New research funding puts farmers in the driving seat

07 November 2013

Today (7 November) the Soil Association announces two new funding competitions to support innovative research in sustainable agriculture, as part of the Duchy Originals Future Farming Programme.

Farmers and growers can apply directly for £2,000 of investment to test ideas to tackle real problems in farming on their own farm through a ‘field lab’. Field labs bring a small group of likeminded farmers together to solve a problem, adapting an approach pioneered in developing countries that supports practical DIY research by farmers. Up to 15 winners will receive £500 cash towards their time and costs, and at least £1,500 in-kind support from a researcher and facilitator.

Liz Bowles, head of farming at the Soil Association, explains: “We’ve run a dozen field labs so far through the Duchy Originals Future Farming Programme, tackling problems ranging from weed control to reducing antibiotic usage in dairy herds. Farmers are already benefitting from the results of the first round and I encourage more farms to get involved. We have listened to feedback and we have increased the support on offer to an investment of £2,000 – including much needed practical support.”

In a parallel competition, scientists can apply for up to £25,000 for highly innovative, practical projects suggested by farmers to tackle three key challenges for organic and low-input agriculture: managing weeds without herbicides, affordable protein feed for poultry, pig and fish farming, and growing even healthier food.

Unusually, researchers must team up with farmers or growers to design their projects, and applications are peer-reviewed by hands-on producers as well as by scientists.

Speaking about the funding, Tom MacMillan, innovation director at the Soil Association said; “We had a fantastic response to the first round of this competition last year, and gathered a wealth of ideas from producers about research that could help them. This time we’ve made it even simpler to apply and focused on these three big challenges. We’re looking for truly ingenious ideas, rigorous research design and, above all, the potential to make a big difference on the ground.

“This programme is about putting farmers and growers in the driving seat when, all too often, the big bucks spent on R&D draw power, wealth and jobs away from farming to the input industries upstream of it. It’s in the public interest to shift the balance.”

Research is more crucial than ever to agriculture as the industry strives to farm sustainably in the face of climate change and increasing pressure on natural resources. Behind these new priorities is the challenge to make sure research is practical and relevant for farmers. It needs to tackle the real problems faced by farmers as they grapple with improving their productivity while protecting the environment.

Three key challenges
- Managing weeds without herbicides: Weeds are one reason organic arable yields are lower on average, which also increases the cost of organic livestock production. Solutions could include new approaches to weed control, reducing the impact of weeds on yield or creating products from weeds.
- Affordable high-quality protein feed for poultry, pig and fish farming, for instance from insects, algae or by-products: The fund will support research that adds significantly to other current projects to address this crucial issue.
- Growing even healthier food. What practical steps can farmers and growers take to enhance the nutritional quality of their produce?
The deadline for both competitions is the 5th December. Field lab grants will be awarded to suitable projects on a first-come-first served basis, whilst research projects will be reviewed after the deadline with the successful teams announced in January.
For research fund details visit:
For field lab details visit:


For press enquiries contact the Soil Association press office:
Natasha Collins-Daniel, Press Office Manager – 0117 914 2448 / 07827 925380

Notes to Editor

The Soil Association was founded in 1946 by farmers, scientists, doctors and nutritionists to promote the connection between the health of the soil, food, animals, people and the environment. Today the Soil Association is the UK's leading membership charity campaigning for healthy, humane and sustainable food, farming and land use. To find out more visit
The Duchy Originals Future Farming Programme supports innovation in sustainable agriculture. The programme helps British farmers identify and adopt practices that improve their productivity in an environmentally responsible way. It involves farmers across the country in developing innovative techniques aimed at improving yields and nutritional performance in organic and low-input agriculture. At the heart of this activity is a network of on-farm events, led by farmers and growers, where they can share their know-how, design field experiments and pinpoint practical challenges. These will shape the priorities for a new research fund, which targets key barriers to sustainable farming and food systems. The programme focuses on ecological farming, especially approaches that reduce farmers’ reliance on expensive inputs. It will therefore be particularly relevant to producers who farm to organic standards, yet open to all. The programme is funded by the Prince of Wales’s Charitable Foundation and will be delivered by the Soil Association in partnership with Duchy Originals from Waitrose and the Organic Research Centre

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