Direct Driller Issue 22 – Introduction

Written by MIke Donovan

Many farmers experiment with seed varieties, fertiliser, chems, machinery, target dates… looking for ways to improve results. Some farmers post their results on The Farming Forum and other media so others can benefit. Others join groups such as AHDB’s Innovative Farmers Field Labs so specific problems can be answered. The Farm Innovation Programme from DEFRA is [to quote] designed to help farmers and growers with bold, ambitious ideas to step into innovation and build an expert collaborative team.

The Nature Friendly Farming Network is a large group of farmers who run on-farm trials and share the results. In addition, experimenting plays a big part in the work of commercial companies, universities and environment groups. It can all seem a bit British and a bit random, For many years I have called for greater organisation so projects and their results are easier to access and the work organised so it is not replicated and research funding wasted. The idea may sound somewhat soviet but for farmers, researchers and even journalists, more organisation might provide useful results.

I now see how wrong I have been. Centralised farm research would result in directives and norms which would be difficult to ignore. One glance at the Irish Potato Famine and the reliance on farmers growing a single variety to feed the nation shows the dangers of everyone doing the same thing. This Direct Driller issue has shown me some arguments for randomised research. It helps take into account the huge number of variables in any project. Soil types are just a start – the Agrii article submitted by their farm manager Dom Hughes is focussed on their heavy clay farm in Kent. Dom writes: “Nor should we fall into the trap of seeing transformations in performance as the result of one single management change” Interpreting and applying research based knowledge needs to involve the variability of outcomes which central planning of research is likely to ignore.

So maybe the British random system of farming research has it’s benefits! It certainly creates enthusiasm and application, as well as rivalry and competition. Variability is a corner-stone of farm progress, and something to be cherished. It’s benefits are seen on virtually every farm I visit, and so often it comes from the most unlikely sources. But we should not sit back satisfied. Farm education is lacking in business management which needs a higher profile and greater expertise. Readers will sense the enthusiasm of our contributors through the excellent articles they have submitted, for which we are very grateful.