Identifying transformative social and technological on-farm innovations


Farmers face growing pressure to produce more food, more sustainably, in the presence of environmental and regulatory change. We suggest that meeting these challenges requires a shift from current thinking about innovation in farming, so that new technologies can better respond to the particular conditions found in different farm landscapes and businesses. New methods are required to ensure the knowledge, skills and interests of farmers are integrated into an innovation system capable of achieving and sustaining productivity gains today and in the future. To investigate and support this change researchers in this theme will work with farmers and engineers to better understand how a process of shared learning can better support the development and subsequent adoption of on-farm innovations. If you are interested in joining one of the farmer research groups please click here for further information.

Summary of Objectives

In this research theme, we are investigating new approaches to social and technological on-farm innovations. To do this, we will

  • develop and test learning processes that enable knowledge “co-creation” between farmers, scientists, and engineers to generate innovations built on farmers’ knowledge, skills and interests.
  • identify specific new applications for agricultural sensors and automation technology, trialling and refining these technologies, and quantifying their effect in terms of productivity and ecosystem services.
  • investigate how best we can encourage (or nudge farmers towards) the adoption of particular technologies, as well as to more generally gain additional insights regarding farmers’ perceptions of the risks and benefits of particular types of innovations.

Research Methods

This theme employs an action-research approach, in which we will form discussion groups consisting of farmers, researchers and engineers to discuss, co-design, trial, and evaluate farm innovations.  Specifically,  we will  work in partnership with Innovative Farmers (a consortium of LEAF, Innovation for Agriculture, the Organic Research Centre and the Soil Association) and the Yorkshire Agricultural Society (YAS) to support farmer recruitment, facilitation and dissemination of lessons learned. The e-Agri group at the University of Manchester will offer a portfolio of low-cost agricultural sensor engineering technology platforms which will be used to provide a starting point for the co-design process. These will cover broad-acre (commodity) crops, horticulture, livestock and aquaculture, taking into account recent developments, such as those in robotics, networked wireless devices (‘Internet of Things’) and free access to remotely sensed agricultural data from satellites (e.g. ‘Sentinel’)  A survey of a much larger group of farmers will be undertaken to help determine how best we can encourage the uptake of co-designed technologies or innovative farm practices that have been identified in the discussion groups.

Planned Outcomes

This theme will identify new methods that can integrate and build the knowledge, skills and interests of farmers into innovation processes. The groups will develop technologies and practices that enable the balancing of productivity, sustainability and environmental benefits at the farm scale. The innovation processes will build farmer knowledge, enabling them to better identify and manage these trade-offs, and support a shift in scientists’ and engineers’ perspectives of the demands for agricultural technologies. We will identify ways to encourage farmer uptake of new technologies and practices and, through the project trials, develop new technologies for wider dissemination. Together these strands of work will provide an evidence base to inform innovation policy for a resilient food system.