safety of machinery and equipment has improved, the fact that machines can do so much more can make people complacent. It’s fantastic to have an outside organisation like the Farm Safety Foundation come in to help us deliver this vital message and for the students to face scenarios they could come across on their own farms when they go home or in their future workplace.”

Principal Phil Le Grice, said it was a great opportunity to be able to host the event for students.

“By helping raise awareness of farm safety among young farmers, challenging and changing their attitudes towards farming safely and reducing the toll of injuries and fatalities, we can help make this industry a safer place to work in,” he added.