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Wanted! Research into slugs, thistles, TB and much more

DUCHY ORIGINALS FUTURE FARMING PROGRAMME

Farmers and growers were not short of ideas when asked by the Soil Association to suggest topics that they would like to be researched. Topics ranged from weed control and animal welfare to tackling the spread of TB and using green manures.

This was the first stage in the awarding of grants from a £125,000 research fund supported by the Duchy Originals Future Farming Programme which backs innovation in sustainable agriculture.

Farmers and growers from across the country came forward with suggestions, of which 41 had potential to be developed into research projects. The growers were interested in deterring slugs, the timing and application of green wastes, no dig methods, using rock dust and biochar to boost soil fertility, and breeding vegetable varieties suitable for wet summers. Arable farmers wanted research into controlling weeds, such as creeping thistles, and using weed suppressing species for cleaner harvests. The livestock farmers suggested research into liver fluke, TB, mob grazing, legume leys, and rush management.

There were exciting ideas for engineering approaches such as laser weeding, zone tillage and precision muck spreading. Ecological ideas included push/pull control of flea beetles and methods to discourage badger setts from encroaching fields. Amongst the more unusual was controlling mastitis in cattle with propolis from bees, and developing open source programmes for the low-cost Raspberry Pi computer to monitor environmental conditions.

Once the ideas were in, a call went out to research establishments, inviting researchers to work with farmers on these sustainable challenges. Although the grants are small by research standards (up to £25,000 per grant) the interest expressed in the fund was fantastic, with more than 70 researchers coming forward from universities, research institutes and businesses.

The final stage has been to match-make the researchers with farmers, so they can develop the ideas into workable research proposals. The proposals will be considered by a panel of farmers and an expert group chaired by Prof Charles Godfray, with the successful applicants announced by the end of March. read more   

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