HRH the Prince of Wales with Peter Plate and LIz
Bowles discussing the mastitis typing field lab
Ten years of innovation Helen Browning looks back on 10 years of ground-breaking innovative farming, the amazing progress that has been made and the many people who have made the programme a resounding success
The inspiration for the Duchy Future Farming Programme, now known as Innovative Farmers, was the work that Tom MacMillan did when he was Executive Director of the Food Ethics Council. His paper on ‘Just Knowledge’ which explored how the research agenda could be hijacked, and how little of it benefitted the practitioners in whose name it was being done, struck home to me. When he joined the Soil Association as Innovation Director we looked at how we could support research which responded directly to the questions farmers wanted answered. At that time farmer- led research was little known with most research carried out in a 'top down' way, which led mostly to a ‘wealth creating’
product for sale to farmers, rather than the knowledge they needed to manage without expensive inputs. Developing the idea
These ideas might have remained just that, however, without a pivotal meeting at my farm with inspiring folk from Waitrose. Led by Elizabeth Buchanan, they came to explore how the funds that f low from the Duchy Organic licencing arrangement into the Prince of Wales’s Charitable Fund (PWCF) might help the farming community transition into a more sustainable and economically viable future. We walked around the pigs and crops on a blazing summer afternoon, talking about the challenges and opportunities facing the farming community,
6 Organic Farming Spring 2022
and by the end of the day, the foundations of the programme were conceived. There followed months of work honing this into an application to go to PWCF trustees, and many testing moments of cross-examination before the bid was approved. The toughest interviews were with HRH the Prince of Wales himself. He takes such a strong interest in ensuring that his charitable foundations use their funding to best effect, and his dedication to farming and the countryside is renowned. He wanted to be sure that the grant by PWCF would have every chance of success, and indeed that the Soil Association was the right charity to enable that. Throughout the 10 years of the programme, he has followed the farmer-led research with knowledgeable scrutiny and excitement, visiting field labs across the UK whenever he has the chance. Accessible to all
We wanted this work to be relevant and accessible to all farmers, not just organic ones, so as well as the Organic Research Centre, we were delighted to welcome LEAF and Innovation for Agriculture into the partnership. Similarly, we wanted the key research institutions to be supporting with their expertise and staff, to help the farmer groups maximise useful data from good design of the trials, so the response from the likes of BBSRC, Rothamsted and NIAB was encouraging. Balancing practical and scientific
A key debate in the early days
You have no current subscriptions in your account.
Would you like to explore the titles in our collection?
You have no collections in your account.
Would you like to view your available titles?