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.”

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.

Duchy degree students impress with their farm tenancy applications to the Duchy of Cornwall

Second year students on our FdSc (Hons) Agriculture course have recently completed their interviews with the Duchy of Cornwall’s Land Stewards. The Stewards scrutinised the viability of the farming systems proposed by the students, following the submission of tenancy applications for Carglonnon Farm on the Duchy of Cornwall’s Duloe estate, near Liskeard.

Students had the chance to experience the whole process of tendering for a farm tenancy, providing an excellent opportunity to put their theory into practice. They were given the full particulars of the farm and were able to visit the vacant farm and farmhouse with the Duchy of Cornwall Land Steward team, replicating a farm viewing day.

As part of the students’ Strategic Business Planning module, they had to provide a full application and business plan with detailed financial information, including profit and loss budgets, cashflow forecasts and balance sheet information in a precise, but concise format. Of particular importance this year was the Duchy of Cornwall’s interest in the ‘natural capitals’ across its estate i.e. access, biodiversity, historic environment, landscape, soil and water. The Duchy’s belief is that ‘the longer term farming future will be dependent upon environmental support payments related to the protection and enhancement of natural capitals’. Students needed to clearly demonstrate their understanding of these concepts and how they would apply them within their applications.

Students were also advised by Jamie Blake of the Rural Business School’s Farm Business Survey, Tim Burston, Agricultural Manager with Lloyds Bank and local farmer, Mark Thomas, a member of The Prince’s Council, a non-executive body which provides advice to His Royal Highness regarding the management of the Duchy of Cornwall estate.

Chris Matthews, Deputy Land Steward of Duchy of Cornwall’s Western District, commented, “As ever, there was a good standard of applications and we very much enjoyed reading and discussing the farming systems proposed for Carglonnon Farm. Clearly a tremendous amount of thought and work went into the submissions, which was reflected in their high standard and less variability this year. Students were very positive about the future of agriculture and demonstrated their long term commitment to the industry”.

Development and Critical feedback for the new Farm Crap App

Duchy Agri-Young Innovators Forum

The Duchy Discussion group most recently met to discuss the new ‘Farm Crap App Pro’. The evening allowed group members to have the opportunity to test and provide critical feedback for the new and unreleased app.

The Farm Crap App Pro is a collaborative project between Duchy College and Rothamsted Research North Wyke to develop an easy to use, accurate and reliable way to manage and record slurry spreading information and data on manure.

The finished app will include the ability to comply with Nitrate Vulnerable Zone regulations, as well as the new Farming for Water rules alongside the ability to truly integrate manure and slurry applications with bagged fertiliser to allow for environmental protection and economic benefits.

New features include:

  • the ability to map all the fields on your farm
  • individual crop nutrient recommendations from RB209, to allow you to complete field nutrient plans
  • the ability to take into account applications of compost, digestate and other products, including your own data from slurry or manure analysis
  • the ability to take into account the application method (dribble bar, trailing shoe, injection) and account for the increased nutrient availability that comes with these bits of kit
  • the ability to include applications of bagged fertiliser.

Group member, Ryan Renfree said,”This is one of the best meetings we have ever had. It was really hands on and exciting to have an input into the finalisation of the new app”. The app developers really encouraged the group to put the app through its paces and criticise any flaws or pick out things which had the potential to be improved. The evening finished with a group discussion about which areas of improvement were priority and general feedback from the group. The new app looked really promising and is sure to be an extremely useful tool for farmers.

Agri-Tech Cornwall Young Innovators Forum

The Duchy Discussion Group recently welcomed Becky Willson to talk about Soils, Carbon and Climate. Increased focus on reducing emissions within agriculture has created a lot of negativity towards the sector, at a time where the industry is already volatile and has become susceptible to a lot of bad publicity.

Becky is Research Leader for The Soil Carbon Project at the Rural Business School, In 2017 Becky completed a Nuffield Scholarship and travelled around the world looking at agricultural emissions, soils and meeting global scientists within the industry. Becky has an unambiguous passion for areas related to soils, emissions and science and her knowledge around these topics is influential.

The group were provided with a very interesting talk that enabled everyone to have a clear understanding of the scientific and environmental factors that have been associated with agricultural emissions, and how we should be looking after our precious soils to enable better returns. Becky enabled the group to understand the various ways on how the industry can sustainably reduce theimpacts of farming on the environment, international and national targets to lower emissions and showed the group examples of work that Becky is involved in.

The group would like to thank Becky for taking the time to provide us with such an interesting and educational evening.

Duchy Discussion Group was set up in 2016 by an enthusiastic group of graduating students, who wished to join, or develop their own, progressive farming–related businesses. Their aim was to establish a dynamic forum to build on the motivation they developed during their time at Duchy College. Their activities have included visits to the Houses of Parliament, meetings with MPs George Eustice, the farming minister and Neil Parish, chair of the Efra Select Committee and various visits to leading farms. More recently the group has become the Young Innovators’ Forum, being joined by early–stage researchers from the partner organisations in the Agritech Cornwall project. New members are very welcome.
Please contact Rachel Abrahall at – rachel.abrahall@duchy.ac.uk or 07970985914.

Promoting farm safety to 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 issue among students.

The number of fatal accidents on farms is refusing to drop, with 158 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.