Farm Net Zero Farmer Conference 2022

The first Farm Net Zero Farmer Conference was held on the 13th September 2022 at Blable Farm, by kind permission of Farm Net Zero Demo Farmers Mike and Sam Roberts. The conference presented the work of the project to date, including a look at the results from the soil sampling and carbon footprinting. We also discussed future plans for trials and research to help the project’s community of farmers reduce their carbon emissions and move towards net zero.

A detailed summary of the Conference can be found here, and there are also summaries of earlier Farm Net Zero events on a range of topics.

These events were made possible with thanks to the National Lottery Community Fund who fund the Farm Net Zero project. We would like to thank the Demo and Monitor Farmers who have hosted events, the expert speakers who have presented at them and everyone who has attended a Farm Net Zero event.

Farmers Without Borders: Future Farm hosts British and French sustainable partnership

A French cohort of 15 dairy farmers and delegates of the Council of Finistère and Trévarez Research Station were welcomed last Tuesday at Duchy College’s Future Farm, marking a new step in exchanging sustainable dairy farming practices across the Channel.

The group explored the pioneering research facility and visited three farms representing the range of successful dairy production systems found in Cornwall. 

 The visitors were accompanied by a team from the Rural Business School, part of the Cornwall College group (TCCG), along with a group from Cornwall Council led by Alice Walpole, Assistant Economic Growth Officer.

 Gaïd Carval, Finistère/Cornwall cooperation officer and part of the delegation from France commented: “We are happy to be working with Duchy College on this exciting project. By sharing our expertise and working together, we hope to make a real difference in giving new solutions to dairy farmers to reduce their carbon footprint.” 

 The visit stems from a partnership established last year through the ABCD project (Agriculture Bas Carbone Dairy) project, which is funded by the European Regional Development Fund.

Working with Cornwall Council, local farmers, the council of Finistère and Trévarez Research Station in Brittany, France, and the research team at Duchy College’s Future Farm are looking at ways of reducing the carbon footprint of dairy farming in Cornwall and across the Channel.

The tour around the Future Farm left some positive impressions with guests complementing the facility and practices:

“The visits are very interesting, it’s great to have the opportunity to discover completely different dairy systems from what we have back home, it opens our minds!” said Stéphane Hourmant, dairy farmer in Lannédern in Finistère.

Pierre Bernard, another French guest and dairy farmer also added: “We felt a real will to produce milk sustainably as well as the importance of transmuting practices “.  

 Apart from the research work focusing around reducing methane produced by dairy cattle, the other aspects of the project include working with the four main milk processors in Cornwall and their suppliers as a way to inform the development of a knowledge transfer programme to further assist Cornish dairy farmers.

A key feature in this partnership is the sharing of best practice farmer to farmer through visits by milk producers from both countries, making this exchange benefit both the dairy ecosystem as well as the training of new professionals. 

It’s always important to involve the farmers as they are the sharp end of agriculture.  

What makes this project even more important is that our students at Duchy College will not only have access to the research – they will be placed at the heart of it. This means we are creating a legacy that will see cutting-edge research put into practice for generations to come, helping to make farming more sustainable for the futuresaid Paul Ward, Farm Research Manager at Duchy College’s Rural Business School. 

 To capitalise on the wealth of knowledge across the two countries, a reciprocal visit for the British group is planned for this autumn.

Duchy College celebrating the advancements of sustainable dairy farming at Future Farm

In a celebration of research and innovation in sustainable dairy farming, Future Farm held its stakeholder launch event at Duchy College Stoke Climsland campus on Friday, 6th of May.

Guests and stakeholders came from across the country to experience the remarkable facility in action, showcasing the eco dairy systems along with first-hand insights on the project’s achievements.

Lyndsay Chapman, CEO at CIEL (the Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock) and keynote speaker at the event said:

“Future Farm is part of CIEL’s extensive national research alliance. With the South-West such an important and renowned region for British dairying, it’s fabulous that our joint vision to have a dairy research facility in the South-West at Duchy is now reality.”

Lyndsay set out CIEL’s work on connecting industry with research and finding innovative solutions to tackle the climate and environmental challenges – where livestock farming can be part of the solution. She highlighted CIEL’s recent report “Net Zero & Livestock: how farmers can reduce emissions”, an evidence-based summary setting out the options for farmers to mitigate their farm emissions. The report’s call to action for urgent adoption on farm of known mitigations along with developing new innovations are areas where Future Farm will play an important role.

Alongside research, Future Farm provides a facility for knowledge exchange with industry (farmers, their suppliers and buyers), and training and education for students at Duchy College Stoke Climsland and Bicton College, both part of The Cornwall College Group (TCCG).

As such, this cutting-edge facility, as well as its associated resources and most up-to- date findings in sustainable farming are shared, learned and practiced by the next generations of farmers and technicians.

Sarah Houghton – Vice Principal for Land-Based Education at TCCG said it was fantastic to “finally have people on the farm” after years of Covid restrictions.

“We’re delighted about the many opportunities this facility will provide researchers, but also our own students,” she continued.

“Three of our university students were onsite today who are finishing their dissertations and the excitement around the research opportunities is fantastic.”

First opened in November 2020, Future Farm proudly became one of a handful of research facilities in the sustainable dairy farming sector in the UK.

The £4m dairy research centre is making advancements in improving the efficiency, welfare, and technology in the dairy farming sector, by looking at aspects such as lowering the sector’s carbon footprint, improving and reducing the impact on the environment, and improving animal health and welfare.

Capable of housing up to 220 milking cows and using leading edge technology, Future Farm can provide information to improve the health of the livestock and the quality of their produce, and the health of the farm business and the environment.

Robin Jackson – Director at Rural Business School, also part of TCCG, said:

”Future Farm is a platform for research, teaching, and knowledge transfer. It’s something we build upon, and in particular, at its heart, it’s a precision dairy. In the building, we can evaluate different technologies and management regimes. So, we can look at inputs, we can look at improving the health and welfare of the livestock, and we can look at outputs: the milk and also the slurry waste. This slurry can have a significant value as a fertiliser and, potentially, as a substrate for fuel production “.

“Most of our projects are around a greener hoofprint. As nearly 20% of the emissions in Cornwall for greenhouse gases are associated with agriculture, and an awful lot of those are associated with livestock, we’re working with key stakeholders to reduce the carbon impacts in the dairy industry”.

Robin also explained how reducing carbon impact is achieved, mentioning “the dietary changes made to the cows” as well as “the use of methane capture technology”.

Many of the research themes, principles and techniques that are now available at Future Farm dairy have been pioneered by the world-renowned Rothamsted’s North Wyke Farm Platform, also part of the CIEL research alliance.

The project was part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, Cornwall Council, and the Council for the Isles of Scilly, and was part of the wider Agri-tech Cornwall Project in partnership with the Universities of Exeter and Plymouth, Rothamsted Research, and the Cornwall Development Company. For more information see

Duchy College is a member of CIEL, which provides a front door for research and innovation in livestock food production. CIEL’s funding contribution for Duchy Future Farm came through support from Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency.
For more information about CIEL see

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:

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.