New centre puts farmer priorities at heart of innovation research

Warwick joins forces with leading UK universities to focus agricultural research where it can make most difference on the ground

Farmers will have a bigger role in agricultural research and development that works for them, thanks to a new academic centre announced today.

The Centre for Effective Innovation in Agriculture (CEIA) will see five of the most prestigious agricultural universities in the UK work together to address the gap between scientific research on innovation and real-life farming experience. The centre will focus on how research and development investment can best support innovation to be adopted by farmers.

With £1.5m of charitable funding, including from the Elizabeth Creak Charitable Trust and from each University, the virtual centre will be run by experts in agricultural innovation research from the University of Warwick, University of Reading, Royal Agricultural University (RAU), Harper Adams University and Newcastle University

The centre will:

• Grow a community of funders and researchers who become passionate about the practical impact of agricultural research and the uptake of innovation by farmers.

• Collate the extensive research evidence on innovation, uptake and adoption into practical guides for policy makers about effective research and innovation funding.

• Advise and support agricultural research and innovation funders, including government, to ensure their programmes are accessible to farmers and well-placed to yield results on the ground.

Dr David Rose, Elizabeth Creak Associate Professor of Agricultural Innovation and Extension at the University of Reading said:

“Farming needs to change fast to meet the challenges of our time, including tackling climate change, loss of biodiversity and food-related illness, and ensuring resilient and secure food supply chains.

“Although UK public spending on agri-tech R&D is consistently above £300 million per annum, the adoption of research-led innovation is patchy. Crucially, there is currently no dedicated initiative to target research funding where it will be most relevant on the ground.”

Warwick’s involvement in the new CEIA will complement the trust’s investment in the Elizabeth Creak Chair in Food Security, held by Professor Murray Grant, and Warwick’s diverse research activities on crops.

Professor Rosemary Collier, centre co-lead and expert in IPM said: “Much of our research at Warwick is targeted to benefit farmers, growers and the natural environment. Our involvement in this new centre will allow us to contribute to the development of innovative research programmes, leading to outcomes that can be implemented readily on farms.

“The launch of this centre is very timely, since it comes at the start of what is likely to be a period of great change for farmers and growers. It is particularly relevant for my own area of expertise, Integrated Pest Management, where producers are facing immense challenges in managing a number of pests, for which effective, economically-viable and sustainable ‘solutions’ need to be identified”.

Prof Tom MacMillan, Elizabeth Creak Chair in Rural Policy and Strategy at the RAU said:

“Farmers innovate under their own steam on everything from blackgrass control to mob grazing, often with scant support. The UK’s main research funders are cottoning onto this, with Defra this week confirming its plans to invest in farmer-led innovation.

“This is great news but as farmers know all too well the devil will be in the detail – whether the funds are easy to access and exactly what they’ll cover. This new centre pulls together expertise and experience from across the UK and around the world to help target research funds effectively.”

Paul May, Chair of the Elizabeth Creak Charitable Trust, said:

“As a charity dedicated to the future of farming, we meet some very dynamic farmers and researchers, who share a commitment to improving our industry’s productivity, sustainability and resilience. But what’s struck us is how hard it can be marry their efforts – there’s government and commercial money for research, but it’s not necessarily targeted at where farmers will use and benefit from it.

“There’s a growing movement of independent farmer-led innovation networks that tries to plug this gap. Rather than simply chip in ourselves to help these in a small way, we want to turn the tide by helping research funders and investors support such efforts on a large scale.”