Innovative farming systems in the spotlight at Bicton College conference
More than 100 scientists, agricultural professionals, councillors and representatives from a range of businesses attended a conference organised by Bicton College's EaRTH Centre.
They heard from a number of speakers from different backgrounds and experiences, examining ways of reducing fossil-fuel use on the farm.
In partnership with Dartington Hall Trust, Bicton College is pioneering renewable energy technology for farms.
Opening the conference were three of Bicton's foundation degree students and future farmers, Matt Holmes, Matthew Stone and Julian Taylor.
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Matt said: "I'm excited about the next 20 years in the agriculture industry. Some big changes are going to be happening, but with the help of projects such as F3 (Fossil Fuel Free farming) it's going to be for the better."
Principal David Henley agreed, saying: "What we have here in terms of the F3 farming model, and the wider system approach that we are going to take I think is a unique approach in this country, with a group of collaborators that will work powerfully together.
"We are delighted that so many people came, so many really important people, both stakeholders and influencers in the industry. We intend to stay in conversation with them and develop and build that collaboration as we go forward."
Building on work started by Nick Cooper's Challenge Fund project and Jody and Clare Scheckter's vision at Laverstoke Park Farm, the catalyst for Bicton's involvement came when Dartington Hall carried out a land use review which prompted a search for a farm tenant who would re-energise the Trust's traditions of exploration and development of innovative farming systems.
At the conference, Vaughan Lindsay, chief executive of Dartington Hall, praised the Bicton staff's "passion to learn".
Work on the Parsonage Farm at Dartington, the subject of the Fossil Fuel Free Farming Project, will start when the tenancy begins in autumn 2014.
Paul Redmore, the farm manager at Bicton who is overseeing the scheme, said: "We need to get serious and to experiment and keep on experimenting. We need to set unrealistic targets to lead to innovation and problem solving."
Jane Townsend, deputy principal, said that new staff would be employed on the project as it developed, and local schools in the Totnes and South Devon area were already becoming involved.
Keynote speaker Professor Michael Winter, rural policy specialist and rural social scientist at Exeter University, called for a serious debate at national level to decide on the future of GM crops.
He said: "Farming cannot go back to being totally fossil-fuel free but we must look at more efficient machinery and perennial cropping to reduce tillage costs."
At the end of the conference Professor Winter commented: "It has been a tremendous day, very exciting to see what both Dartington and Bicton have got planned. It's a challenge for all of us to reduce farming's dependency on fossil fuels, so it's the right partnership at the right time, and I wish the partnership the best of luck."