New research farm to combat sustainable food security challenges

A new farming research project was launched yesterday (24 May) which aims to help farmer optimise the sustainable productivity of beef and sheep farms while studying the impact of different farming techniques on the environment. It is hoped that this research will spark ideas about how to deal with the serious global food security challenge in a sustainable way. 

The project is sited at Rothamsted Research North Wyke in Devon, and is being funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

The ‘farm platform project will include three beef and sheep ‘farmlets’ which will be run on different models, so that scientists can understand how to optmise production while minimising environmental impact. One farmlet will be managed with inorganic fertilizers to try to maximise production from the existing permanent pasture. The second will be run with reduced inputs, relying on legumes such as white clover to capture nitrogen wherever possible, while the final farmlet will allow researchers to experiment with the latest techniques and technologies, such as introducing new varieties of grasses with desirable traits and understanding establishment problems.

Professor Douglas Kell, Chief Executive of BBSRC, said, “Ensuring global food security in the face of a changing climate is one of the most pressing challenges that we face as a society. Meeting it will require that we increase agricultural production whilst at the same time becoming more sustainable, and farmers will not be able to do this without the help of the UK’s world-leading bioscience research community. The launch of the Farm Platform is an exciting development because it will allow us to bridge the gap between the lab and the farm to a greater extent than ever before.”

Dr Phil Murray, who will lead the Platform’s research, said: “The platform will enable us to control and study the entire farm system in unprecedented detail, providing scientists with the opportunity to scale up their experiments to see whether a treatment that was successful in the field works at the farm scale. This will mean that the research community will be able to offer advice to farmers based on research that has been road-tested in a real farm environment.”

Scientists will be able to carefully control inputs and run offs using a state-of-the-art monitoring system. Each farm is hydrologically isolated, enabling them to measure field and water chemistry, water flow rates, greenhouse gas emissions from soils, livestock data and farm management records, as well as financial records so that they can calculate an accurate balance sheet of inputs and outputs under different treatments.

The project will also welcome scientists from around the UK and beyond, to run their own experiments on the Platform against the background of core data provided by the facility.

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