Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Making the Link – Research and Practice

Chloe Palmer, farm and environment adviser, reflects on the landbridge workshop ‘Taking stock of the links between research and the land professions’ and what this means out in the field

It has always been tough for farmers and advisers to find time in their increasingly hectic schedules to keep themselves updated on research findings. 
So the event at the British Academy on 1st May organised by Newcastle University’s Landbridge Network was a welcome opportunity for me to hear and discuss how links could be improved between research and practice to make it easier for those on the front line to influence and gain access to land-based research.

Practitioner panel discussion featuring Tony Pexton (2nd left)
and James Husband (1st right)

Tony Pexton OBE summed up the challenge ahead by referring to his son Will and the needs of their family farming business in East Yorkshire. He can see how climate change, rising costs and declining resource availability will mean the future farmer’s job is a difficult one. Research will always have to be one step ahead to provide the answers, but then those findings must also be made available in an easily accessible format to those who need them most.
I was recently lucky enough to interview a family at a state of the art dairy unit in Nottinghamshire. The unit is managed by the two sons and daughter in their twenties and this team of forward thinking, highly intelligent and committed farmers are driven by the desire to continually improve the performance of their dairy herd.
Not content with relying on the extensive experience of their family and neighbours, the Bacon family work closely with their own vets and the veterinary team at the University of Nottingham. This allows them access to the latest findings to help them tackle mastitis and to improve their management of dry cows and fertility.
They also have an excellent relationship with their dairy consultant who considers how nutrition, housing and the management of groups of cows might help to increase yield.
James Husband, a Dairy Consultant speaking at the Landbridge event in London referred to the challenges facing dairy farmers but also recognised the role of the much belied supermarkets. Mr Husband pointed out the supermarkets are a key driver of higher standards in many aspects of dairy production and they are also promoting the flow of information between researchers and practitioners.
This view was confirmed by the Bacons who are delighted that as a member of the Sainsbury’s Sustainable Dairy Group, they are supported by their buyer to strive for continual improvement in all aspects of cow welfare and environmental efficiency.
The discussions at the British Academy are hopefully just the start of an exciting initiative which will see better links between universities, research establishments, advisers and their representative bodies and of course, farmers. Better communication between these groups is imperative if the industry is to continue to benefit from the best and most relevant research findings which will be so pivotal to the future of food production in the UK.

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