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Launch of globally unique farm research platform

24 May 2012

A new 'Farm Platform', launched today (24 May 2012) at Rothamsted Research North Wyke in Devon, aims to help farmers to optimise productivity in ways that are sustainable, whilst at the same time understanding the impact of farming methods on the environment.

From left to right Dr Phil Murray who will lead research on the Farm Platform, Professor Maurice Moloney, Chief Executive of Rothamsted Research, Professor Nick Talbot Deputy Vice-Chancellor University of Exeter, Lois Philipps, British Grassland Society

From left to right Dr Phil Murray who will lead research on the Farm Platform, Professor Maurice Moloney, Chief Executive of Rothamsted Research, Professor Nick Talbot Deputy Vice-Chancellor University of Exeter, Lois Philipps, Director of the British Grassland Society.
Copyright Ian Snell

The North Wyke Farm Platform will bring together scientists from across disciplines and countries to spark new ideas to meet the food security challenge.

Funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the North Wyke Farm Platform is comprised of three beef and sheep farmlets. Each of these will be managed differently so that scientists can understand how best to optimise production whilst minimising environmental impact.

One farmlet will be managed with inorganic fertilisers to try to maximise production from the existing permanent pasture. The second farmlet will be run with reduced inputs relying on legumes such as white clover to capture nitrogen wherever possible. The final farmlet will allow researchers to experiment with the latest techniques and technologies such as introducing new varieties of grasses with desirable traits and understanding establishment problems.

As a new National Capability, the Farm Platform will provide an integrated set of core data for the farming and research communities, including the measurement of field and water chemistry and water flow rates, greenhouse gas emissions from soils, livestock data and farm management records.

In addition to these ongoing experiments, North Wyke will welcome scientists from around the country and beyond to run their own experiments on the Platform against the background of core data provided by the facility.

The North Wyke Farm Platform is a globally unique resource in that it not only measures outputs and effects, but also allows researchers to carefully control inputs. It is equipped with state-of-the-art monitoring equipment and 9km of French drains to capture the water running off the fields. Because each farmlet is hydrologically isolated the researchers will be able to monitor closely everything that goes into and comes off each one, such as nutrient and carbon fluxes as well as financial records. This will allow scientists to come up with an accurate balance sheet of inputs and outputs under different treatments.

"We're really excited about what the Farm Platform will be able to offer the agricultural community" said Dr Phil Murray who will lead the Platform's research. "The platform will enable us to control and study the entire farm system in unprecedented detail, providing scientists with the opportunity to scale up their experiments to see whether a treatment that was successful in the field works at the farm scale. This will mean that the research community will be able to offer advice to farmers based on research that has been road-tested in a real farm environment."

Professor Maurice Moloney, Director and Chief Executive of Rothamsted Research commented "The Farm Platform is a unique resource for the bioscience research community and for UK farming. It will provide a wealth of quantitative information about the environmental impact of agriculture and its mitigation. Its large-scale data will be used to test mathematical models on nutrient cycling, greenhouse gas emissions and sustainability of agricultural practices. The results will have relevance to all aspects of the agriculture sector, at home and internationally. We're very pleased to welcome so many people along to North Wyke for the launch of the platform, and we look forward to working together with researchers from the UK, Europe and around the world to answer these fundamental questions of the environmental impact of farming and sustainability"

Professor Douglas Kell, Chief Executive of BBSRC, said, "Ensuring global food security in the face of a changing climate is one of the most pressing challenges that we face as a society. Meeting it will require that we increase agricultural production whilst at the same time becoming more sustainable and farmers will not be able to do this without the help of the UK's world-leading bioscience research community. The launch of the Farm Platform is an exciting development because it will allow us to bridge the gap between the lab and the farm to a greater extent than ever before."

The Farm Platform is a BBSRC National Capability. It is funded via a national capability grant to provide a strategically important resource for the UK bioscience community.

ENDS

About Rothamsted Research

Rothamsted Research, the longest running agricultural research station in the world; providing cutting-edge science and innovation for around 170 years. It receives strategic funding from BBSRC to deliver the knowledge and new practices to increase crop productivity and quality and to develop environmentally sustainable solutions for food and energy production.

About BBSRC

BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by Government, and with an annual budget of around £445M, we support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

For more information about BBSRC, our science and our impact see: www.bbsrc.ac.uk .
For more information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes see: www.bbsrc.ac.uk/institutes .