Consultation on North Wyke Farm Platform

Consultation on North Wyke Farm Platform

Monday, January 4, 2010

Consultation on North Wyke Farm Platform

In December, the R&D Committee of The British Grassland Society made a response to the consultation on the North Wyke Farm Platform on behalf of the Society. The consultation proposes a plan for continuing research at the Okehampton, Devon, site once part of IGER and now run separately under BBSRC. To see the consultation document click here www.bbsrc.ac.uk/organisation/policies/reviews/consultations/0911_north_wyke_farm_platform.html

The points made by BGS in its response were:

  • 1. The BGS is in support of the concept of the farming platform. Field-scale experimentation is essentialfor the study of the interactionsbetween soil, plants,animals and the environment, and this facility will fill some of the void left by previous cut-backs. There is a clear need for systems research, with real measurements of output and impact - the NW platform has the potential to provide this if done well and in a focused manner.
  • 2. The platform needs to be relevant to UK grassland farmers and should focus on their context as a priority. In particular there is a need for research aimed at improving efficiency of livestock production.
  • 3. The platform itself should not be managed as an end point in itself. More important are the clear hypotheses which will be investigated. The work and measures taken should be governed by these hypotheses.
  • 4. Scientists or groups of scientists, rather than "people" as stated in one of the bullet points, ought to be to required to undertake a peer-reviewed competition from which the most innovative proposals could emerge. Both universities and research institutes should be asked to compete for the use of the resources. Involvement of other stakeholders in a KE context is clearly important, but it should be the role of the scientists to arrive at the hypotheses following consultation with the wider KE community. It is important to involve all relevant stakeholders in this process (IBERS, SAC, CEDAR, etc).
  1. There is need to set up a steering group who could have the role of evaluating the proposals. The steering group could also act in an advisory role in support of a management group on such matters as links to other research programmes and facilities. 
  2. There is also a need to have a management group which would make decisions on such matters as involvement with local communities and other non-research activities such as training and knowledge transfer.  These latter aspects should have a much lower priority, in the early phase, than getting the research facilities and their use for research operating at the highest level.  The KT and further KE interactions can then be built up as strong results emerge from the strong platform.  Again, it is important to involve all the relevant stakeholders in this evaluation, steering and management process  - points 5 and 6 (BGS, BSAP, AHDB, LEAF, etc).
  3. The platform should address the sector with the most pressing needs and impacts - preferably dairy; secondarily beef.  If this means that facilities need to be put in place, with significant capital investment, then this must be addressed.  Attempting to address issues with species such as sheep and deer, in order to keep capital investment to a minimum will result in work that is very difficult to KE with the farming community and is less relevant to farming issues.
  4. It is very important to get the Business as Usual (BAU) area correct.  If it is not representative of the real BAU case, then the rest of the project will be compromised.  Data collection from real farm situations should be undertaken to truth the BAU approach, once the sector system is chosen.  In this regard, it is also over optimistic that one year is enough to get a baseline for all systems when the soil disturbance in establishing the platform is likely to be significant.  Two years of baseline data would be more appropriate to allow for abnormalities due to ground disturbance in establishment.
  5. We attach a copy of the BGS Research Priorities document which we hope also helps in planning this effort.

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