Well, what a year 2020 has been! A year of resilience, adaptation and innovation in all aspects of our lives.
There is no doubt that this year has been challenging. However, the resulting circumstances have brought us together with some incredible personalities, with whom we have achieved things we did not know were possible. Raising £20,000 for agricultural mental health charities through the ‘Greatest Online Ag Show’ certainly tops the list of our highlights of 2020.
It is easy to forget that not all of this year has been subject to Covid lockdowns and restrictions. We were very lucky to be able to squeeze in our ‘Animals to Arable’ conference in early March. Over 100 attendees and a list of industry-leading speakers joined us at Elveden Village Hall in Norfolk to explore the benefits of mixed farming. We were hugely encouraged by the interest in this topic and we hope to continue with more conferences focusing on Regenerative Agriculture as soon as restrictions allow. A write up on the conference which featured in ‘Direct Driller’ magazine can be accessed here.
Only a month after our A2A conference, the whole of the United Kingdom entered the first national ‘lockdown’. The team at IfA have a wide geographical spread with staff based across the UK and therefore we are well versed to working from home. As such, the world of Microsoft Teams and video calls had already been regularly used and the team were able to continue their work as normal.
As a consortium of English Agricultural Societies, we were particularly saddened to see the loss of the much-loved county shows, as were so many others. David Hill an estate manager from Berkshire echoed our disappointment when he suggested in mid-April that there should be an online agricultural show instead. Keen to see David’s dream become reality we joined forces with David, giving our web designers at Altido just 4 weeks to build an online platform which would replicate agricultural shows up and down the country. On the 2nd May we launched the first ever online agricultural show. Aptly named (we think!) ‘The Greatest Online Ag Show’, the event included livestock judging, bake off’s, education zones, main arena attractions and a beer tent. The support was staggering. The site had 5,000 unique visitors, 60,000 page hits and generated a whopping £20,000 for the hugely important agricultural charities; YANA, the DPJ Foundation, RABI, RSABI and FCN. While the online event could never replace physical shows, we are very proud to have brought some light-hearted fun in aid of a good cause to our farming communities when it was most needed. The site can still be accessed here and a write up of the event can be read here.
Sadly for us like so many, the circumstances surrounding Covid-19 soon put a stop to the full summer we had scheduled. Stephen Briggs and Deborah Crossan from our soils team had a busy list of commercial activity planned, including 7 regional study tours on behalf of the National Trust and 6 best-practice dissemination events for Thames Water. Under the new leadership of Lisa Morgans, postgraduate Veterinary Surgeon from the University of Bristol, the livestock team had hoped to launch their Calf wellbeing programme with Saputo, which they now plan to begin in early 2021. This inability to carry out commercial work meant we had to make the difficult decision to furlough some of our staff. Like millions of others, we are so thankful to have been able to utilise this scheme to safeguard the future of our employees and organisation.
Despite the circumstances in the UK, most of our H2020 EU projects continued at a fast pace through the summer. Both Evi Arachoviti, Head of our Policy & Social Dept, and Laura Palczynski, Livestock research assistant, have ensured that these projects make successful progress. Evi continues to oversee IfA’s role in both the Smart Agri Hubs project and FAIRshare project, whilst Laura continues with DISARM and the EURAKNOS project which is drawing to a close early next year. Richard Lloyd and Deborah Crossan continue their work on the NEFERTITI farm demo project which has been granted an extension. We have recently learned that the DECIDE project consortium, of which we are a partner, has been successful in securing funding under the final phase of Horizon 2020. This project will develop data-driven decision support tools, which present early signals of livestock disease emergence, providing options for diagnostic confirmation and control. There are 19 partners involved in the project which will begin in April 2021.
By the Autumn we were very glad to welcome our staff back from furlough, in both full-time and part time capacity. Once again teaming up with David Hill, we ran the first ever online harvest festival through our online Ag Show site. The event included a National Harvest Service broadcast from Ripon by The Right Reverend Helen-Ann Hartley. This was co-ordinated by Love British food to mark the end of the British Food Fortnight. We also hosted a wheat sheaf bakery Competition which was judged by the BBC's Charlotte Smith and organised a mass harvest supper cook-along with instruction from international food judge, Jennifer Williams.
We were delighted when the British Farming awards held in October gave recognition to the brilliant work of David Hill, by awarding him the silver award for digital innovator of the year.
The livestock team who have been itching to get going all summer, ran a number of webinars on facilitating farmer-led innovation and held 7 online farmer discussion groups including an antimicrobial resistance session in collaboration with Bristol, Bath and Exeter universities. They have also been working with HD Wool to launch a positive wool and welfare programme which last Wednesday kicked off our first face to face workshop post-Covid.
As an organisation we have focused our mind set that “with challenges come opportunity” and therefore Martha Hayes, our manager of communications has been building on the success of the GOAS, by developing a platform which will provide continuation of the IfA soils programme. This platform will offer speakers’ presentations, virtual farm visits, Q&A sessions and other resources to replicate real events. Natural England, Catchment Sensitive Farming, The National Trust, and Thames Water have all expressed an interest in this type of provision.Whilst we have run events this year such as our Soil Farmer of the year competition by virtue of video links, we hope that this platform will enable us to take this a step further to ensure successful knowledge exchange. This will launch in the new year and we look forward to sharing it with you all.
In terms of staff, we have been very sad to see Joe Collins, our soil research assistant leave to start a PhD. We wish him all the best and we are very pleased that he will retain links with IfA. Philippa Gray joined our team at the start of the year from Harper Adams University and will be working on the organisations fundraising strategy. We are very proud to be able to share that Stephen Briggs has been awarded The Nuffield Bullock Award. Whilst Laura Palczynski passed her PhD and Deborah Crossan completed a course as delegate of the Worshipful Company of Farmers, Challenge of Rural Leadership 2020.
Finally, we must express our most utmost thanks to our supporters who allow us to achieve all that we have so far and to continue to expand and grow into more work areas. It is an uncertain time for the UK agricultural industry and as a result, we feel that our mission to advance the productivity and profitability of UK farms by bridging the gap between farmers and research is more important than ever before. So, on that note, thank you. We wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.