Julia Cooper, Lecturer in Soil Science in the School of Agriculture at Newcastle University explains how researchers and partners have been collaborating in an innovative workshop on strategies to improve Nitrogen efficiency on farms.
Simon Henderson, who farms organically near Wooler, hosted the event. He is trying to minimise soil loss on his sandy land by using a diverse range of cover crops and reduced tillage methods. The objectives were two-fold: on the one hand we wanted to transfer research findings on how to improve on-farm Nitrogen efficiency to the 15 farmers and farm advisors who took part, but we also wanted to learn more about the best ways to transfer knowledge to end users. Following on from a previous event in Etal, we decided to go "powerpoint-free" and deliver all information in smaller, more interactive groups. Five knowledge transfer stations were set up indoors and outside, covering: precision farming (James Taylor), Nitrogen modelling tools (Julia Cooper), cover crops (Niall Atkinson, Agrovista), soil structure (Paul Muto and Stuart Moss, Natural England), and first-hand experiences using cover crops (Simon Henderson). Small groups of between two and five people circulated around the stations, pausing for 10-15 minutes at each one. This was followed by a walk around Simon's fields, with some digging of holes and testing compaction with the penetrometer. This interactive approach was very well-received and outcomes will be fed into a guidance note on pathways to impact for agronomic research. The day also helped us to build some very good working relationships with Catchment Sensitive Farming (Natural England) and the Environment Agency and we expect to collaborate more closely with them in the future on knowledge transfer activities.