Productive relationships between farmers and scientists are crucial to solving the urgent challenges facing agriculture such as food security and net zero, according to an international team of researchers which includes ADAS crop physiologists and inventors of the Yield Enhancement Network, Prof Roger Sylvester-Bradley & Dr Daniel Kindred.
In their article just published in the high-impact journal Nature Food, the international team of authors urges agricultural research organisations and funders to recognise that for farming to make the rapid changes it needs, it is essential to build “productive relationships between farmers and scientists … catalysed by the analytical, learning and decision support opportunities presented by digital technologies.”
Farming is risky and still has huge uncertainties, driven by weather, and other daunting complexities. With On-Farm Experimentation (OFE), farmers actively undertake their own research to test how these challenges are best met on their own farms. Scientists help them set answerable questions and then apply new approaches that can interpret big multi-farm datasets. Harnessing farmers’ own knowledge and ability to innovate is fundamental to solving agricultural challenges globally. Formal research has largely missed out on this vital component. OFE is now rising in popularity across the world, driven by digital technologies, the need for decentralised research and other factors. However, it still requires support and better recognition by funders and investors to truly revolutionise current ways of farming globally.
The Yield Enhancement Network (YEN), founded and managed by ADAS, is listed as a prime example to demonstrate the new potential of ‘On-Farm Experimentation’. The datasets gathered through YEN via hundreds of farms have allowed both farmers and researchers to tease out farm-specific changes as well as new generalisable insights on how to grow more efficiently and develop solutions to challenges which, on an individual farm level, seem insurmountable.
The full Nature Food paper can be found at: https://www.nature.com/articles/s43016-021-00424-4
Prof Roger Sylvester-Bradley, YEN Director said that
“The YEN is a fantastic example of the farming industry doing its own ‘Action Research’– whilst celebrating and rewarding excellence in cropping, we are also leading the way in showing how physical benchmarking and on-farm experimentation can be shared by everyone. These advances now need further support to develop the potentially huge public, as well as private, benefits of digital agriculture.”
Dr Daniel Kindred, crop physiologist at ADAS, commenting on wheat yields said,
“Over nine harvests YEN has now created an invaluable database of >2,000 yields and >500,000 explanatory observations. With YEN members and sponsors we are now analysing these to work out how to grow better crops, but there is huge potential for deeper analysis, on-farm trials and learning. And we can now look to join forces with the new global community of ‘On-Farm Experimenters’ which we estimate has already involved over 30,000 farms.”