Centre for Rural Policy Research
Published on: 9 July 2014
The CRPR is an interdisciplinary team of social scientists interested in the rural economy and society. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
A new £2million project designed to help farmers develop their management practices through adopting new techniques and collaboration with each other is being led by academics at the University of Exeter’s (CRPR).
The project – the Sustainable Intensification Platform (SIP) - is funded by the Department for Environment, Fisheries and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and is investigating intensifying agricultural land management to produce more food whilst also improving environmental management.
Dr Matt Lobley, Co-Director of the Centre, explained: "A lot of people think sustainable intensification is impossible! Our project will take these doubts seriously and examine whether it is possible at a landscape scale.
"We’re working with academics at 18 other institutes. A lot of the work will be knowledge exchange with farmers – transferring research down to practice. It is very applied."
Professor Michael Winter OBE, Dr Lobley’s Co-Director, added: "We’ll be doing surveys of farmers, workshops, events, learning from farmers and stakeholders – it will be an interactive programme.
"We’ll be looking at how to best implement the findings of agricultural and environmental scientists. What do we understand of farmers’ knowledge and perceptions on these issues? Are farmers in a position to implement research findings and how do we finance the changes?"
There are other big projects in the pipeline at the CRPR.
A Rural Family Business Research Hub has been proposed, following the success of the Family Business Growth Programme (FBGP), a partnership with rural property business Clinton Devon Estates and funded by DEFRA. The FBGP provided family-run rural and agricultural businesses with business research and training.
Dr Lobley said: "There’s a real demand for more of this. The FBGP was for Devon and Somerset only, now we’re working with Duchy College Rural Business School to develop a national centre. We’re at the idea stage – we’re processing and refining it."
"It would provide a research base for students and academics, continual professional development for professionals and awareness-raising courses for family business members."
The Centre works with a number of partners, in addition to DEFRA, to influence policy including Devon County Council (DCC), Rothamsted Research, and Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks. In Cornwall, for example, the CRPR conducted reviews of the Cornish food economy and its impact in terms of gross value added, employment and other factors. The findings have directly influenced how European funding has been spent in the county.
Professor Winter has also sat on a number of advisory groups, including time on DEFRA’s science advisory council and for eight years the Commission for Rural Communities.
He said: "There are great synergies between my work in the Centre and in these groups. Not only did our research influence policy, but policy also influenced our research."
"It also feeds into my teaching – at the Commission for Rural Communities we did national surveys where we looked at how local governments could meet rural interests - which was able to feed into teaching a module on local government!"
Professor Winter is also the Director of the Food Security Land Research Alliance (FSLRA), a partnership between the Universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter, Rothamsted Research and Duchy College. The Alliance meets the need for research to help secure global food security and resilient land management, areas which are closely aligned with the work of the CRPR.
He explained: "The FSLRA provides a good basis of strong partnerships upon which we can build our ideas for projects for example the DEFRA SIP which involves four of our FSLRA partners. It also takes full advantage of the opportunities provided by Rothamsted Research’s North Wyke Farm Platform, based in North Devon. This platform is a set of hydrologically-isolated fields that can be used for research, run by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. North Wyke gives us access to resources that most Universities don’t have –and part of my job is encouraging people to use it."
The FSLRA has also proved useful in opening up opportunities for interdisciplinary collaborations with academics from other institutions – for example the Bristol Veterinary School.