A network of farmers who carry out their own on-farm trials
Below you will be able to read about who BOFIN is, what we do and the people behind all the work that goes on. If you have any questions, make sure to get in touch.
Who are we & What do we do?
The British On-Farm Innovation Network (BOFIN) was founded in September 2020. We currently have over 700 members, 60% of whom are farmers who carry out their own on-farm trials and share their results, seeking scientifically robust ways to progress their farm practice. The rest of the membership are scientists who carry out this work, innovators, knowledge exchange managers.
BOFIN members are particularly keen to be involved with technological innovations at an early stage in their development. Crop innovations represent a key focus for BOFIN. The BOFIN model has created a ‘Knowledge Cluster’ that acts as a communication channel and opens up a tiered approach to how farmers are engaged.
Policy influence – helping advise government on farming innovation policy through FLIN; work with APPG for Science & Technology in Agriculture; set up Gene editing initiative (GEECI) to bring scientists and government together to help free up regulation in UK of new plant breeding techniques.
Industry involvement – advise companies on press relations and communications with a farming audience, especially arable farmers, specialising in how innovations can bring positive change. Current clients include Redekop, RAGT, Trinity AgTech, and Small Robot Company.
We would love to invite you to join BOFIN by becoming a member, for FREE and with no obligations. While it’s primarily for farmers, especially those who take part in or have an interest in on-farm trials, we’re also keen for scientists to join the network, and anyone in the industry at the cutting edge of innovation.
Tom Allen-Stevens (BOFIN founder and creator) – Oxfordshire arable farmer and award-winning journalist with 23 years’ experience in communications to an arable farming audience. Key strengths in conveying technical innovations; engendering trust from a farming audience; knowing how a farmer thinks; good links with arable farming press; wider network of 500+ progressive farmers, 5000+ Twitter followers, strong industry contacts; former director and chair of Oxford Farming Conference.
Skye Melita (BOFIN community manager) – MSc in Psychology and a background in website building, media and effective marketing. Accomplished, enthusiastic and prolific on social media. Key skills include involving and engaging groups in the most effective way for company aims and objectives. Although new to the world of agriculture, is keen to bring a fresh perspective.
Charlotte Cunningham (BOFIN senior project manager) – an award-winning freelance journalist and communications consultant, with expertise in the agriculture sector. Specifically, this includes knowledge on and experience in the fields of technical livestock and arable production. Has a passion for telling the real stories of those on the ground, driving farming forward.
Laura Beaumont (BOFIN Project Manager) is a Prince 2 qualified project manager with a BA History degree. Laura has several years of experience in project and event management within local authority, medical communications, and the innovation consultancy sector. Laura has a keen interest in agriculture with experience farming both in Herefordshire and Australia. Laura Is looking forward to merging both her skills in project management with her passion for agriculture.
Frequently asked questions
What does BOFIN do?
BOFIN seeks to promote the work of farmers who carry out their own on-farm trials and provides a voice and a platform for the views and the discoveries of those farmers. Our aim 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.
Members of BOFIN tend to be particularly keen to look at innovations and how best to incorporate these to improve their farming system.
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. There’s a value to other farmers too, in sharing the experience and knowledge gained, and BOFIN works to provide financial reward, preferably through public funding, for those farmers who wish to pursue this.
BOFIN works with Defra, UKRI and with a number of leading UK R&D institutions to ensure research on farm is farmer led. It’s in our nature to collaborate, partnering on projects with PGRO, ADAS, CHAP, NIAB, John Innes Centre, Rothamsted Research, as well as other industry leaders and agri-tech innovators. BOFIN brings them together with farmers keen to progress on-farm practice, to share information, experience, results of trials. We seek a more sustainable, resilient path for agriculture, both for the UK and worldwide. But the journey to get there should be exciting, inspiring and exhilarating.
Is there a cost to joining BOFIN?
BOFIN is free for any UK farmer to join and there’s no obligation to get involved in trials—the ‘just curious’ are welcome. Those who join may be asked for their 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, we’d bring opportunities and developments to the attention of farmers in the network, although farmers can opt out of such communications.
Is BOFIN connected with other farmer-led networks?
The Farmer-Led Innovation Network (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. We represent the interests of the farmers themselves, however.
Innovative Farmers currently lead in this area with their Field Labs. BOFIN is particularly keen to work with new technologies and innovations—ideas that may have come from commercial companies and those outside the network. The aim is that these can grow and develop into valuable on-farm solutions with the help of inspired farmers.
What constitutes an on-farm trial?
Anything from a spray miss to replicated trial plots could be viewed as an on-farm trial. Our aim 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 works closely with scientists carrying out projects with groups of farmers and we seek to enable this relationship. This helps scientists get better results from on-farm trial work, and improves 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.
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 have more value than a simple tramline comparison. The farmers in the network are primarily engaged in arable farming, but activities span all sectors and the experience of any farmer is valued. BOFIN members include scientists, tech innovators and knowledge exchange managers—we help people of all ages and backgrounds share in on-farm science and the positive impact it has.
Why the interest in gene-editing?
The UK Government has granted new powers to research gene-editing (GE) in plants. This follows concerted efforts by BOFIN, along with plant breeders and scientists, to allow field trials without the strict regulations required for GMOs. A survey of BOFIN farmers shows many are now very interested in exploring GE crops on their own farm. On-farm field testing may become a key component in how these crops are introduced and BOFIN can help ensure this is done in way that improves the overall resilience of agriculture. 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 founded and is coordinated by Tom Allen-Stevens, an Oxfordshire arable farmer. 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). For ten years until 2021 he was Editor of CPM and has also been Director of Communications and PR with Trinity AgTech. 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 runs BOFIN with a small and dedicated team.
Companies and organisations offering useful information for those conducting on-farm trials.