Suffolk farm run by Brian Barker at Westhorpe aims to ‘bridge gap’ between research and reality after becoming first AHDB Strategic Farm for arable growers

PUBLISHED: 09:42 02 November 2017 | UPDATED: 11:31 02 November 2017

Official launch of AHDB Strategic Farm at Westhorpe. Left to right, Emily Smith, AHDB Knowledge Transfer Manager and Brian Barker. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Official launch of AHDB Strategic Farm at Westhorpe. Left to right, Emily Smith, AHDB Knowledge Transfer Manager and Brian Barker. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Suffolk is set to become the focal point of a hoped-for revolution in UK farming practice with the official launch of a major new initiative this week.

A farm at Westhorpe, near Stowmarket, has become the first Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) Strategic Farm for arable growers after being chosen for the forward-thinking of the farmers behind it, and their openness to scrutiny.

Farmer Brian Barker came to the end of his three-year term as AHDB Stowmarket Monitor Farm this year, during which time he invited neighbouring farmers to see what he was doing and participate in decision-making as he refined and improved his farming and business practices. He was part of a network of such farms, whose aim is to improve the overall performance of UK farming businesses.

More than 120 farmers were at Wyverstone Village Hall on Wednesday, November 1, as E J Barker & Sons, Lodge Farm, was elevated to Strategic Farm status. Over a six year period, all aspects of the farm will be monitored and measured as a series of innovations and ideas are put into practice, providing a potential template for what will become tried and tested good practice which can be adopted across the industry.

“It’s a big undertaking,” said Brian, whose farm was selected from shortlist of nine and becomes one of three planned for across the UK. “With the uncertainy that the industry is in at the moment with Brexit and all that stuff, we really need to be challenging our approach.”

The project will be overseen by AHDB knowledge transfer manager Emily Smith. “We don’t know what’s going to happen but we can prepare for it and make businesses more resilient,” she said. “It has been suggested there is a delay in the adoption of innovative ideas that come out of research...What we are trying to do with Strategic Farms is bridge that gap.”

A series of studies have been carried out on the farm in readiness for the launch. These will provide a baseline for future work, the direction of which will be shaped by farmers, researchers and other experts as the six year project begins. AHDB knowledge exchange director Susannah Bolton said the hope was to create a critical mass across six farming sectors, focusing on a range of areas from genetics to precision technology.

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