Wanted! Research into slugs, thistles, TB and much more
22 February 2013
Farmers and growers were not short of ideas when asked by the Soil Association to suggest issues 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 of a competition to award 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 dozens of suggestions. Growers wanted help with deterring slugs on their salad crops, and working out how much green compost to add to their soil. They were interested in no dig methods and using biochar and rock dust to boost soil fertility. They also wanted new vegetable varieties that could grow well in wet summers. Arable farmers wanted research into controlling weeds, especially creeping thistles. The livestock farmers suggested research into TB in cattle and liver fluke, a parasite found in sheep. They wanted to know how to vary the mix of grasses and clover in their pastures to get improve the yield, and how to stop rushes from encroaching their fields.
There were exciting ideas for engineering approaches such as laser weeding and precision muck spreading. Ecological ideas included controlling the flea beetle, a troublesome pest of crops such as cabbage and cauliflower, and methods to discourage badger setts from encroaching fields. Amongst the more unusual were using propolis from bees to control udder infections (mastitis) in cows, 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 researchers to tackle these 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 step in the competition 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.
To find out more about the Duchy Originals Future Farming Programme research fund and view the full list of ideas visit www.soilassociation.org/researchfund
For information on the research fund contact
Euan Brierley, Research Manager, Soil Association firstname.lastname@example.org
For media information
Sally Morgan, Producer Communications Manager, Soil Association email@example.com>