Advanced Training Partnership for Sustainable and Efficient Food Production

Lead Research Organisation: Aberystwyth University
Department Name: IBERS

Abstract

This Advanced Training Partnership (ATP) is a vehicle for research-led training focused on responding to the needs of industry. Feedback from stakeholders has been instrumental in determining its themes, subject areas and delivery mechanisms. Our goal is to increase the sustainability and efficiency of Pasture-Based Agriculture in the UK. This ATP will provide an accessible training base to allow relevant businesses meet the very real challenges of: -Living with the effects of climate change -Food security and securing the supply chain -Societal demands and meeting consumer expectations This ATP focuses on the overlap between the expertise of the delivery partners and the needs of industry. Thus, it will centre on increasing efficiency and reducing environmental impact within the extensive beef, sheep and dairy sector. We will deliver in four interlocking themes: -Sustainable Beef, Sheep and Dairy -Forage and Feed -Optimising Landuse -Complementary and Wider Issues The extensive ruminant sector is large and diverse; and this provides challenges in introducing innovation. Currently, the flow of technical information is largely the province of farm managers, agricultural suppliers' technical teams, vets, advisors for environmental schemes and supply chains attached to large retailers. Regular canvassing of this audience will allow responsive development within these themes. Our ATP has identified eight training pathways for development in the first year and anticipates development of new material to continue throughout its life. Our ATP comprises Delivery Partners [Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences, Aberystwyth University (IBERS), College of Natural Sciences, Bangor University (BU) and the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB)]; and Management Partners [Lantra, Waitrose, The Bioscience Knowledge Transfer Network, Castell Howell Foods Ltd, BioTal Ltd, XL Vets and British Seed Houses]. In addition, we will work closely with Lantra Awards in developing CPD accreditation. Each partner brings a unique specialism to the mix: IBERS -Enhancing production -Sustainable farming systems -Sustainable animal production -Feed and forage crop improvement -Managing our natural environment Bangor -Plant Biochemistry & Biophysics -Conservation and Land Management -Silvo-pastoral Production Systems NIABTAG -Feed Crop Production -Soil Science The pooled expertise of these partners provides a compelling technology platform for sustainability pasture-based systems. Accessible Training All of the training will be at post-graduate level simultaneously accredited by a University; AND Lantra Awards (at level 7). This means that trainees can either utilise only the training components most pertinent to them and accumulate CPD credits along the way OR utilise the additional e-learning elements to pass complete university modules and use them to work, over time, towards an MSc, postgraduate certificate or diploma; or Professional Doctorate. We have developed a flexible model which will maximise accessibility and minimise impact on the working day. This consists of a form of 'blended-learning'. For example, each 20-credit pathway can be delivered as one 2-credit workshop and three 6-credit e-learning units, or combinations thereof. -Workshops will act as module entry and/or exit points, be for a maximum of two days; and focus on practical aspects of the learning pathway. -E-learning programmes, will play an important role in the consolidation and extension of the learning obtained in the workshops, that is accessible to those in full time employment. Delivery will include podcast lectures, e-group projects and discussion forums as well as the standard assignments and tutorials. -Secondments will be encouraged amongst those participating. These could be of particular benefit to those undertaking a research project for an MSc or Professional Doctorates.

Technical Summary

Dynamic Needs Focussed Training Development Training will be developed in direct response to industry demand, within our themes. To commence the ATP, we have identified, 4 modules for immediate development for delivery from Oct 2011; & 4 modules likely to be developed in the second 6-months. We feel that to be truly responsive, we cannot pre-direct further development based on current industry information. Since each partner brings a different set of expertise; and it is our intention to build training responsively from the best of these, we have devised a dynamic development model. To facilitate flexibility, the partners have agreed common 'unit development costs'; and 'unit delivery costs', these will allow development and delivery to be funded where most appropriate within the partnership. Accessible Trainee Focussed Delivery We have developed a delivery model with maximum accessibility and minimum impact on the working day. It comprises a form of 'blended-learning' in which each module will be broken down into workshops and an e-learning units. E.g. a 20-credit module could be delivered as 1, 2-credit workshop and 3, 6-credit e-learning units. In this way delgates can access as much or as little training as they are able or need to. The 2-day workshops will act as module entry and/or exit points, and focus on practical aspects of the module. E-learning programmes will consolidate and extend this learning, in a format accessible to those in f/t employment. They will include podcast lectures, e-group projects and discussion forums, as well as the standard assignments and tutorials. The smallest postgraduate training units currently accredited by university partners are 20-credits. To provide smaller credit bearing units, we have worked with Lantra Awards on a framework to allow all training to hold dual accreditation. This will mean that training units can be accessed as stand-alone items; OR used as building blocks towards a larger qualification.

Planned Impact

Advances in the understanding of how living systems work and interact with the environment at the levels of cells, molecules and populations have and will continue to play a major role in helping society provide solutions to the major challenges facing our planet: climate change; food, water and energy security; environmental sustainability. By 2050 the global population is projected to rise by 40% from 6.6 billion to 9.3 billion. This places increasing pressure on land to meet, in sustainable ways, competing demands for food, feed, fibre, energy and the environment. The judicious application of science to respond effectively to this challenge is now a top priority for politicians, policy makers, economists, environmentalists and the global scientific community. Pasture based agricultural land makes up over 60% of the UKs available agricultural land mass. The meat and milk supply chains supported from this pasture represent a £6Bn/ year plus industry in the UK and plays a vital role in ensuring a secure sustainable food supply. Pasture based agriculture has an important role to play in helping the UK meet the challenges of climate change both through the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions associated with agricultural production and as a major source of carbon sequestration. The UKs pasture based production systems also deliver vital ecosystem services to both urban and rural populations through the preservation of biodiversity, utility for sport and recreation and in the capture and regulation of water runoff ensuring water supplies and preventing flooding. UK science is at the forefront of investigating how pasture based agricultural systems can help meet these challenges. Significant advances in plant breeding and agronomy linked to a greater understanding of soils and their function and the interaction of animals with their environment are producing solutions which will help the sector contribute to the UKs needs for food, fuel and water in an environentally benign manner that is economically and resource sustainable. However there are real problems in ensuring uptake and application of these advances in the diverse and distributed pastoral agricultural sector. Given the multitude of roles played by pasture based production systems it is perhaps not surprising that a wide range of individuals will over time interact and advise farmers including: representatives of the supply chain and retailers, vets, suppliers from the agricultural supply industry on the animal and plant side, regulatory bodies involved in environmental stewardship etc. However, whilst well respected undergraduate training opportunities exist to produce graduates for these roles (including courses at both Aberystwyth and Bangor Universities). There is a distinct lack of opportunity for these individuals to engage in continued professional development and training. Given the dynamic challenge in food and water security facing the agricultural sector against a back ground of both responding to and mitigating against climate change the lack of training opportunities in which the outputs from world class research carried out in the UK and elsewhere can be cascaded into the production chain brings with it a number of risks and missed opportunities that this proposal seeks to address.

Publications

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