Monday, 19 May 2014

Closing the circle?

Agronomist Patrick Stephenson gives his thoughts on the links between research and practice following the landbridge workshop on May 1st.

Newcastle University via the Centre for Rural Economy hosted a landbridge workshop and discussion on the link between research and implementation. I was a panel member as a practising agronomist commenting my thoughts on how research findings are delivered to the farmer and grower to improve production systems and outputs. Other speakers included veterinary, environmental consultants and farmers. From an agronomic perspective research and innovation are practiced daily by farmers and growers around the country. The use of the most recently developed pesticides; precision farming and environmental land management by farmers and growers are all the outcome of research done previously by scientists. What are the issues if this is deemed not to be successful? Agriculture has been a recession hit industry for some 20 +years this has also coincided with the Governments withdrawal of money from work deemed to be “near market”  has meant that the downstream users of generated research have no attachment to the science . If we add to this the reverse analogy namely detachment of researchers from the end user, and the lack of opportunities for the free flow of information through the whole chain from scientist to advisor to practitioner to consumer and back, then progress will not be made. Science and research will remain trapped in a spiral of research justification and papers long lost in the archives under who cares? Can we do anything about this? In my opinion yes! The researcher has to be aware of the end user NOT the research funder but the target audience. Each project, thesis, and program should seek to have links in the relevant subjects for example:-
Issue of compaction on re-instated soils
This could have a soil scientist, an agricultural engineer, a utility company and an agronomist
Natural resistance to Saddle Gall Midge
This could have an entomologist a plant breeder, geneticist, and an affected grower.
I can feel researchers screaming at the screen reading this saying we do this already. Unfortunately, if you do then the end message is being woefully lost. Researchers must once more be in the spotlight not consigned to the backroom; to do this requires integration throughout the industry. Only then will we understand the science and research and be advocates of it. Science must be presented as accessible and important not a sound bite on the national news.
Organisations that could help facilitate this need pulling together, could landbridge be the answer? Possibly but it certainly could be a catalyst.
Was this meeting useful?  Yes.
Could something be done?  Yes
Will something evolve? Who knows?

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