Questions and Answers

What does BOFIN do?

BOFIN seeks to promote the work of farmers who carry out their own on-farm trials and provide a voice and a platform for the views and the discoveries of those farmers. The aim of BOFIN is to ensure this work is valued, that it is recognised and that it makes a positive contribution to the progression of UK agriculture and to farm-based science globally.

How do farmers in the network benefit?

BOFIN aims to provide a hub to connect farmers who are interested in doing on-farm trials with like-minded farmers and with opportunities for interesting and innovative projects.

The primary objective is to increase the value to the individual farmers of the on-farm trials work they do, for the benefit of their own businesses and personal objectives. It is a goal for BOFIN that there should be the opportunity for financial reward, preferably through public funding, for those farmers who wish to pursue this.

BOFIN works with Defra and with a number of existing networks that carry out on-farm trials, such as Innovative Farmers, FarmInn, AHDB, ADAS, BASF and Bayer, to promote the interests of the farmers in the network and relay opportunities to work on projects that may be of interest.

BOFIN also works as a hub to share information, experience, results of trials, and to connect like-minded farmers.

Is there a cost to joining BOFIN?

BOFIN is free for any UK farmer to join. Those joining will be required to complete a brief questionnaire to gather experience of on-farm trials and views on key issues, and allow BOFIN to store data on their behalf they have provided (to comply with GDPR regulations). As opportunities arise, BOFIN would bring these to the attention of farmers in the network, although farmers can opt out of such communications.

Is BOFIN connected with the Farmer-Led Innovation Network (FLIN)?

FLIN represents organisations that carry out on-farm trials working with groups of farmers, including Innovative Farmers, AHDB, etc. As such there’s a strong overlap and BOFIN works with FLIN to ensure activities complement. BOFIN represents the interests of the farmers themselves, however.

What constitutes an on-farm trial?

Anything from a spray miss to replicated trial plots could be viewed as an on-farm trial. But the aim of BOFIN is to help farmers gather data that is scientifically robust and repeatable, and work towards improving the overall rigour with which on-farm trial work is performed.

BOFIN has close ties with scientists carrying out projects with groups of farmers and seeks to enable this relationship. The aim is to help scientists get better results from on-farm trial work, and to improve the value of this work, both for the individuals involved and for the wider farming community.

One proposal for BOFIN to take forward, subject to the wishes of the farmers in the network, is a quality assurance and/or continuing professional development (CPD) scheme that would seek to establish verifiable standards to which on-farm trials work is undertaken. This sort of voluntary scheme may become a requirement for those who receive remuneration for the trials work they perform, for example.

Is BOFIN exclusively for arable farmers?

BOFIN came about as a result of a noticeable rise in the number of farmers carrying out on-farm trials in crops, seeking to collaborate more and conduct trials that had more value than a simple tramline comparison. The farmers in the network are primarily engaged in arable activities, but any farmer is welcome to join, and experience from the livestock sector would be valued. There’s no obligation on farmers in the network to carry out trials and those new to the concept, interested in getting involved, are also welcome to join.

Why the interest in gene-editing?

The UK Government is consulting on whether to diverge from EU law that classes gene-edited (GE) crops as GMOs. Currently any field trials of GE crops, which includes those on-farm, would have to be grown under strict regulations, including making public where the trials are taking place, and hygiene measures to ensure no plant material leaves the site and that volunteers are destroyed. A survey of BOFIN farmers has shown few would like to have trials on their farm if regulated to that degree. But many farmers are interested in exploring GE crops, and if UK regulations change, on-farm field testing may become a key component in how they’re introduced. However, there are also many farmers in the network who are not interested in GE crops and some who oppose the breeding technique.

Who runs BOFIN?

BOFIN was set up and is coordinated by Tom Allen-Stevens, an Oxfordshire arable farmer and Editor of Crop Production Magazine (CPM). Tom has been an agricultural technical journalist for over 20 years and worked previously as a verifier for Assured Combinable Crops Scheme. He was Manager of LEAF’s Open Farm Sunday in 2011, was a Director and then Chairman of Oxford Farming Conference (2017-2019) and has been Editor of CPM since September 2011. Tom has a passion for science and innovation in farming and also leads the Gene-Editing for Environmental and Crop Improvement initiative (GEECI). He carries out his own on-farm trials and has one underway currently assessing the value of various forms of wild bird cover.