It was the twenty first time that TMAF held its AGM and Winter Talks but it was the first for TMAF chair Richard Wilbourn. Before introducing the speakers, he confirmed TMAF’s strong performance over the last year and demonstration of its values.
TMAF grant funding is up to the target level of £400,000 a year and is contributing significantly to research, research dissemination, education (to a wide range of audiences) and investment in personal professional development.
From all of the activities supported, the three speakers were chosen to talk to the invited audience and share their interesting perspectives and what they do with TMAF funding and involvement.
Getting down to soil level with David Purdy
David Purdy is a familiar face at TMAF. An enthusiast for bridging the gap between science and the farming community, and recipient of TMAF funding for his part time research, he has previously presented progress of his PhD in measurement and management of soil health at Agrovista’s Project Lamport site.
Four years on, he brought a comprehensive set of slides and explanations to illustrate his efforts, methods and preliminary findings. David’s emphasis for soil health, in the context of the extremes of weather that have affected the site, has remained the same, “how to cycle, sequester and store nutrients in the soil whilst improving soil structure and overall productivity.”
The realities or overarching challenges to tackle head on have remained the same: weed pressure, loss of organic matter, surface compaction and erosion. I’ve got in excess of a million data points (measurements) from five years’ study. For every significant insight, there is a frustrating one or something that did not work.”
It has taken years for earthworm numbers to build (6% of grain yields globally is down to worms) and, with the addition of cover cropping, for infiltration rates to rise.
“Putting it at its most simple”, explained David, “It’s all about getting energy into our soils. Energy is brought in, work gets done and very important functions are performed in our soils and energy from photosynthesis creates life and productivity.”
The research has taken a detailed look at carbon capture and biomass and the use of machinery – or not – and the effect that has on overall soil function. You could hear how as well as a deep fascination with individual factors and processes in fields, David has also developed a new perspective. No longer does he just see soil, but the whole picture of soil, plants and animals, as well as the role that people and their farming decisions have.
“My heart is beating now at about 100 beats per minute. It beats thanks to potassium. Potassium that has come from a banana I ate. A farmer grew those bananas – in South America or wherever – and potassium came out of the soil and into the banana which I ate and my heart beats because of that banana. I am who I am because the soil and one day I’ll return to it. It’s a fact of life. It motivates me to care for soil because I feel it’s really, really important to all of us.”
Morley joins UK network to make bigger contribution
Joe Martlew is another familiar face at Morley. He has presented at Winter Talks before, when he had completed his TMAF-supported PhD. Two years on and Joe now works with AHDB as Senior Knowledge Transfer Manager and helps to run the AHDB Strategic Farm Network which Morley Farms joined in 2023.
Farms from Scotland right the way down to the south of England are involved.
“It’s a completely farmer-driven network. The host farmers, along with the steering group, set the agenda for what we’re going to look at in each year of the six-year projects.” The emphasis is on working in that “messy space between high science and commercial practice”.
The list of topics under investigation is comprehensive. It includes foliar nitrogen, rotation diversity, chemical termination, spring barley establishment, regenerative management, nutrient density of foods for humans, nitrogen use efficiency, field hygiene between fields, Stewardship options for weed control, BYDV monitoring and early warming for treatment.
The network is delighted to have Morley Farm in the group. The next chance to hear more of what the strategic farms, including Morley, are doing will be at the Morley Summer Innovation Day (20th June 2024) when AHDB will bring the network’s findings to share.
Helping new to the sector to grow their contacts and skills
Next to give a TMAF Winter Talk was Belinda Clarke who, over the last 8 years, has led the development of the award-winning membership network Agri-TechE.
Belinda explained she has always seen merit, starting from when she was communicating her own PhD thesis, in “breaking down the cultural barriers, the vocabulary barriers, the physical and geographical barriers between farmers and scientists.”
Her ambition has evolved, with finance from TMAF, into the Agri-TechE Early Career Innovators Forum. “I thought it a very bad idea, and still do, for scientists to only talk to scientists and for farmers to only talk to farmers and land agents to talk to land agents.”
Grateful for support from TMAF, that programme expanded into convening events, regular newsletters, and participants writing blogs. From October last year it has become a four-year opportunity, with certification, covering a whole range of horizon-widening opportunities for the young people involved with bronze, silver and gold certificates potentially awarded to the participants.
“We’ve had 50 sign up”, explained Belinda, “We’ve had our first bronze certificate awarded. We launched a part of the website that we’re calling Early Career Chronicles where you can see what the participants gain from the experience. Currently we are very ‘research heavy’ and we are looking for more farm-based young people to join.”