Posing direct questions to scientists and receiving independent background information on new developments: this is a new concept developed by Wageningen University & Research (WUR) to provide farmers with direct access to innovations and research results. Called ‘Focus on Farming’, it involves a series of meetings for arable farmers looking to broaden and deepen their knowledge.
While there is nothing new per se in scientists and farmers meeting in knowledge networks, it is usually within the framework of specific projects. “We see that arable farmers also have a lot of other questions which WUR specialists can answer,” explains Thie-Arend Brouwer, the original architect of Focus on Farming and team manager for test and demonstration farms. “At Wageningen University & Research, we have had that link between science and practice in house since the beginning. We perform both fundamental and practical research. And we are farmers ourselves.” Brouwer’s latter remark refers to WUR’s practical research locations. One of these test farms, Applied Arable and Vegetable Research in Lelystad, hosted the kick-off of Focus on Farming last December with several lectures and a tour of the facilities.
Practical questions from farmers
A survey among the attendees immediately delivered a series of topics that could be further developed during follow-up meetings: How can a farmer make money from capturing CO2? How can we prevent soil compaction by heavy machinery? What opportunities are there in robots? Can we fertilise without using minerals such as phosphate and potash, or nitrogen from fossil fuels?
“These are complex topics which we cannot instantly solve,” Brouwer continues. “On the other hand, there are also basic questions: What can you do about damage to onions caused by wireworms [harmful insects, ed.]? Or: Remind me again how photosynthesis works? People find it reassuring to be explained basic things: what am I doing and what’s this I see? A nice-looking crop does not automatically mean that production will be optimal.” This basic plant breeding knowledge is also provided by the Plant Sciences chair group.
Wageningen Potato Centre
The exact details of the programme will be determined gradually and depend on the wishes of the participants. Brouwer specifies that a visit to one of WUR’s institutes will be part of the programme, reproducing the approach he uses in the Wageningen Potato Centre. This initiative has been up and running for six years and is aimed at companies active in potato cultivation, such as suppliers of crop protection products, plant breeders and machinery manufacturers. “The participants are enthusiastic and appreciate the direct access to new knowledge and insights,” Brouwer concludes.
» Read more at www.potatocentre.com