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Projects

See the ‘slug-resistant’ wheat

Wheat believed to be resistant to slugs will be one of the star attractions at the Breeders’ Day at the John Innes Centre on Tuesday 21 June 2022.

BOFIN members have been invited to attend the event and a select few will get the opportunity to put this wheat to the test in a ground-breaking trial this autumn.

The wheat is one the Watkins Collection of landrace wheats currently being screened for interesting traits by scientists working on the UKRI-funded Designing Future Wheat (DFW) programme.

A set of choice chambers was used that allows slugs to choose at random varieties they would like to graze and those they prefer to avoid. Researchers found there was one wheat that stood out as consistently spurned – Watkins 788.

“We don’t know yet whether this wheat truly resists slugs or whether they’d still eat it in a field situation where there’s no other choice,” explains Prof Simon Griffiths of John Innes Centre who leads the research.

Could landrace wheat Watkins 788 be resistant to slugs?

The concept was put to BOFIN members in 2020 and considerable interest came back in conducting trials of 0.4ha plots of the wheat – the area required to provide the optimal foraging distance to study the slugs’ behaviour.

“On the strength of this initial interest, we’ve spent the last two years multiplying up enough seed, and we’re now ready to go,” say Simon. The trial will start this autumn, closely monitored by JIC entomologists.

Only BOFIN members will be able to take part in the trial. Fields with a history of slug activity are sought, preferably following a crop (such as oilseed rape) that will promote slug activity.

As a landrace variety, Watkins 788 will not be an easy wheat to grow – it will be prone to lodging, susceptible to disease, and will not yield well. But following the monitoring, it will be important to bring the crop to yield with viable, clean seed as very little of the line currently exists.

“If the wheat truly resists slugs this will be a very valuable trait to pinpoint and bring into UK breeding programmes,” says Simon.

“Long term funding from Defra and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) have given us the tools we need to identify the genetic basis of valuable pest resistance such as this.”

There’s currently about 0.5ha of the ‘slug-resistant’ wheat growing at John Innes Centre and BOFIN members have been invited to the Breeders’ Day on Tuesday 21 June to view it.

The plan is to have a ‘huddle’ next to the plot with Simon and other members of the research team to get an insight into Watkins 788 and the work they’re doing.

Any BOFIN member interested in taking part in the trial should contact tom@bofin.org.uk. They are also strongly recommended to attend the Breeders Day. To register, click the button below:

BOFIN is free to join and there’s no obligation. Join here.

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Projects

Come to a webinar on weed seed destruction

Farmers looking for an alternative way to control key grassweeds are invited to join a webinar that will offer some insight into harvest weed seed destruction.

Taking place on Thursday 26 May at 6:00pm, the webinar will give details of a ground-breaking research project involving three UK farmers, co-ordinated by NIAB, to test the efficacy of the Redekop seed control unit (SCU) in UK conditions.

Anyone with an interest in the technology can register to attend and will join the Knowledge Cluster that will track progress and help shape the project.

Trevor Thiessen

Trevor Thiessen, co-owner and president at Redekop Manufacturing, will join from Canada to give some background into the harvester-mounted SCU and explain what it does.

Will Smith

Then Will Smith, senior trials manager at NIAB, who carried out the first UK trials of the SCU with a unit that arrived in the country last year, will run through the plan for this harvest.

Tom Allen-Stevens

The three farmers involved in the project will then join BOFIN founder and co-ordinator Tom Allen-Stevens to discuss their priorities and how they hope the project will shape up.

Jake Freestone

Jake Freestone, farm manager at Overbury Enterprises, Worcestershire, has a new John Deere S790 combine and a bit of a problem with meadow brome.

Adam Driver

Adam Driver of Driver Farms, Suffolk, has a Claas Lexion 8800 which puts blackgrass into its chaff lines.

Ted Holmes

Ted Holmes, Velcourt farm manager in Warwickshire, has a New Holland CR9.90 and for him, ryegrass is enemy no1.

There’ll then follow a discussion, bringing in the webinar attendees, which will not only be an opportunity to gain further insights into the technology. Uniquely, those who take part will help shape the project and decide the activities the Knowledge Cluster will undertake.

The webinar is ideal for farmers, scientists or anyone who’s curious about how this technology can control up to 98% of even highly resistant weeds without the merest sniff of a chemical – not even glyphosate.

It’s free to attend and there’s no obligation. All you need to do is register. If the date’s not good for you, register anyway and you’ll be sent a link to access the recording after the event.

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Projects

Join the cluster for insight on weed control

A group of UK farmers are taking part in a ground-breaking research project into a novel, chemical-free method of controlling tricky grassweeds at harvest.

The farmer-led project will put the Redekop Seed Control Unit (SCU) to the test over two years on three farms in Worcestershire, Warwickshire and Suffolk. BOFIN members are invited to join a ‘knowledge cluster’ to hear first hand how the project progresses and help shape its development.

The Redekop SCU is a mill that’s fitted to the rear of the combine and processes the chaff, proven to kill up to 98% of weed seeds as they exit. Used extensively and successfully by farmers across North America and Australia, Redekop is now introducing the technology to Europe – the UK farmer-led project is the first to put the unit to the test in a maritime climate.

Potential benefits of the SCU include reduced herbicide usage and long-term reduction of weed seeds in the soil profile. It’s an option to control weeds during harvest – a window rarely used in the UK – particularly useful for those with herbicide resistance. It also reduces dependence on glyphosate.

As part of the project, weed specialists from NIAB will closely monitor populations of grassweeds such as meadow brome and ryegrass to get an accurate idea of efficacy under UK conditions.

Knowledge cluster

While just three units will be operating, more than 30 BOFIN members have expressed an interest in being involved in the project and have been invited into a cluster that will share results and other information to help shape how the project develops.

The units will be fitted, at no cost to the farmers, to a John Deere S790, New Holland CR9.90 and Claas 8800. At harvest, this will be brought in and out of operation in designated areas with weed population and subsequent germination closely monitored.

The farmers will also share their experiences with the cluster on what the SCU is like to operate, its benefits and costs. Engineers from Redekop will also come into the cluster and views will be sought from farmers operating the SCU in other countries.

BOFIN would welcome into the cluster any farmer genuinely interested in the project. You must be a BOFIN member, which is free to join and there’s no obligation.

There are plans for a webinar in May or early June to kick off activity for the Redekop Knowledge Cluster. Members of the cluster themselves will decide what happens thereafter.

For more details on the Redekop SCU, see our previous news item

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Opportunities

Paper-free promise from farmer-friendly app

Farmers looking to take their record-keeping paperless but who baulk at the prospect of software that’s too complex and not designed with their business in mind may like to look at HUSK (www.huskdata.com).

This is a new app that’s been developed by BOFIN member James Hart of BHI Farming, based in Gloucestershire. He’s offering other BOFIN members a free trial of the app, that has just been launched and is still at Beta version.

“Our tractors may be able to steer themselves but to get their performance onto a computer is tedious,” notes James.

“We’re often unable to find the relevant data because it is somewhere out on the farm scribbled on a bit of paper, if it was even recorded at all. So knowing how many hours work to charge on, whether a farm assurance or stewardship record is up to date or simply how many loads of grain have left the farm can turn into a time-consuming task.”

Determined to get a grip on these records and ensure he always had up-to-date data at hand, James introduced a system across the business, originally based on Google Forms. This was developed into an app two years ago that’s been refined and adapted for general farm use.

“You can set HUSK up to record whatever you want – we now have no paper on the farm – and it takes less than an hour’s setup to have all the forms you require,” he says.

“But it doesn’t seek to replace the more complex apps you might use to record spray applications, for instance. This is for simple records that are difficult to record without paper. You can then review all operations and transfer data to another program for analysis and investigation.”

James has received interest in the app from neighbours and members of his local arable study group, so has offered it on a free-of-charge trial basis to BOFIN members – those interested should contact tom@bofin.org.uk.

The intention is to form a knowledge cluster to exchange feedback, tips and ideas on how to use and develop the app.

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Projects

Funding available for big ideas

Farmers are being asked to take part in ambitious research projects designed to bring new, innovative methods of food and energy production and technologies into the field.

Two competitions have been launched under the Farming Innovation Programme, run by Defra and UKRI worth a total of £20.5M. Bids have been invited for projects that will help farms become more productive, environmentally sustainable, and more resilient to the global food security challenges of the future.

BOFIN is looking to be a collaborative partner in one of the projects and is asking members interested in being involved to come forward.

The Farming Futures Research and Development Fund offers £12.5 million to projects valued between £3-6M, lasting up to four years. It will fund large-scale, ambitious, and transformative projects that focus on mitigating greenhouse gas emissions or help the sector adapt to climate change.

Areas where innovation can help include using modern breeding techniques to develop new crops that are better equipped to cope with extreme weather events such as drought, extreme temperatures, or flooding.

The projects must be collaborative and must benefit farmers and growers based in England. The closing date for an Expression of Interest is 18 May.

Large scale

The Large Research and Development Partnership projects launched in October last year and this is the fourth competition which has £8 million available.

The industry-led partnership fund aims to drive forward large-scale research, development and demonstration of solutions to substantially improve the productivity and environmental sustainability of England’s agricultural and horticultural sectors.

Projects must have a significant focus on demonstration and knowledge exchange to enable the commercialisation and adoption of new solutions.

With projects lasting up to four years, the value of each will be £3-5M and again must deliver benefits to farmers and growers based in England. The closing date for full applications is 29 June 2022.

BOFIN has attended the briefing events for both of the two funds and is actively looking to be involved within a consortium to engage a group of BOFIN members interested in testing innovative technologies on farm. Funding for the farmers who take part is available.

Any BOFIN member interested in taking part should email tom@bofin.org.uk.

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Projects

Take part in a new project

The British On-Farm Innovation Network, NIAB and Redekop Manufacturing are looking for farmers to take part in an on-farm trial of harvest weed seed control.

The study is a UKRI and Defra-funded two-year program that will evaluate the effectiveness and long-term benefits of weed seed mills on combines.

Mills such as Redekop’s Seed Control Unit have been proven to kill up to 98% of weed seeds that are exiting the back of the combine. Potential benefits of this include reduced herbicide usage and long-term reduction of weed seeds in the soil profile. It’s an option to control weeds during harvest – a window rarely used in the UK – particularly useful to those with herbicide resistance. It also reduces dependence on glyphosate.

BOFIN is leading a bid for funding for the trial through the UKRI and Defra-funded Farming Innovation Programme. If successful, a number of units will be installed at no cost to the farmer on compatible models of Case IH, John Deere, New Holland and Claas combines. Weed burdens will be closely monitored by NIAB specialists and the farmers involved will share experiences with other farmers in the project and with the wider farming community.

We’re keen to hear from any BOFIN members who’d like to take part in the trial. The deadline for expressions of interest is January 28, 2022.

Most suitable for combating ryegrass or brome grasses, anyone interested should email tom@bofin.org.uk, stating make and model of your combine and the weeds you’d be most interested in controlling.

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Projects

Join the pathway to innovation

Researchers and agritech innovators are looking for farmers interested in taking part in on-farm trials as part of the Defra/UKRI funded Farming Innovation Pathways.

This £12M funding competition looks to support the development of novel innovations that will shape a productive, resilient, and sustainable agricultural sector.

Feasibility studies with costs up to £250,000 will test the viability of new ideas, and proposals must involve farmers, growers or producers to explore the potential of early-stage farm-focused solutions. These projects start in October 2021 and will last for 12-18 months.

Another strand of the funding competition supports industrial research, including the development of innovations to develop and support a productive, resilient, and sustainable agricultural sector. These projects start in October 2021 and will last for up to 24 months.

BOFIN members interested in being involved in four projects in particular are urged to come forward:

Grassweed control

This feasibility study, led by NIAB, will look at control of grassweeds using the Redekop Seed Control Unit. Not currently available in the UK, this unit fits to a combine and destroys more than 98% of harvestable weeds. The project will explore its efficacy and application.

A small number of units (around 4-10) will be imported and retrofitted by a UK dealer to combines for the 2021 and 2022 harvests. Participating farmers will get to use the unit free of charge and designate a trial area in their field in which efficacy of the unit will be assessed through post-harvest monitoring, carried out by NIAB.

Most suitable for combating ryegrass or brome grasses, anyone interested should email tom@bofin.org.uk stating make and model of their combine.

High protein beans
Roasted bean flake

This feasibility study aims to test a unit developed by McArthur Agriculture designed for on-farm processing of dried field beans. The unit heats beans to a high temperature for a short period which significantly increases bypass protein and makes them suitable for replacing soya bean meal in high performance dairy diets.

The project will try out pre-commercial units that can be a small 200kg/hr unit or a large contractor unit processing 10t/hr into flakes, meal or whole roasted beans. Feeding studies will be carried out in parallel to verify the nutritional value of the processed product.

Participating farmers will get to try a unit for free in return for submitting samples and information on energy usage, ease of use, etc. This is most suitable for farmers who grow field beans and have a ready use for the processed product – an on-farm or neighbouring dairy herd, for example – and could also participate in the feeding studies.

Anyone interested should email tom@bofin.org.uk with details of approx anticipated crop from harvest 2021 in tonnes, variety, and potential outlet for product.

Soil monitoring

This feasibility study will apply understanding and sensors developed for soil and carbon monitoring. Researchers at the University of Leeds are looking for interest in testing sensors and systems that monitor soil properties and provide metrics on aspects such as carbon capture.

Most suitable for those with an interest in climate change, and in particular if you use carbon-accounting software, this will involve designating areas in arable fields for detailed monitoring, preferably over a range of cultivation regimes. Anyone interested should email tom@bofin.org.uk with brief details of anticipated arable cropping for 2021/22 season, cultivation regime(s) and carbon accounting tool used.

Bean foot rot

This industrial research project involves PGRO, University of Warwick and ADAS Bean YEN. The aim is to develop understanding of bean foot rot and develop a decision support tool.

Most suitable for those growing field beans, participating farmers will be enrolled in the Bean YEN in return for access to crops for sampling and monitoring. Anyone interested should email tom@bofin.org.uk with brief details of anticipated crop for 2021/22 season.

Timelines and involvement

Initially, project partners are only looking for potential interest from farmers – there’s no obligation on those who show interest to be involved. Proposals for these projects are competitive must be submitted by 28 April with successful projects notified in mid June 2021.

For those projects going ahead, those farmers who showed an interest will be contacted in order to form a group. Level of involvement and resources required will vary, but it is envisaged any out-of-pocket expenses will be reimbursed. Farmers will also be actively involved in the design of the project, communication and delivery of results. These activities will be co-ordinated by BOFIN.

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Opportunities

LIN gives leg-up to legumes

The PGRO has launched the Legume Innovation Network (LIN) and is presenting a series of eight free webinars that will explore the global opportunities, barriers and success stories surrounding legume production.

The webinars are part of the LegValue and TRUE project – a high-level programme of events hosted by experts from across Europe who aim to unlock the potential for greater production across the globe.

“Pulses have an incredibly bright future, both for farmers who want to grow a sustainable, diverse rotation, and for consumers seeking a versatile, protein-rich food with multiple health benefits,” says PGRO chief executive Roger Vickers.

“I believe they can fit hand-in-glove with the UK’s new Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes, so now is an opportune time to re-double our efforts in sharing information and understanding which is what this project is all about.”

The online events mark the end of two collaborative EU Horizon-2020 funded projects which aimed to empower legume-supported food and feed production in across Europe. LIN will build on the projects’ legacies, says Roger, becoming a stakeholders’ forum. This will promote awareness of new insights, services or requirements for commercially competitive production and consumption of legume crops in Europe.

“I hope it will link people with similar interests, provide opportunities for challenges to be resolved more easily, with potential partners finding resources for mutual benefit, and directly help realise more sustainable agri-food systems.”

LegValue and TRUE project webinar programme
14 April  Digging into legumes and the potential of the Legume Innovation Network
20 April Optimising legume production
22 April  Legume-based value chains, farm gate and beyond the market
27 April The diversity of end uses for legumes
29 April Pushing the boundaries in legume breeding
4 May How legume science is enabling industry
6 May The road map for legumes: Policy and the role in transformation to greater legume production
11 May Roundup: Bringing the Legume Innovation Network together
All webinars take place at 9:00am British Summer Time; see www.pgro.org for details.

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Opportunities

Funding scheme launched for farm innovation

UKRI and Defra have announced an R&D collaboration for a new funding opportunity, Farming Innovation Pathways.

The competition will be delivered through UKRI’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) Transforming Food Production, aimed at developing new and existing farm-focused innovations.

UKRI has said it’s keen to ensure Farming Innovation Pathways translates leading research in agriculture into practical guidance to directly benefit farmers and support them to address the challenges of productivity, sustainability, and net zero emissions in UK farming.

The first competition of its kind following the UK’s departure from the EU, it will pave the way for R&D to “turbocharge” future innovation in the agricultural sector, said the non-departmental public body, responsible for the government’s £8bn annual R&D budget.

Farming Innovation Pathways will act as a bridge between the final stages of the Transforming Food Production programme and the launch of the Defra R&D Innovation package in 2022.

There are a number of innovations already funded by the programme in areas such as insect farming, sustainable livestock feed, agricultural robotics and autonomous growing systems.

The new competition will be open to ideas addressing challenges across the agri-food sector. Priorities will include robotics and automation, which could include things like vision-guided robotic weeding systems, and novel food production systems, including vertical farming.

Funded through Defra’s Future Farming & Countryside Programme, this £12 million opportunity will bring together farmers, growers and businesses, enabling them to develop novel technological solutions.

The competition has a dual-pronged approach, supporting a range of projects which can be from the initial spark of an idea through to developing transformational technologies aimed at revitalising farming practice and which can be taken up across the sector.

Farming Innovation Pathways aims to support the adoption of innovative technologies and practices, so an important aspect will be that applicants develop solutions with the engagement of farmers and growers.

The funding is split between:

  • feasibility projects (£5m): to evaluate the potential of early-stage ideas or innovations that tackle on-farm challenges, that could lead to further R&D to develop ideas into technically and commercially feasible solutions
  • industrial research (£7m): to develop novel high-potential solutions targeting real issues affecting farmers, growers and other agribusinesses, or further develop existing solutions. This will deliver transformative solutions that tackle problems farmers are currently facing. It will include working with stakeholders to assess how solutions will be integrated within production systems to achieve widespread adoption.

The competition opens for applications on 1 March with a briefing event scheduled for 11 March.

Katrina Hayter, challenge director for UKRI’s Transforming Food Production challenge, said Defra’s involvement would ensure a coordinated approach to support innovation to help develop a sustainable agricultural sector.

“There are many new individual solutions for the farming sector, but strong engagement with farmers in the innovation process ensures that these solutions can be quickly deployed within an agricultural production system.

“It is also really important that we can demonstrate the benefits of these solutions to farmers and growers, as well as the wider industry. There are many economic and environmental challenges facing the agriculture sector in the UK and further afield.

“In this context, it is vital that we work with innovators and farmers to ensure good ideas and new technologies have clear routes to adoption, effective business benefits for users and the ability to improve longer-term productivity and sustainability of the sector.”

Victoria Prentis, Defra Minister for Farming, Fisheries and Food, said she wanted the Farming Innovation Pathways competition to bring farmers and growers the opportunity to see their “bold and innovative” ideas become reality.

“We want to see farmers manage their businesses in a way that delivers profitable food production and the recovery of nature, using the best modern technology available today.

“Promising innovations such as robotics and automation, and novel food production systems have the potential to transform business performance for our farmers and help them address some of the industry’s greatest challenges.”

UKRI’s £90m Transforming Food Production programme is part of the ISCF  and aims to help the agricultural sector grow economically with less environmental impact.

The four-year programme will set food production systems towards net zero emissions by 2040 by producing food in ways that are more efficient, resilient and sustainable, said UKRI.

It aims to accelerate the development and adoption of integrated precision approaches and focuses on the development, demonstration and adoption of data-driven systems and technologies.

The remit includes both crop and farmed animal production, as well, as new production systems. The long-term success of the challenge is dependent on a diverse range of farm businesses adopting new technologies and approaches, added UKRI.

Find out more about the Transforming Food Production challenge.

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Opportunities

Consultation launched on gene-editing

Plans to consult on gene editing – which could unlock substantial benefits to nature, the environment and help farmers with crops resistant to pests, disease or extreme weather and to produce healthier, more nutritious food – have been set out by environment secretary, George Eustice in his speech at the Oxford Farming Conference.

The consultation will focus on stopping certain gene editing organisms from being regulated in the same way as genetic modification, as long as they could have been produced naturally or through traditional breeding. This approach has already been adopted by a wide range of countries across the world, including Japan, Australia and Argentina.

Highest standards

The government says it will continue to work with farming and environmental groups to develop the right rules and ensure robust controls are in place to maintain the highest food safety standards while supporting the production of healthier food.

Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference, George Eustice said: “Gene editing has the ability to harness the genetic resources that mother nature has provided, in order to tackle the challenges of our age. This includes breeding crops that perform better, reducing costs to farmers and impacts on the environment, and helping us all adapt to the challenges of climate change.

“Its potential was blocked by a European Court of Justice ruling in 2018, which is flawed and stifling to scientific progress. Now that we have left the EU, we are free to make coherent policy decisions based on science and evidence. That begins with this consultation.”

Consulting with academia, environmental groups, the food and farming sectors and the public is the beginning of this process which, depending on the outcome, will require primary legislation scrutinised and approved by Parliament.

Huge potential

Responding to the announcement, the NFU has welcomed the consultation, with vice president, Tom Bradshaw, noting the huge potential gene editing has for UK growers. “New precision breeding techniques such as gene editing have the potential to offer huge benefits to UK farming and the environment and are absolutely critical in helping us achieve our climate change net zero ambition.

“Certainty, transparency and trust in the regulation of biotechnologies, such as gene editing, are essential for farmers and industry, society and scientists, so that safe and effective precision breeding can be delivered as part of a thriving, knowledge-based, food and farming sector and we look forward to responding to this government consultation in detail.

“We know that on its own gene editing will not be a silver bullet, but it could be a very important tool to help us meet the challenges for the future.”

The consultation will run for ten weeks from 7 Jan to 17 Mar at 23:59. The full consultation document will shortly be available here on Citizen Space when published at 00:15 and applies to England only.