Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Ecosystem services and the land-based professions – telling it how it is

Charles Cowap (chartered surveyor, Knowledge for Professional Practice), Prof Mark Reed and Prof Alister Scott (Birmingham City University) reflect on how the landbridge event on ecosystems services held in June helped inform a new policy and practice note exploring how land advisers can incorporate ecosystem services thinking into their everyday practice.

The language of ecosystem services can be disenfranchising and alienating, but it’s here to stay.  And however off-putting we may find the jargon, the concept itself really does provide a new lens through which to view traditional land use problems and opportunities. We have to get past the jargon to appreciate the added value and ensure its widespread assimilation into daily practice through continuing professional development and lifelong learning. 

When a group of land-based professionals came together recently under the auspices of landbridge to talk about these issues, there was concern that ecosystem services was an overly academic idea for the adviser in his or her day-to-day practice.  It was only after an amount of discussion and breaking down of the jargon that participants began to get to grips with what is involved.  There was an emerging consensus around the importance of place-making and place identity, benefits, risk and resilience as key unifying hooks to engage practice and understanding.  At that event, Alister Scott and colleagues from Birmingham City University even remodelled the Biblical story of Ahab and Naboth (Kings C21), with Charles Dickens’ Scrooge for modern times, using Provisioning, Regulating, Supporting and Cultural ecosystem services in a dream of land use futures.   This certainly helped to make the concepts more real for us.

The ecosystem services framework, and the wider Ecosystems Approach that it came from, promises changes to the way in which we all do our jobs, to the valuation, appraisal and management of the natural environment.   It could transform the way we manage land, undertake development, value assets, appraise plans, programmes and projects, and pay for a range of goods and services. This has far-reaching implications for the land-based professions, including for example, planners, chartered surveyors, agricultural lawyers, the agricultural supply industry and advisors such as agronomists and nutrition advisors, working in areas such as valuation, estate and property management, construction, property development and environmental services. 

So delegates at the event in Birmingham were calling for more tools that would help them to develop their professional knowledge.  They wanted, "a robust and mainstreamed toolkit", "tools for practical implementation of scientific and policy work into practice" and recognised the need for “professional confidence in an approach that has political support".  This in turn led to calls for "advocacy and promotion to a wider audience".

Some practitioners were curious as to " …how to value alternative land uses", while others stressed the "... role of [the] agricultural supply industry in knowledge transfer and policy adoption by farmers", coupled with a comment that "greater consideration is needed as to how to influence farmers to work for the environmental public goods".  This was also reflected by another participant’s comment about, "the need to identify win-win strategies to achieve adoption of environmental policies by land managers seeking to make a living".

A potential disconnect between current agricultural policy and the government’s adoption of the Ecosystems Approach in the Natural Environment White Paper was recognised by one comment, "Sustainable intensification as outlined in Prof Beddington's Foresight Report is the basis of future agricultural policies.  What is the role of the ecosystems approach in meeting this policy objective?"  A pertinent question indeed!

Researchers were also left with some questions from the event, for example one commented on a lesson learned: "knowing how non-academics view and use the Ecosystems Approach, learning the research priorities of these professionals", and recognising the importance of  "....the link to farming groups and related professional advice giving sectors".

A recurring theme was the importance of, "valuing things which have traditionally been unvalued and therefore neglected or exploited".  There was also a clearly articulated need for more accessible and concise information. 

Landbridge hopes to go some way towards filling that gap.  A new Policy and Practice note will be coming out, authored by us and with input from all the participants, enabling the ‘people on the ground’ to use ecosystem services in their practical land management.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Rural businesses – central to the countryside or just an add-on?

As Defra and Local Enterprise Partnerships consult on future funds for economic growth and rural areas, will you be having your say, asks Roger Turner, Rural economies consultant and Honorary Fellow at the Centre for Rural Economy, Newcastle University.

Where does the future of our countryside lie? Understandably, some will argue that good land management remains at the heart of our rural economies and society, and requires continuing and adequate direct payments to farmers and other land managers.  Nobody would dispute that growing food is important.   At the same time, others will validly call on government to match the funds to today’s profile of rural economies, drawing on the myriad of evidence that many local rural economies have long since ceased to be dominated by land-dependent business, community and household activities, needs and outputs.   Both perspectives may be correct, distinguished as much by where you operate, advise or represent – spatially, sectorally or functionally – as by the evidence on which you draw to justify your point of view.  Whichever of these perspectives reflects your experience, we should avoid this debate amongst rural friends distracting us from the more important goal of gaining equitable recognition for rural economies, environment and communities from those  who are currently planning the  allocation of future funding, particularly from Europe.  A shift in rural funding towards rural growth from non-farming and  food industries could rescue hundreds of thousands of enterprises and employees from regular,  marginalising and devaluing phrases too often heard in speeches by rural leaders, including ministers, as “farming, food and other rural businesses”. (my emphasis)

A significant shift of rural funds and attention to rural growth and landscape- scale environmental management schemes for example, would also send a powerful signal to those who hold, target and distribute EU and national funds that are not labelled ‘agriculture’ or ‘rural’, that rural economies and societies are more than the land, are not marginal, not homogenous, not without potential.  They share diversity and opportunity, and deliver outputs and benefits, similar to and occasionally exceeding, urban economies, yet retain special and additional environmental and community qualities which society and governments need to steward.  As such, rural sustainable and inclusive growth is as much the responsibility of public and business bodies as those of our towns, cities and global linkages. 

Over the last couple of months a new approach of integration and devolution, arising from the EU’s Common Strategic Framework, has generated two rare opportunities for business and resident communities across urban, rural, coastal, remote and densely-populated areas to help set priorities, develop programmes and projects, and target funds for the next 6 years.  And the insight and voice of rural professionals is sorely needed.

Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) are providing the first of these opportunities, as they consult on their draft European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) Strategies.  Defra ministers launched the second as a consultation on recently-agreed CAP reforms.   Both have far reaching impacts on the future balance of growth between different types of territory, as well as between beneficiaries and activities within rural and other places.  The CAP Reform consultation is the most comprehensive and open consultation about the national allocation of EU’s rural funds that I can remember, since the government’s ALURE (Alternative Land Uses and Rural Economy) initiative in the mid-1980s.

LEPs’ ESIF Strategies give form to the EU’s Common Strategic Framework at a local level.  Responding to a plethora of advice from the UK Government over the summer, these Strategies will set priorities and share of EU funds from 2014-20.   These funds are worth several tens of billions of pounds, and rural needs deserve to be embedded within these commitments.

Draft Strategies were submitted to the UK Government in early October.  Their initial response has been made to all LEPs.  Whilst more work remains to be done, most LEPs have apparently avoided focusing on Protection of environment, Climate change and Transport Objectives, and rural development is often weakly addressed.  Some LEPs are matching the spirit of integration from the EU Framework, setting out priorities and proposals such that any group, community or business, working to deliver its strategic objectives should be eligible to bid for funds, irrespective of their location.  This seamless approach is far from universal.  Industries, functions, economic drivers chosen as the focus of some LEP Strategies, will marginalise or exclude some territories, businesses or communities including rural ones, by their design.  Sadly, others have continued weak practices and outdated perspectives of rural economies and environment, presuming them only to be farming and food-dependent or committing to invest in rural and environmental activities only if rural development funds (EAFRD) are allocated to them. Unless Defra and rural stakeholders overturn such outmoded perspectives in their responses to these strategies, rural economies, environment and communities will remain semi-detached from this integrating and rebalancing aspiration.

An opportunity and challenge no less substantial and critical to rural areas, was started by the Secretary of State for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs at the beginning of November.  By the time you read this Defra will have laid this out to farmers, business and community leaders in rural regions, as part of a country-wide effort to engage communities across England. The centrepiece of this consultation is nothing less than the balance between direct payments to farmers, and funds for growth and development from the wider, and in many cases more substantial, non-land based rural communities.  

Although we have been offered glimpses of the tense and prolonged EU negotiations over CAP in the last year, with hints of prospects and challenges for a substantial shift of funds from the first group into the rural development pillar, I suspect that few of us expected to be offered such a comprehensive and open opportunity to have our say on future directions for England’s countryside and rural areas, as that now underway.  The questions and supporting evidence, extend from principles that inform a strategic shift of up to 15% of England’s Pillar 1 Funds into Pillar 2, to detailed choices for investment, growth, environmental enhancement and climate adaptation in rural economies and places.  

As rural professionals our insight and expertise to bring together and balance competing demands and outcomes, is needed to ensure that ‘rural’ is an integral part of rebalanced economies at local, national and EU levels.  I hope we all grasp the opportunities offered in these two current consultations.   

Roger Turner, Advocates for Rural Enterprise, turners20@btinternet.com

Monday, 28 October 2013

Compromise can provide positive outcomes for all

Chloe Palmer shares her experience of inter-professional working in a unique moorland landscape

As a farm environmental advice consultant, I often work with people from other land-based professions. Recently  I was lucky enough to be commissioned to prepare the Higher Level Scheme (HLS) application and Farm Environmental Plan for Tinker Hill by the agent responsible for the management of the moor and I was reminded how enjoyable and positive such inter-professional working can be.
Tinker Hill, near Carlecotes on the boundary of South and West Yorkshire is a unique moorland site. Rising to 410 metres (1345 feet) and extending to just 236 hectares (583 acres), it is small compared to most moors. It is surrounded on all sides by a public road and residences, and farms are dotted around its boundary, yet it feels wild and remote. Ten years ago it was restored from a purple moor grass (Molinea caerulea) monoculture to a diverse mosaic of species rich dwarf shrub vegetation by moorland restoration expert, Geoff Eyre. That makes it a particularly special place.  It’s also one of the most important sites for breeding waders in the north of the Peak District. Detailed survey data produced by expert ornithologist, David Pearce together with information from the Peak District Wader Recovery Project Officer, Tara Challoner, have shown that the site is of regional importance for curlew, golden plover and snipe and has the potential for re-colonisation by twite.
But, important as the wildlife are, drawing up the application was a careful balancing act that had to take a whole range of factors into consideration.  That’s where inter-professional working comes into its own. Tinker Hill is managed as a grouse moor, albeit not intensively, and careful rotational burning takes place on the drier areas and in the vicinity of the grouse butts. The tenant grazes the local breed of white-faced woodland sheep on the moor.  He is also the gamekeeper and his careful control of vermin has benefitted the wader populations. Much of the moor drains towards a Yorkshire Water reservoir.
On areas of blanket bog, under the terms of HLS, Natural England’s preference is for no burning or, if it has been burnt historically, they stipulate this should be done a rotation of at least twenty years.  But this long burning rotation is at odds with the needs of some of the breeding waders on Tinker Hill, which need a variety of ages of heath species to feed and breed successfully. On lower, south-facing moors such as Carlecotes, where heather grows faster than on moors at higher altitudes, long burning rotations can increase the potential for wild fires. The ease with which the site can be accessed on all sides places it at greater risk of an accidental blaze. And of course this ‘leggy’ heather is not favoured by grouse moor managers because it provides insufficient food for grouse chicks.
Compromise was needed.  By referring to photographs, survey records and evidence provided by experts including Geoff Eyre, Tara Challoner and David Pearce, we were able to build up a picture of how the past management of the site had contributed to its special status. With the valuable input of the agent and the tenant, supported by my own survey results, we identified areas of heather on peat which could be burnt more frequently.  There were also those parts of the moor which were wet blanket bog dominated by cotton-grass which could be left un-burnt without prejudicing the survival of the breeding waders or creating an unacceptable fire risk.
This is an exceptional example of a diverse moor with some of the greatest variety of heath vegetation I have seen in the Peak District. To ignore the successes of the historic management regime and restoration work and the investment of effort by all parties to create a unique site would seem at best naïve and at worst, neglectful. Moors provide many positive environmental and socio-economic outcomes in addition to carbon sequestration.
By working together, we have been able to achieve a result which benefits all parties.  As well as ensuring a favourable environment for wildlife, the ten year HLS agreement will provide much needed income so that the excellent work at Carlecotes can continue.

Chloe Palmer, Farm & Environment Consultancy Ltd, chloe@chloepalmer-farmenvironment.co.uk

Friday, 11 October 2013

Farm advisers: how does their advice measure up?

Emilie Vrain, a PhD student in Environmental Science at the University of East Anglia explains about her research on advisers and diffuse water pollution

For many farmers Catchment Sensitive Farming might seem like yet another thing to think about.  At the moment, certain farm practices to help reduce water pollution are regulated, whilst others are being recommended as best practice. If farmers aren’t employing best practice, who might be well-placed to influence them, and persuade them of the need to make changes?    

I am currently working on the Defra Demonstration Test Catchment programme, which is all about identifying the most effective means of reducing diffuse pollution.  Land management practices are key to this and my thesis focuses on farmer attitudes and behaviours and the role of farm advisers in helping farmers to implement mitigation measures.

The research has given me a great opportunity to travel around the three regions of England - North West, South West and East Anglia, and talk to a wide variety of people who provide advice to farmers, such as independent agronomists, consultants, vets, water companies, environmental organisations, government staff, farmer networks and sale reps. The kinds of questions I have been trying to answer are:

-          Who recommends which mitigation measures where?
-          How do recommendations differ between sources of advice?
-          How effective are the recommendations/ is success rate monitored?
-          What is the most effective pathway to deliver advice (who and how)?

In addition, each year the Catchment Sensitive Farming initiative conducts a national telephone survey to collect evidence on the effectiveness of their scheme.  They have kindly allowed me to add two questions designed to find out the degree of trust farmers place in different advisers.  I’m hoping that this will provide a different perspective that I can compare with the results of the farm adviser interviews.

Then, this winter I will be carrying out more in-depth interviews with farmers to explore their perspective in more detail.  I want to find out their views on the most suitable source of advice for diffuse water pollution mitigation measures and whether advice alone is enough to prompt them to adopt particular measures.  If not, we need to understand what is needed to encourage them to change their land management practices.

To find out more about the research contact Emilie Vrain E.Vrain@uea.ac.uk

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Water Framework Directive – How can agriculture help deliver a better water environment? And how can you contribute?

Robert Brotherton, Principal Officer for Agriculture and Land Management within the Environment Agency’s Yorkshire and North East Region Environment and Performance Team explains: 

Diffuse pollution is one of the major challenges to the provision of that essential commodity for human life, a clean water supply.   How can we, at the Environment Agency, work with land managers and other key partners to address this situation?

The European Water Framework Directive is one of the major drivers for action on clean water and over the last few years the Environment Agency has changed the way we work towards a "catchment approach" that aims to deliver the outcomes this legislation demands and which should reduce diffuse pollution.  Now there is a real opportunity for land managers and other stakeholders to contribute to the current “Challenges and Choices” consultation that the EA is carrying out and that will help deliver the necessary changes.

We know that we need to produce more food for a growing population.  A drive for “Sustainable Intensification” will lead to expectations to raise yields, and ensure we use resources such as fertilisers more efficiently.  But increasing yields is no longer sufficient.    We also need to reduce the environmental effects of food production. That requires economic and social changes to recognise the multiple outputs required of land managers, farmers and other food producers, and a redirection of research to address a more complex set of aims.

Agriculture itself relies on a sustainably managed environment, with reliable, clean water and well managed soil, essential to underpin food security and growth. But the impacts from agriculture on the land, water and air environment in turn, can be significant; around a third of known reasons for failure of the Water Framework Directive are attributed to agriculture.

So it’s not going to be easy or straightforward.  Changes to climate, increasing global population and concerns over energy and food security will intensify and make even greater demands on land in the future.   Government agencies will have to work closely with the people who manage land and their advisers if the future demands for food production are to be met, while we also meet requirements for improving the environment.   

Whether you are a land manager or other stakeholder, or you just have a view about how the Environment Agency should be approaching these complex questions, we welcome your views.

For more information on the challenges and choices consultation and how to have your say see

Friday, 5 July 2013

The science behind the schemes

 PhD student Beth Brockett shares her experience of a knowledge exchange event that brought research scientists together with the people at the practical end of land management

The idea for a knowledge exchange event came about while I was having a chat with Chair of the Cumbrian Farmer Network, Will Rawling, over tea and cake in his kitchen. I was preparing to carry out fieldwork on Will’s farm to estimate soil carbon storage and nitrogen retention and he commented that, although he had attended many events about the importance of greenhouse gas mitigation and agriculture, no one had ever explained the science behind the process of soil carbon storage to him. I did my best to remedy this, and in return Will talked me through the processes involved in silage fermentation. It struck us both that it was a shame farmers and scientists didn’t talk like this more often and in June of this year twelve farmers, ten farm environment advisors and nine academics met at Will’s farm to discuss a range of scientific topics pertinent to livestock farming in the northwest.

The event started outside with three different activities. In one part of a field, academics gathered participants around a soil pit to explain research into soil compaction and how, when combined with intense rainfall, compaction can lead to flooding – a familiar problem for many farmers in the area. The group discussed how reducing stocking levels and farm traffic could help prevent this and recent research into how species-rich swards can improve soil structure. The discussion moved onto how hammering a length of drainpipe into the ground lets researchers “take the field into the lab” to measure the nitrogen which leaches from the soil during rainfall and how these measurements relate to the soil biota and grassland productivity.

Nearby, other scientists gathered farmers and advisors around what looked like an astronaut’s helmet (and was in fact an Infra-Red Gas Analyser) to explain the basics of soil photosynthesis and respiration, and how carbon and nitrogen emissions are measured in the field. After a brief explanation the Analyser started to measure the amount of photosynthesis occurring under the slightly grey conditions. The scientists then described new research into how plant traits, such as root length and leaf size, affect carbon and nitrogen retention underground and how this links to the activities of soil microbes. Did you know that there are more bacterial cells in a handful of soil than there are people on Earth?

The flow of knowledge travelled both ways and over in the farm yard, local farmers introduced the monitoring scheme on nearby Kinnerside Common. A collaboration between the commoners and Natural England, it aims to increase vegetation diversity on the common. The farmers are trained in plant identification and surveying “with the aid of a GPS, good eyes and a handbook” and paid for submitting information regularly.

Back in the farm workshop after coffee, discussion around use of satellite images to analyse vegetation and estimate below-ground processes led to lively debate, which continued over lunch.

After the event 94 per cent of attendees said they had found it worthwhile, with a number subsequently getting in touch for further information about the research. With reform of the EU Common Agricultural Policy and changes to the UK’s agri-environment schemes likely to consider managing farmland to deliver ecosystem services like absorbing greenhouse gases, these conversations benefit all parties:

This kind of event enables scientists to understand how scientific outputs are interpreted on-the-ground and stimulates ideas and collaborations.  Catherine Baxendale from Lancaster University.

“Much of what was discussed at the meeting was actually about good farming practice and if it helps to reduce damage to the planet then we all win. I think more events focusing on how sustainable food production can work alongside genuine environmental management systems, would be well received and valued by everyone, it gets us working together and sharing knowledge.”  Chair of the Cumbrian Farmer Network and host Will Rawling

Thoroughly enjoyed today.  Personally, I would like a whole day on each topic.” Farmer Glenis Postlethwaite.

The event was sponsored by the Agricultural Ecology Group of the British Ecological Society and the Ecosystems Knowledge Network and was supported by the Cumbrian Farmer Network, NERC and Lancaster and Manchester Universities.   For more information email: b.brockett@lancaster.ac.uk

Friday, 31 May 2013

Mind the gap

Science Communications Manager Anne Liddon writes…

In many research programmes across the UK researchers are investigating the implications of environmental change for communities and the ways in which they are going to have to adapt.  It’s a potential troubling question for everyone, particularly land managers and their advisers.  So it’s just as well so many scientists are researching the theme of ecosystem services, investigating the range of goods that land provides, how they interrelate and the effects of environmental change upon those services.  But we also know there is often a knowledge gap between the researchers and professional advisers who each bring knowledge to addressing this challenge. 

Transferring knowledge between research and practice sounds as though it should be straightforward but real life it is always more complicated than that.  We have made some advances. We know from experience, that knowledge exchange can be a much more effective approach than knowledge transfer.  Involving practitioners at an early stage enables the research to be more relevant in the real world, and draws in a different, but equally valuable, kind of expertise.  This kind of involvement is happening more and more, but we can’t afford to be complacent, and we certainly aren’t reaching all the parts that need to be reached.  Landbridge is one means of addressing this gap. 

An event in Birmingham on 18 June brings together some of those leading scientists who have developed the ecosystems approach with land advisers and planners who are working at the front line.  The day is intended to help land advisers to develop their knowledge of how the ecosystem approach could be applied in their everyday practice, but it’s going to be a two-way process.  The researchers won’t be lecturing – they will be engaging in discussion and knowledge exchange in an event that is shaped by the participants.  Afterwards the experiences from the day will feed into a policy and practice note that we hope will be useful for a whole range of land advisers, highlighting the challenges and opportunities and giving practical guidance.  As I write there are a few places left (email Alister.Scott@bcu.ac.uk) but you will need to be quick.  I’m certainly looking forward to it.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Inter-professional working

Judy Pearson, a Rural Chartered Surveyor from Chesterton Humberts, Stamford writes about the latest Landbridge publication
Networking can be defined as ‘a supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest’. In rural based industries our common interest is more often than not, our client. Farmers and landowners are the reason for our parts of the jigsaw puzzle, they connect all sorts of specialists.
I read the Landbridge document on inter-professional working with great interest. The issue of competition within sectors, is something that we deal with every day as agents. The report details that businesses offering new services outside of their traditional profession increases competition. This rang true with me when I considered the number of firms that now offer advice on renewable energy, a relatively new area of expertise which most firms of agents now offer advice on.
I note the quote in the report from an annoyed land agent who speaks of accountants and solicitors carrying out valuations accusing them of taking his work away. In some circumstances I can understand why this would be frustrating, but creating an issue and not wanting to work cohesively with other professions is something, in my opinion, that must be avoided. In a job which has a diverse range of specialisms and clients, it can be beneficial to see our role as ‘part of a team of advisors’, for example, working with solicitors and accountants not against them.
The report states that important strategies to make inter-professional working succeed include reciprocity and acknowledging the expertise of other professions. Sharing knowledge between professions is certainly something I try actively to do and it has its benefits. For example, often solicitors who need clarification on things such as an intricacy of the Single Payment Scheme or something similar will call to ask the question. The favour is usually returned with that tricky question on tenancy or land law which you just can’t seem to find the answer to. Equally, having relationships with other professionals means that if something comes up for one of their clients which is out of their professional remit, they may recommend you to their client. This is one way that new business is won. Nothing is more valuable than a good reputation, which makes networking and inter-professional working invaluable.
Reading this report really enlightens you about the benefit of working with others. As an agent there are a multitude of formal networking events that one can attend, but what is often just as useful is picking up the phone and talking to other professionals and arranging an informal meet up, perhaps a sandwich one lunch time to have a chat about what you do and the practice areas you specialise in, in an informal setting.
Networking and inter-professional working in the rural industries is incredibly important, especially in an age where so much information is available online, it is imperative to keep in contact with specialists in different areas of work to chat through issues with. Working together not only has many benefits for the professional, but many benefits for the client including increased efficiency and potential to reduce costs.
I recommend reading the report to get a full understanding of the issues it discusses, it is available at:
Judy also runs her own social media campaign, find her on twitter: @blondeagadvisor , read her blog: http://blondeagadvisor.wordpress.com/

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

What is the value of advice?

Corrina Gibbs, Policy Co-ordinator at Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC)

Advising farmers is what members of the AIC do, so of course we think that’s a useful job.  But it was very gratifying to hear Ministers from both Defra and BIS agreeing that advice from professional advisers in the commercial sector is a vital way to transfer knowledge and innovation onto farms across the UK.  Sir James Paice MP,  Minister for Agriculture and Food David Heath, and Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts, kindly supported the launch of AIC’s “Value of Advice” report at the House of Commons, along with an array of industry representatives.

Publication of the report is an important step in a process that began last autumn. Although technical advice is part of the very fabric of farm life we felt that its importance has often been overlooked. Nor perhaps, has it been realised how much the nature of that advice has changed in recent years with a focus on resource efficiency and the delivery of environmental outcomes to address the challenge of sustainable intensification.  A research project, looking at these issues, seemed timely.

The AIC research was unashamedly ‘farmer-centric’, making the farmer and their business the focus of our research. We therefore engaged with farmers and advisers and it became clear that there is a ‘home team’, which led to the development of the AIC Ring of Confidence. Unsurprisingly, given the isolated nature of running a farm, the decision maker at the centre needs a ring of people whom the farmers has confidence in. This includes professional advisers, ranging from agronomists to land agents, from feed advisers to seed representatives - who provide tailored up-to-date advice and act as a sounding board for farmers’ plans and aspirations. There is an outer ring of advisers (consisting of government inspectors and advisers), who tend not to be seen as the ‘home team’. Many farmers tend to have less confidence in their advice as it if often focused on specific policy objectives and may not be tailored to a specific farm, its enterprises and its aspirations.

There is significant potential for advisers from the inner and outer ring to work together constructively to deliver consistent and relevant advice to farmers. The recently published Defra Review of Advice and Incentives also recommends that this is a way forward under their new advice framework. So what next for taking forward the Value of Advice report findings? AIC will work closely with Defra and its agencies to further develop the advisory framework and also with BIS to flesh out the UK Agri-Tech Strategy. With at least 45 million each year being invested in R&D by AIC members they clearly have a key role to play in ensuring science gets put into practice.

The full Value of Advice report can be downloaded from our website.  If you have any queries about the project please contact me at Corrina.Gibbs@agindustries.org.uk

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Could online knowledge resources be made to work more effectively for land-based professionals?

 Asks Charles Leventon who manages the Harper Adams Openfields initiative

At the recent AgriFood Charities Partnership Fourth Annual Forum held at the Farmers Club, Lord Curry of Kirkharle , who is a Patron of the Partnership, spoke of the various challenges facing the industry and urged the sector to share knowledge and work together to address these.  While acknowledging initiatives such as the Centre of Excellence for UK Farming and OpenFields, as well as Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, Lord Curry made the point that the large number of projects concerned with the delivery of knowledge to land-based practitioners presents a confusing picture.
I would agree that the multiplicity of knowledge sources across the many disciplines of the land-based sector present a complicated, fractured and, what is probably, an incomplete picture for the end users – farmers, land managers, advisors and their networks.  The large number of organisations involved (both as knowledge developers and knowledge disseminators) across so many disciplines means there is a vast amount that is of potential use – but it is difficult to gain an adequate picture of where the useful knowledge resides, despite the power of Google and other internet search engines.
Of course, access to online resources is not the ‘silver bullet’ solution for knowledge exchange across the sector – but well organised and readily accessible information online can enable more effective learning through both formal and informal best practice networks.  Whilst working on the development of OpenFields as an open-access library for the industry, the team at Harper Adams University has encountered the wide variety of approaches to providing online access to knowledge resources:
·         Many single organisation sources and some aggregated collections
·         Use of links vs offering direct downloads
·         Free to access or ‘members only’ or ‘pay to view’
·         Different levels of detail in describing or organising (cataloguing) items for search or browse
·         Much variation in approach to copyright and re-use licensing
A few examples to illustrate the variations are provided among the links at the foot of this blog.
This leads me to pose the question how can we best or better organise knowledge materials online: a) to help users access them more readily and b) provide a reasonably comprehensive picture of where the most useful knowledge is being developed?
Two suggestions for more effective knowledge sharing
1.    Make sure there is a copy of everything deposited in one place Let’s all start to put a copy of each newly produced knowledge transfer/exchange items (in digital format – text, audio or video) in a single cooperative ‘space’ where it can be readily accessed, would probably be more findable by search engines and could be consulted in the context of other materials.  Authors may be reluctant to do this if they think it detracts from their organisation specific web site.  However, I would argue that it is better to be seen as being part of the bigger picture – the result may be that users become more aware of your organisation’s capabilities.  Furthermore, I would suggest that the existence of a high profile main aggregator will encourage the knowledge developers to translate and more rapidly disseminate the products of research into practitioner friendly materials.
2.    Enable re-use and onward publication While we might debate whether and how the sector would implement such a cooperative effort, we could take immediate steps to make our knowledge materials more transferable – i.e. by making clear how they may be used, repurposed or republished.  Too often the authors and publishers of helpful, best practice guidance remain silent regarding copyright and licensing or a conservative option is adopted, simply stating copyright ownership.  Unless the intellectual property has a commercial value by virtue of its innovation, I am presuming that those of us in the business of knowledge transfer for the benefit of the economy would want their materials to be as used as widely possible.  We need, therefore, to be explicit about any controls we see as being appropriate.
It can be straightforward to create a simple licence statement to attach to a given item.  Here are a couple of examples:
1.    RuSource Briefings: “© Alan Spedding 2013. This briefing may be reproduced or transmitted in its entirety free of charge. Where extracts are used, their source must be acknowledged. RuSource briefings may not be reproduced in any publication or offered for sale without the prior permission of the copyright holder.”
2.    Harper Adams Technical Notes:  “You may copy this work provided that this copyright notice is displayed, you do not alter, transform or build on the work, you do not charge others to access or copy the work and you make clear to others that this notice applies to them if they use or share this work.”
Creative Commons offers copyright licence numerous models that are free to adopt.  Alternatively these models can be useful to illustrate what you intend when working with your organisation’s legal adviser.
Whether we consider our knowledge transfer network to be local or transnational we can all benefit if we give more thought to how we use the internet - making it easier to share knowledge.
The views and opinions expressed in this item are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Harper Adams University or OpenFields or those of organisations with materials held in OpenFields.

A few examples of different approaches:
AdLib http://www.adlib.ac.uk/adlib/ a resource that includes Government codes of practice, industry guidelines, legislation summaries – free to browse with subscription to access various collections
Animal - The International Journal of Animal Biosciences  http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayJournal?jid=ANM  a typical academic journal web site offering abstracts and subscription for full papers
Animal Bytes http://www.bsas.org.uk/animal_bytes/  articles and presentations from BSAS presented in a simpler, more readable version aimed at farmers, technical advisors, policy-makers and members of the public.  Free, open access but republication restricted.
an example of a collaborative project - aimed at enterprises in Wales but worthy of wider exposure
CEUKF http://www.ceukf.org/knowledge-hub/  Centre of Excellence for UK Farming – Knowledge Hub
Defra Science and Research Projects Database http://randd.defra.gov.uk/  access to Defra’s considerable number of commissioned science and research reports
EBLEX http://www.eblex.org.uk/publications/research.aspx beef and lamb research publications - see also other AHDB Sector Divisions’ respective web sites for similar repositories of research information and technical guidance
Farm Efficiency Hub ubHubhttp://www.adlib.ac.uk/ghg/home.eb  a prototype service with resources collected by industry for industry to facilitate access, management and improved consistency in farm advice to support the Agriculture Greenhouse Gas Action Plan (GHGAP)
Land Life Leisure   http://edina.ac.uk/landlifeleisure/ Weekly digest of press releases, reports and articles – on subscription
Livestock NorthWest http://livestocknw.co.uk/  a four year project offering a “gateway to information, advice and support for livestock farmers looking to improve performance in England's North West”
OpenFields  http://www.openfields.org.uk/  a free to access library for the land-based sector containing collections from many organisations and incorporating Harper Adams University repository
Reading University http://centaur.reading.ac.uk/view/divisions/4=5Fq2010a2d.html   example of a university repository of academic and research papers (School of Agriculture, Policy & Development / Economic and Social Sciences Division / Farm Management Unit)
Relu Policy & Practice Notes http://www.relu.ac.uk/news/policyandpracticenotes.htm  also accessible via OpenFields
RuSource Briefings http://www.arthurrankcentre.org.uk/publications-and-resources/rusource  “a free rural information service for anyone working in the countryside or with rural people, and those supporting rural life” with full searchable catalogue also available on OpenFields
SRUC            http://www.sruc.ac.uk/downloads  a variety of documents including research notes and case studies but no information on licensing for republication

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

How is CAP reform shaping up?
Oliver Lee from Andersons’ Farm Business Consultants provides some insights on the current situation.
 Keeping up with the developments in the Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF) for 2014-2020 and the associated Common Agricultural Policy reform sometimes seems like a full time job for those of us advising land managers.  Everyone wants to know just how it’s going to affect us here in the UK, who is going to be better or worse off, will Environmental Stewardship carry on in a similar form, or will it be all change?  And will the results be good or bad news for farmers, consumers and the environment?  None of this has been at all clear.  But recent events have provided a bit more clarity on what will happen over the next 7 years, even if we don’t yet have the full picture of how this will affect us at farm level. 
A compromise was eventually reached during negotiations that was acceptable to both contributor countries such as the UK and Germany, and countries like France, Italy and many of the new Member States who were arguing for a ‘strong Europe’ (code for high spending). In headline terms future spending will be around 3% lower than in the current 2007-2013 seven year period at €960bn.

In terms of CAP, total spending has dropped by around 9% in real terms to €373bn over 7 years – i.e. around 39% of the total MFF. Due to changes in modulation rules there is likely to be a significant drop in Rural Development funds. The ‘new modulation’ at 15% (a drop from 19%) does not have to be match-funded by national Treasuries, and it is unlikely to be by the UK Treasury even at this lower rate.

All issues to do with money have been dragged into the discussion on the MFF. Therefore capping of direct aid has been included in the deal. The text states simply that ‘capping of direct payments for large beneficiaries will be introduced by Member States on a voluntary basis’. It seems pretty clear that it will be left up to individual countries to decide whether they want to cap or not, it is unlikely that Defra in England will introduce it.

Again, because it is a monetary issue (and perhaps because EU leaders like to call the shots), ‘greening’ has been dragged into the Budget discussions. The proportion of direct aid going towards greening is to be fixed at the original figure of 30%.  Interestingly, the text states that there will be a ‘clearly defined flexibility for Member States relating to the choice of equivalent greening measures’. This seems to suggest that Defra’s preferred option of greening via the ELS will be allowed.

The new MFF still has to be ratified by the EU Parliament. The Parliament has always been a strong supporter of ‘more Europe’ – i.e. greater spending. It is unlikely to be happy at the cuts that Heads of State have agreed. Whether the Parliament will actually block the deal is unclear. It may simply flex its muscles a bit and then acquiesce.

With so much tied-up already it doesn’t seem to leave much for Farm Ministers and the EU Parliament to decide within the CAP reform negotiations. At least the fixing of the Budget now allows these negotiations to progress. We, at Andersons, would hope that the full Parliament can sign off the European Parliament’s position within the next month, and Farm Ministers can also agree their version. That would still give an opportunity for a political agreement on CAP reform by the end of the Irish Presidency in June. As ever, the devil is likely to be in the detail. The comprehensive ‘Implementing Regulations’ setting out this detail are unlikely to be available before the autumn. So, although the Budget deal has taken a step forward, there is still some way to go before the final shape of the CAP post-2014 is known.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Only connect…..
The recent Foresight report on “Future Identities, changing identities in the UK: the next 10 years”, highlights the importance of technology and “hyper-connectivity”.  What does this really mean for rural businesses and the people who advise them?  Rural Business Adviser Simon Haley is from a generation that has embraced this technology, for both business and social life.  In his latest blog he shares some insights.

Is social media just the latest buzzword or can it really enable interprofessional working? asks Rural Business Adviser Simon Haley
Among the buzzwords at the inaugural workshop of the Landbridge Network was that phrase ‘social media’.  Most of those in the room had probably heard it before, but I would guess that few are actually using it daily in their business lives.   Social media used for business is quite different from using it to connect with friends.  But advances in technology have made communications much easier, and the borders between our personal and business lives are becoming blurred, with public profiles linking individuals to businesses.  That can mean reputations being enhanced or damaged for both.
Very simply, social media can be defined by its terminology. Being social is all about sharing and interaction, and the same conversations that happen face to face are now online, where others can listen in to those conversations and add their opinion. This means that I can make contact with other professionals across the country without having to visit them. And by making regular contacts of this kind, familiarity builds into a longer-term relationship.  This is a concept I was putting into practice throughout 2012.  But the way we use the internet and applications on mobile phones have moved to a new level, beyond simply providing information via a webpage. The world is now dominated by interaction and engagement. Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook are three of the most widely known social networking sites, but sites such as YouTube and eBay also come under this umbrella owing to their feedback and interaction mechanisms. 
So how do we use this explosion in social media effectively for interprofessional working? Well currently, I am involved in a project which aims to address this exact question. I run a two hour online discussion forum on Twitter every Thursday evening looking at issues within the rural industries. This platform, under the profile and hashtag #AgriChatUK, gives everyone involved in agriculture a place to share ideas, discuss pressing rural issues, debate hot topics and connect with other people in the industry.   There are open discussions, with over 4,100 followers, and a varied range of participants including farmers, rural advisors, land agents, lawyers, journalists, academics, NFU officeholders and people who are simply interested in the countryside. I am convinced it opens up new connections within the industry.  To give just one example, a recent discussion on the role of the levy boards saw the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, DairyCo and BPEX join Twitter specifically to take part.  And the comments they received gave them a lot of useful feedback, including answers to questions they might not have considered asking.
If more professionals used social media in its most basic form simply to expand networks and connections, then I believe the right questions can be asked more quickly, and to better effect, and directed towards the right people within the industry.  But we need to look ahead too.  Social media must be developed and given its proper value. It is not something that businesses or professionals should undertake half-heartedly.  They could be using online networks to transcend traditional exchange barriers such as distance and time, and to establish valuable relationships. Social media will never, and should never, replace traditional means of linking up with colleagues, as these are still the most important and effective way of communicating, but they are a useful additional tool.  They provide another way to get messages and news out to the industry more quickly and with greater effect.
The use of these media enables people to express opinions, which are honest, reflective and happening in real time. Summaries of the discussion from forums such as AgriChatUK  help to raise awareness and will ultimately pay dividends along the value chain. Businesses need to have a presence on such media, but it is important to know which social networking platform is right for you and how to then use this to your advantage.  That could mean keeping yourself informed about new grants, or posting an instant reaction to the Autumn Statement, which other professional firms can then benefit from, rather than waiting another week for the email briefing to be sent. The more professionals that engage in using such a resource the more the industry can benefit as a whole.  So if you haven’t been using media such as Twitter, and the discussion forums, why not give them a try?  Clicking onto #AgriChatUK might be a good starting point.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Rural Business Adviser Simon Haley wants young people to be better informed about the opportunities available to them in the agricultural sector – and he has signed up as a STEMnet ambassador to help make it happen.

At the moment, the UK is full of young people wondering what direction will offer the best prospects in the long term.    At the same time, farming is asking itself how to encourage more bright new starters into the industry.  How can we capitalise on the situation, for the benefit of both?

The agricultural sector will face a wide range of challenges over the next ten years.  It has to be adaptable, reacting to events such as extreme weather and changing legislation, so change management will be key.   Who will be expected to put this into practice if not the next generation of farmers and industry enthusiasts? Indeed, it would be remiss of the industry to expect the current workforce to weather pressures without instilling the skills further back down the line to address such problems with new ideas.

But how can we find the people we need?  That seems to be a perennial question for farming. I believe it needs to be addressed from primary school stage up, giving children role models and instilling passion to both learn and farm.  Such encouragement must continue throughout their university education, right up to the point of entering the industry.  We also need to be telling young people about the diversity of careers that are open to them within farming.  This is the only way to nurture and encourage the next generation.

Recently Farmers’ Weekly ran a campaign to support young people into farming through its Farm Apprentice online series.  Ten finalists competed to win £10,000. What a fabulous concept - I wish it had been available to me a few years ago.  Farmers’ Weekly sought to get across the idea that a farming background is not necessarily the only route into the industry; anyone who is passionate and works hard can be a successful farmer.  A non-farming background can actually provide different skills and perspective.  Certainly a rural career requires particular skillsets and attributes: a strong work ethic, a willingness to learn, an ability to apply business and practical thinking. But other skills learned outside the agricultural sphere can be useful and can make young people more flexible in their approach.

When I graduated in 2009, I actually felt overwhelmed by the scope and opportunities that were available to me. I had started out at Harper Adams with no farming background at all and after three years of teaching and a one-year placement I came out at the other end with a first class agri-business degree, but with little idea of which route I wanted to take: journalism, consultancy, the agri-food sector, or a path I was still not aware of.  I think many young people are in the same position.  There are opportunities in the world of farming, but they aren’t being told about them, the industry isn’t promoting the wide range of careers available in farming and what they can lead to in the longer term.

Because I wanted to try and do something about this on a personal level, I have recently signed up to be a volunteer STEMnet ambassador.  It means I get involved in educating and promoting the use of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in primary and secondary schools and they are all relevant for modern farming.  When I was at secondary school agriculture certainly wasn’t a subject we were encouraged to pursue; it wasn’t regarded as “academic”.   I want to be able to explain about farming to young people who may be in that position now.  

I wholeheartedly believe Landbridge can help bridge the gap between academia and professional working because I know there is a demand for this. However, it’s not a result that one project or one person alone can deliver. The whole industry, starting from the top down, needs to sign up to such a commitment. We have seen elements of it in various forms, such as Open Farm Sunday, the Farm Apprentice, and the different colleges and universities getting out on their stands at the large agricultural shows. But only when the Government, the NFU and other stakeholders including me and you, pull together can the industry be pushed forward by a new wave of ideas and keen young minds, passionate about farming.  The “Feeding Future Careers” initiative just launched by Farming Minister David Heath for Defra is one encouraging sign that the Government is starting to do its bit, so I hope that the farming sector will also take this to heart.