Scientific scrutiny to boost farming

A new initiative to provide farmers with practical solutions to livestock and arable problems is being launched by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society.

The Society, which is based in Harrogate and is best known as the organiser of the Great Yorkshire Show, has brought together leading agricultural scientists and farmers to form the Farmer Scientist Network.

Nigel Pulling, the Society’s chief executive, said: “Our aim is to drive forward improvements and innovations to help solve farming issues. We want to be a catalyst to help improve British agriculture and the efficacy of farming by bringing together the farmers who experience the barriers and problems, with researchers and innovators who can develop solutions.”

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The Group is chaired by Emeritus Professor Dianna Bowles of the University of York and founder and former Director of the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products.

Professor Bowles is a long-standing member of the Society’s governing body and has a track record of experience in bringing innovation to agriculture. She has a small holding in Nidderdale, where she keeps a herd of around 90 Herdwick sheep and was also responsible for setting up The Sheep Trust in response to the 2001 epidemic of Foot and Mouth Disease.

Professor Bowles said: “The Network’s goal is sustainable productivity, encouraging and supporting the changes that are urgently needed to bring innovation and improvements into farming.”

Scientists from the universities of Leeds, Durham, Sheffield and Newcastle are already involved in the new group and it is anticipated that the university farms at Leeds and Newcastle will play a key practical role in taking forward new ideas and demonstrating solutions to problems.

Mr Pulling added: “The Society has always focused on encouraging agricultural excellence, whether through our Tye Trophy farming awards, our Nuffield Scholarship, Future Farmers of Yorkshire Group, and now through this Network.

“The vision is also to nurture young farming entrepreneurs so they realise their potential – and that could be as simple as putting them in touch with successful farmers who have already experienced challenges but have grasped the opportunities that came their way.”

Previously, the Yorkshire Agricultural Society ran a competitive small grants scheme for university researchers to help nurture good links between the farming and research communities but over recent years, massive increases in the costs needed to support productive research of international quality led the Society to rethink how best to interact with scientists. It was these discussions that led to the design of the new initiative.

Among the distinguished members of the Network’s advisory group are Mike Brown, head of the National Bee Unit which is largely responsible for the bee health programme in England and Wales, and Charlotte Bromet who has been a district councillor for Selby and a magistrate for 12 years, and currently serves as vice-president of the Yorkshire Rural Support Network, as chairman of trustees at Age UK (Knaresborough) and director of REACT, a co-operative for all of the Age UK branches in North Yorkshire.

Bill Cowling, the honorary show director for the Great Yorkshire Show, is also on the panel, alongside Rob Edwards, chief scientist at the Food and Environment Research Agency. Farmers are represented by James Potter of Yorkshire Farmhouse Eggs and, among others, by David Morgan, a first generation pig farmer.

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