Ken Coles Nuffield Travels
Nuffield Canada selected Ken Coles as one of its 2022 scholars. This began a two-year world-wide journey for Ken allowing him to witness first-hand viable agriculture innovation systems. He has stories to share from his experiences.
Innovative Farmers of Scotland
The irony of my 10 weeks of Nuffield travel is that I met a kindred spirit on my very first day in a quaint little coffee shop in Edinburgh, Scotland. This was probably the most relevant visit related to my chosen Nuffield study topic. I was honestly a little nervous to embark on this study adventure. I don’t love travelling and I find it uncomfortable meeting new people. But, as soon as I met Ana Allamand, I was thrilled to find someone with so much in common and we hardly took a breath after four hours of straight talking. All my fears and apprehension disappeared as fast as my fancy European coffee.
We obviously shared a common passion and experience. Ana works with the Soil Association and Innovative Farmers. This group just celebrated its 10-year anniversary and it was refreshing to hear about the success of its approach. The group’s main premise is to put innovation into the hands of farmers and thus guide the research. It focuses on what it calls Field Labs or on farm trials. The association receives a grant that allows them to pair innovative farmers with relevant scientists to co-design and implement research trials. Flexible funding is critical to its success to be responsive and timely. The program is so well received that Ana said it was very trendy and having no problems securing financial support mainly through charitable trust funds.
This truly farmer led research brings investment to the local level rather than a single desk or centralized approach. According to its website, the community and regional efforts boast many benefits with over half of the farmers making practice changes because of the field labs, 84% learned something new and 99% recommended the program to others.
Farming Smarter and many other groups across Canada currently conduct on farm trials with varying success and impact. Farming Smarter’s Field Tested Program conducts scientifically rigorous field scale trials using spatial statistics, geo-referenced data and traditional agronomic approaches including replication and randomization. This is a challenging endeavor versus common strip trials, is costly, and requires more technical knowledge and experience. One element of acute importance to the approach at Innovative Farmers is that they have a pool of flexible funding that gives freedom to act and pairs farmers with appropriate scientists. This would be of tremendous benefit for Farming Smarter as we are restrained by tedious funding applications, required matching funding and a slow, centralized decision-making process.