Following a successful evaluation of the Soil Association’s Duchy Originals Future Farming programme in 2014, a CCRI team, comprising Matt Reed, Julie Ingram and Jane Mills, was invited in 2016 to evaluate Innovative Farmers, the successor programme, which was developed building in recommendations from our previous evaluation.
Innovative Farmers fosters farmer learning and experimentation, bringing together small groups of farmers with researchers from agricultural institutions in practical 'field labs'. In these groups they address research questions identified by farmers themselves and aim to identify practical solutions to these questions, and test and develop new tools and techniques with a coordinator and a researcher. In our evaluation of the initial phase we found that farmers were enthusiastic about this approach and were able to learn not only about the topic but also about how to plan and carry out research. Farmers find that group activity, which allows sharing and mutual learning, an effective way of understanding and researching a problem. As the evaluation will carry on throughout the three year programme, our recommendations will help it develop and improve as it is implemented.
A paper reflecting on this evaluation process and outcomes, co-authored by the CCRI team and the Soil Association team, was presented at IFSA 2016.