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    Knowledge Exchange

    A series of research reports and introductory videos highlighting some of the work of our partner organisations.

    Harper Adams University's Deputy Vice Chancellor Prof Michael Lee has helped shape a new report on the Future for Farming which has just been released by Farmer’s Weekly.

    The Future for Farming report sets out a range of recommendations for policymakers, each of which were drawn together after a roundtable with 18 experts from across the Farmers Weekly Transition network – which includes Harper Adams University’s School of Sustainable Food and Farming.  Professor Lee, was among the participants whose contributions fed into the report, which examined six key areas for policymakers: agricultural policy, food production, food security, trade, natural capital and climate change.

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    Cover page of A Future For Farming Publication

    Front cover of A Future For Farming - Spring 2024 publication by Farmers Weekly

    The Journey To Beyond Net Zero

    Professor John Gilliland OBE, speaking at the Future Farmer Programme event in December 2023

    Recently appointed to the EU’s Soil Mission Board and a special advisor to the UK’s Agriculture Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), John Gilliland is a willow and livestock farmer from N. Ireland, whose farm has independently been verified to be “Beyond” Net Zero. He is also the Professor of Practice in Agriculture and Sustainability at Queen's University Belfast; and chair of the innovative, EIP-Agri funded, farmer led, carbon farming project, ARC Zero.

    As an alumni of the US International Visitor Leadership Program, John Gilliland is highly respected and recognised as an excellent leader and communicator across the breadth of the Agri Food and Sustainable Land Management Sectors. This has included presentations to the Joint EU Agriculture & Environment Council, Bratislava, and the Global Summit on Soil Security, Sydney, where he was awarded “Best Paper.”

    He has been an award winning farmer in Ireland; President of the Ulster Farmers Union; a Non Executive Director of the Scottish Rural College (SRUC), and an Energy Regulator in N. Ireland; while at the same time, he has been a policy adviser for Devolved, National and European Governments on Biotechnology, Climate Change and Sustainability. In particular, for seven years, John chaired the UK’s Rural Climate Change Forum, reporting directly to the Secretary of State of DEFRA, London, and supporting the UK at COP15 in Copenhagen. While Director of SRUC in Edinburgh, he helped set up their very successful Carbon Management Centre.

    For seven years as Director of Agriculture and Sustainability of the Irish livestock nutrition company, Devenish, John led the development of the their research farm, the Lands at Dowth, transforming it into both a Lighthouse Farm for WUR’s (Wageningen University & Research) Global Network of Lighthouse Farms, and a Living Lab, in a project called Heartland, with five PhD students, in partnership with WUR and UCD, and funded by the EU’s Marie Curie Programme  (source: Prof. John Gilliland – NFU Cymru)

    The Food System Transition - how we can feed ourselves without destroying the planet

    Harper Adams University Deputy Vice Chancellor, Prof. Michael Lee, chairs an afternoon with Henry Dimbleby, MBE, a British businessman and cookery writer who is a co-founder of Leon Restaurants and the Sustainable Restaurant Association and appointed lead non-executive board member of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in March 2018.

    This talk, "The Food System Transition - how we can feed ourselves without destroying the planet" explores the great many challenges facing the food industry, agriculture and the environment.

    Hungry to Learn: Lifelong Learning Pathways for the Agri-food Sector

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    This report addresses the opportunities and challenges facing skills provision in the agri-food sector. It explores how innovative structures of learning and skills training can help generate and attract the learner talent that the sector needs to help establish the UK as a global leader in agricultural production and sustainable food systems. It outlines a new approach to lifelong learning that integrates skills and career progression, which can help overcome the long-term mismatch between workforce skills and industry needs.

    The report closely examines the experience of Harper Adams University, one of the UK’s leading higher education institutions providing specialist learning and skills training for the agri-food sector, in setting up sectoral partnerships and undertaking curriculum reform to bridge the gap between teaching priorities and industry needs. It assesses what is needed for the future development of an advanced, precision-oriented agri-food sector capable of meeting the UK’s imperatives for industrial strategy. This includes a radical new model of Lifelong Learning Pathways, an equitable portfolio of financial responsibilities, the importance of integrating new pedagogical means and methods, and an interdisciplinary approach to agri-food education, research, and knowledge exchange.

    Using these findings, the report develops a series of policy recommendations for reforms to skills policy in the UK that can help to integrate lifelong agri-food learning and skills training as a vital component of the UK’s mainstream education system. It proposes ten strategic recommendations for future national and regional legislation around skills training for the agri-food sector, and ten tactical action points for the leadership of Harper Adams University and other agricultural education providers to prioritise in their course development.

    Journey to Net Zero - a guide to action

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    What will the farm of the future look like? With a wide variety of UK farm businesses, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach, but there are already many ‘tools in the toolbox’ to decarbonise the UK’s food supply chain and help meet net zero targets.

    Based on RASE’s ‘Farm of the Future’ report, this guide highlights some of the tools available to farm businesses. It shows how farmers can be part of the transition to a more circular economy, improve soil management, deploy solutions to sequester carbon, protect rural resources, and adopt on-farm renewable energy.

    The Great Grazing Guide

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    Written by pasture experts Precision Grazing, The Great Grazing Guide has been created in response to the high increase in input costs, notably fertiliser prices, that the UK farming industry has experienced over the past year, and looks at a range of techniques and methods, including those from regenerative and grazing management techniques. The Great Grazing Guide follows on from A-Zero: A farmer’s guide to breaking free from environmental jargon which was published in 2021, and forms part of the PCF and McDonald’s wider support for UK farming families.

    A-Zero: A farmer’s guide to breaking free from environmental jargon

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    Speaking at the Farmers Weekly awards at the start of 2021, The Royal Countryside Fund's Patron, HM King Charles III, set a challenge – to explain terms and practices linked to the environment in straightforward language. That’s why we created A-Zero: A farmer’s guide to breaking free from environmental jargon. This booklet, aimed at farmers, hopes to ensure that the ambitions around improving the management of the UK’s environment are accessible to all.

    How Do Young People Perceive and Value the Agri-Food Industry?

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    "This research project set out to listen to young people about their passions and beliefs in the agri-food system, and most importantly, to provide a platform to share their ideas about how we, as an industry, can better connect, represent, and improve access and opportunities for them. 

    Overwhelmingly the research findings were positive. Although the young people involved in the project reported ‘little’ or ‘no’ understanding of the agri-food industry and feel ‘disconnected’ with how their food is produced and where it comes from, they care deeply about issues such as sustainability, climate change, environmentally responsible packaging, and the role of food production in addressing the climate crisis.

    Furthermore, they have trust and belief in the agri-food industry, hold positive views about food producers and place great value on retailers and brands to make the right decisions, which to them, are about climate positive action.

    The findings also showed that young people are interested to learn more about the agri-food industry, want to be empowered to make more informed food purchasing decisions and to have a better understanding of how their food is produced and who produces it."

    Carl Edwards
    Director, Education and Public Engagement
    LEAF Education 

    Carbon Clarity

    Practical steps you can take to reduce your farm's emissions to improve your business resilience.

    The environmental impact of farming is a subject that we all hear a lot about. But sometimes the discussions about what farmers should be doing seem a million miles away from the working day.

    In the guide you'll find some practical approaches that you can take - and not only will they help fight climate change, they will also reduce your farm's costs, improve outcomes and help to create a more resilient farming business that is fit for the future.

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    Journey to NetZero Competition

    As part of its commitment to Net Zero, the School of Sustainable Food and Farming is working to create opportunities for farmers and producers to change the way they work sustainably – and share their findings with others.

    Watch winners vlogs

    NetZero Agriculture Conference

    The conference was held at Harper Adams University in June 2022. You can visit our dedicated event page to watch the keynote presentations from the conference.

    Watch keynotes

    Application of Science to Realise the Potential of the Agricultural Transition

    Food and Farming Futures organised an online webinar on the 24th February 2022, supported by Harper Adams University’s School of Sustainable Food and Farming.

    The webinar explored how the application of science could be best delivered to ensure a just agricultural transition in the United Kingdom (UK). This is in response to the Agricultural Act 2020, climate change and the reality of a war in Europe. The webinar included leading authorities from academia, industry and policy (see Appendix for a full list of attendees).

    A key outcome of the webinar was the formation of a working group, selected to represent the sector (see Appendix for full membership). The working group is tasked to develop a report to make recommendations to UK policy makers and agricultural leaders on the application of science to realise the potential of the agricultural transition. 

    Application of Science to Realise the Potential of the Agricultural Transition - report cover

    RASE Farm of the Future Net Zero in Practice Event

    RASE Farm of the Future Net Zero in Practice Event

    RASE Farm of the Future Net Zero in Practice Event

    RASE Farm of the Future Net Zero in Practice Event

    RASE Farm of the Future Net Zero in Practice Event

    Climate Change: why it matters and what needs to be done

    UK Universities Climate Network

    Can the supply chain achieve a win-win for farmers and consumer brands?

    Karl Williams, FAI Farms

    The Role of Livestock in the Sustainable Food System - are the metrics correct?

    Professor Michael Lee, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Harper Adams University

    An introduction to carbon

    Tom Bradshaw, Deputy President, NFU

    Soil Basics: Understanding Soil Organic Matter

    Craig Patrick, Precision Decisions

    Speaker Session One: Tackling rising feed costs in beef production systems

    Dr James McCaughern


    Introducing our Adaptive Multi Paddock (AMP) grazing project

    FAI Farms and McDonald's

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    Claire Hill 0:08  
    I'm Claire Hill, Regenerative Agriculture Director at FAI Farms. We've been working with McDonald's for 20 years on agricultural research projects. Our most recent project with McDonald's is looking at Adaptive multi paddock grazing in the UK, which is a regenerative agriculture practice. Regenerative agriculture is something that's coming to the mainstream, it's been practised for a long time, but maybe only in small sections of agriculture. With the pressures that farmers are facing with profitability, flood drought, farm resilience, farmer mental health, animal health challenges, regenerative agriculture looks like it could be a possible solution to some. McDonald's in the states are part of a large project looking at Adaptive multi paddock grazing on multiple farms, and we looked at that project thought it was exciting and wondered if it could work in the UK for McDonald's, UK and Ireland. So we're putting it in practice on a 1500 acre farm over here looking at whether we can get the benefits from a regenerative agriculture system that have been claimed, like healthier soil, better carbon locked down, healthier animals, better daily live weight gain, more grass grown, lower input costs, overall happier and more profitable farmers. That's what we're looking at. The main practical changes that we've implemented are to focus a lot more on our grazing planning, which includes out wintering and bale grazing and also focusing on rest periods rather than residuals of grass. We achieve that we sell grazing, but we've moved our animals into larger groups, and we're moving them on every one or two days, which means we're aiming for about a six month rest period on most of our grazing. In order to help more farmers with their own transition, the project is capturing over 60 different measures around soil health, animal health, farm profitability, environmental benefits, so that we can fully understand what an adaptive multi paddock grazing regenerative system looks like in the UK to help other farmers in UK and Ireland with their transition.

    Harriet Wilson  2:02  
    At McDonald's, we're serving 4 million customers through our restaurants each day, and we rely on over 23,000 British and Irish farmers suppliers with the highest quality food. This makes us one of the largest buyers of British and Irish beef. Due to our extensive grazing based systems, we have one of the greatest opportunities to address climate change and drive positive change in sustainable food production. We're really pleased therefore to be working with FAI farms to fund this research on adaptive multi paddock grazing. What are the aims of this project is to quantify the positive impacts of grass based regenerative feed production and also identified best practice that we can then share with our suppliers and farmers to bring about greater impacts across British and Irish beef industry.

    How do you plan your grazing?

    FAI Farms and McDonald's

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    Silas Hedley-Lawrence  0:00  
    So one of the main things farmers want to know when they come here and they see what we're doing in our grazing planning is how do we plan our grazing. And the first most important thing to do is actually do a whole grazing plan for the whole year ahead of you, which we actually did last week. So what we do is we think about how many groups of cattle we're going to have. For us, ideally, we'd like to have one or two, but because of our water, we have to have more like four or five. So we have to split our farm to separate blocks, and then plan how they're going to move through the whole farm over those 12 months, to give us an idea on how we can play in recovery periods, what parts of farms, we want to get rested at what times of year, that helps us to figure out how big the groups are gonna be and how many acres we need per group. So the other parts of that question is, how do we plan ourselves sizes, and what we basically do is we figure out the day demand of each group and what's available in the pasture. But what's most important is actually just monitoring that residual, because we want to achieve a specific desired outcome. So that would mean in this growing season, we want to leave at least 50% behind when we've got nice wildflowers, we want to make sure that at least half of those flower heads haven't been nibbled off, so that they can flower and seed and pollinate. That's how we can increase our biodiversity by leaving that much behind as well and making sure there's plenty of nice green vegetative material to photosynthesize and get carbon nice and deep down into the soil. Whereas in the other hand, and we go into the autumn and winter, we don't mind actually grazing a little bit more. And as the grass gets a bit more mature, and brown and decaying, that's a really good time, then start getting animals a little bit tighter. Try and trampling more of that residual, which builds your organic matter levels in the soil. People often want to know how long do you keep animals in one place? Or what do you do and they need to be in a certain place at certain times. So we look at key dates. So it's things like a TB test or someone go on annual leave, we make sure that the cows are where they need to be to make those kinds of periods easier. General rule of thumb for us is in the growing season, we don't leave animals in the same cell for any longer than four days. That's because after four days, the plants grown on day one tend to start regrowing, and that's when they'll then be nibbled off by cattle or sheep that are looking for those more nutritious parts of the pasture. That's when you then start over grazing while staying in the same place for too long. General rule of thumb we try and do a one to two day move, but never more than four days.

    Pasture vs trees

    FAI Farms and McDonald's

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    Claire Hill 0:00  
    One aspect, which causes great debate at the moment is grassland versus trees. Should we just be planting trees everywhere? And the question often gets asked is well, which is best. And I think the key thing to remember, like in everything, it's all about balance and diversity. So the one good thing about grassland is it's providing a food source. And so taking grassland out of production to plant trees isn't necessarily a good thing. But where we've got big areas of open grassland bringing trees in, can be a good thing. There's scientific papers that back both, some would say that trees are better, some would say that grassland is better. But the key thing to remember is that we're producing food from a grassland. And often, when planted trees, particularly in the northern hemisphere, they tend to be timber production only. With the carbon from grassland, it's under the ground rather than above the ground. It's locked in, it's fairly stable, it's fairly secure. And there are a number of different ways in which that carbon gets down into the ground. One is through photosynthesis, and the liquid carbon pathway that takes the carbon underground. The other is with trampled and rotting material, which adds to the organic matter within the soil and lots of carbon down that way. Potentially with trees, that carbon is still above ground in the main and although we don't see it so much in this country, we're starting to see it we see it now is with fires, trees can easily get burned down and then that carbon is in the atmosphere and all that great work has gone away, whereas an active grassland that's been grazed and managed regeneratively. That continuous cycle of carbon back into the soil is ongoing. And when we manage regeneratively and we're trying to aim for deeper roots, we're taking that carbon deeper and deeper into the soil all the time.

    How do you build soil carbon?

    FAI Farms and McDonald's

    Use of AI to optimising fertility

    RAFT Solutions Ltd

    Ventilation assessment

    RAFT Solutions Ltd

    Optimising fertility and pre-breeding examinations

    RAFT Solutions Ltd

    Worm egg count sample collection

    RAFT Solutions Ltd

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