Vicky Robinson  -  Farmer to Farmer Knowledge Exchange: Relevance, Challenges and Future Direction

Central Region Farmers Trust

Growing up on an arable farm in Oxfordshire (now run by my brother and father) I loved farming but also had a passion for horses. I found a degree that combined both of these, the International Agriculture and Equine Business Management degree at what is now the Royal Agricultural University.

After graduating I decided to focus on agriculture.   I could see the importance of conservation in the farming industry and this coupled with a realisation of how little I knew about wildlife made me determined to work in this area. After a short period at the Environment Agency I landed my dream job working on agri-environment schemes for the Farming and Rural Conservation Agency. A number of name changes and reorganisations later I now work for Natural England.

Having spent 14 years on farms in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire negotiating and supporting farmers with their agri-environment agreements it was time to step away and into a national role. My current job is jointly project managing a pilot looking at an alternative approach to agri-environment: Payment by Results. Currently EU funded, Defra announced a continuation of this pilot for a further two years as part of the Tests and Trials work for the Environmental Land Management scheme. Being involved with the pilot and getting to work with a group of inspiring farmers has been truly rewarding.

I am married to a vet with two children (8 and 12) so spare time is limited. I love gardening, walking and generally being outside. I am also a trustee of an environmental charity: Wild Oxfordshire which encourages collaborative working between environmental organisations in the county. Recently I have become involved in managing a field which will be used by the local school to learn about farming and wildlife.

Having completed the Worshipful Company of Farmers Challenge of Rural Leadership course in 2018 I set my sights on a Nuffield Farming Scholarship. Being awarded one is a dream come true and I am extremely grateful to the generosity of my sponsors the Central Region Farmers Trust and the Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust for this amazing opportunity.

My topic: Farmer to Farmer Knowledge Exchange: Relevance, Challenges and Future Direction was inspired by the farmers I am working with on the Payment by Results pilot. The overwhelming feedback I have had is how much they have enjoyed coming together as a group benefitting from sharing their experiences and knowledge. 

UK agriculture is about to undergo considerable change with an expected policy move towards payments for public goods. It is my view that farmers sharing their skills and technical knowledge as well as the social aspects this brings will be key to embracing these changes and a thriving farming industry.

My aim is to research the relevance of farmer to farmer knowledge exchange particularly looking at case studies at times of agricultural policy change by visiting New Zealand and China. To look at the challenges of structuring knowledge exchange to make the most of competing time pressures and how to support those who don’t naturally get involved in this area.   In the UK there are a number of different knowledge exchange programmes and farmer led initiatives and I would like to explore the merits and challenges of top down and bottom up programmes.

Advances in technology have opened up opportunities to share knowledge in different ways e.g. short films (VLOGs) and social media. Could this be expanded to reach a wider audience than the familiar faces seen at events?

Through my Nuffield I will look at examples of farmer to farmer knowledge exchange such as the UN Food and Agricultural Organisations Farmer Field Schools and the EU Horizon 2020 Peer-to-peer Learning: Accessing Innovation through Demonstration (PLAID). Through my research I want to bring back examples and recommendations that are relevant and could be implemented in the UK.