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6 September 2021
Organic World Congress 2021

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30 July 2020
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The future of organic farming and the environment

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Tim Bennett is the new Chair of ORC

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Research funds and field labs

Category: News
16 November 2013

Foam weeding field lab at Somerset Flower Farm

Apply for £2,000 to host a field lab

Are you a farmer or grower? Got a technical problem and want some help? Perhaps our field labs can help. The field labs are part of the Duchy Originals Future Farming Programme (DOFF), which is run by the Soil Association, in conjunction with ORC.

Field labs help you get together with handful of like-minded farmers or growers to solve a problem. You meet on one or more of the farms involved, usually 2-3 times. Whether you already have a solution you want to test, or just need ideas, meeting as a group puts many minds to work on it and means you can compare notes with other farms. What is unique about field labs is that, as well as a facilitator to help the group get the most out of meeting, we provide a researcher to help you try out solutions effectively. So as well as hopefully finding an answer, you pick up skills to help you test whether other new approaches, products and systems work for your business.

Farmers and growers can apply directly for £2,000 to host a field lab. Up to 15 winners will receive £500 cash towards their time and costs, and at least £1,500 in-kind support from the researcher and facilitator. We are very grateful to those who are already hosting field labs, and are launching this competition and extra support to make more people aware of the opportunity.

We want to support field labs that will be relevant to lots of farmers or growers, and that tackle practical challenges sustainably. While the field labs are open to all - we encourage farms that are not certified organic to host - the topic should be relevant to organic producers.

Liz Bowles, head of farming at the Soil Association, explains: “We’ve run a dozen field labs so far through the Duchy Originals Future Farming Programme, tackling problems ranging from weed control to reducing antibiotic usage in dairy herds. Farmers are already benefitting from the results of the first round and I encourage more farms to get involved. We have listened to feedback and we have increased the support on offer to an investment of £2,000 – including much needed practical support.”

To apply please complete the short form here by midnight on 5th December 2013. Applications will be assessed in the order they arrive, so get your ideas in early!

Research fund second round now open

In a parallel competition, researchers can apply for up to £25,000 for highly innovative, practical projects suggested by farmers to tackle three key challenges for organic and low-input agriculture: managing weeds without herbicides, affordable protein feed for poultry, pig and fish farming, and growing even healthier food.

Researchers must team up with farmers or growers to design their projects, and applications are peer-reviewed by hands-on producers as well as by scientists.

This, the second call of the research fund invites proposals that address one of three key challenges for organic and low-input agriculture:

  • Managing weeds without herbicides. Weeds are one reason organic arable yields are lower on average, and why some farmers are reluctant to grow organic crops. This has a knock-on effect on the costs of organic livestock production. Solutions could include new approaches to weed control, reducing weeds' impact on yield or even finding novel uses for weeds.
  • Affordable high-quality protein feed for poultry, pig and fish farming, for instance from insects, algae or by-products. The fund will support research that adds significantly to other current projects to address this crucial issue.
  • Growing even healthier food. What practical steps can farmers and growers take to enhance the nutritional quality of their produce?

These were among the priorities that producers raised in workshops and a survey run by the Organic Research Centre.


To be eligible, proposals must be developed jointly with one or more farmers or growers - we can help put you in touch if you are not already in contact. We encourage participatory research but welcome other approaches (e.g. reviews) where they are the best way to provide the knowledge needed. Researchers must demonstrate relevant qualifications or professional experience.

These small grants offer an exceptional opportunity to demonstrate research impact, plus:

  • Provide preliminary data for larger research proposals.
  • Translate your research into on-farm practical advantage.
  • Disseminate research at on-farm events.
  • Help farmers understand research requirements.
  • Support your own professional development by reconciling the practical requirements of a working farm with delivering robust science.


To apply, please follow the steps set out here. The deadline for applications is midnight on 5th December 2013.

The fund is part of the Duchy Originals Future Farming Programme. If you have a query about the fund or the programme that isn't answered by the FAQs, please contact Christine Iles on ciles@soilassociation.org or telephone 0117 987 4575.

Keywords: Research funds field labs participatory

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