IN a huge boon for the South West’s agriculture sector, a major research and innovation dairy farm — the first of its kind in England — is set to be located at Duchy College Stoke Climsland.

Future Farm will be a first of its type for England with the aim of improving efficiency, welfare and technological advancement in dairy farming.

The facility will encourage small and medium enterprises (SMEs) across Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly to engage in research at a local, national and international level.

Future Farm will also benefit the next generation of workers and leaders in the sector, with Duchy College Stoke Climsland students in Cornwall and Bicton College students in Devon heavily involved, according to the principal of the colleges, Dr Phil Le Grice.

‘This is an incredible resource for the South West,’ said Dr Le Grice. ‘One that will benefit the dairy and environment sector in many ways.

‘The importance of this project can’t be understated and is why we are delighted the minister of state for the department for environment, food and environmental affairs (Defra), George Eustice, has agreed to cut the turf to mark the start of the build.

‘Politically, economically, environmentally, socially and culturally, Cornwall and Devon must seek to lead and shape its technological and business future.

‘Future Farm is a demonstrable commitment to the sector, its current and future businesses and all of the students who will use the facility in the future.’

George Eustice, MP for Camborne and Redruth, said the launch of the Future Farm project was a ‘fantastic step forward’ in research and innovation for the agricultural sector.

He said: ‘As a former student, it’s encouraging to see the college embrace new technologies that have the potential to lead and shape the sector for years to come.’

Future Farm will be home to 200 cows that can be grouped into three mini-herds to research the latest innovations in dairy, according to Paul Ward, research manager of Duchy College’s Rural Business School.

He said: ‘This is fantastic news for the agricultural sector, not only in the South West, but the UK and beyond. Future Farm will support the introduction of computerised precision control feeding systems to the UK and will help tackle the urgent requirement of increasing the competitiveness of businesses within the dairy/livestock industry and supply chain.’

Paul, who spent 25 years specialising in dairy production in Peru, Sudan, Oman, Egypt and Nicaragua, including working with the department for international development for international development, said this was the first major investment in dairy research in the region in decades.

He said: ‘Since the 1980s research has significantly reduced and with so much change in the industry and the potential reduced or changed nature of support with regards to Brexit, this is a welcome positive for farmers, the agricultural sector and the wider region.

‘Dairy is the main economic driver within South West agriculture, with 40% of the national production based in the region, including the largest Cheddar cheese factory in Europe at Davidstow.

‘This facility will allow us to research lowering dairy’s carbon footprint, improve and reduce the impact on the environment and reduce levels of disease. It is also the only facility in the country that will allow the mini-herds slurry to be kept separate, which is invaluable for research purposes.’

Head of Duchy College Stoke Climsland Jamie Crisp said having an innovative research and development dairy farm in the heart of Cornwall was ‘fantastic news’.

He said: ‘We’ve been successful to date with an older dairy unit, however, with new technical and scientifically demanding qualifications, to be able to boast a cutting-edge facility and associated resources that will allow for the top level of teaching, is wonderful.

‘There is solid investment into Duchy College Stoke Climsland and Bicton College and staff and learners are extremely excited about their colleges’ futures.’

Farms director at The Cornwall Group (TCCG) James Coumbe agreed and said students would be at the heart of the operation of the new facility.

He said: ‘This will be a world-class educational experience for our learners, from apprentices doing their initial training right through to those on a degree-level programme.

‘Farming is changing in this digital age and it is important that when learners attend Duchy College they experience the most up-to-date and future-focused agricultural facilities and learning.’

Future Farm will build upon the work that is taking place at the world-renowned Rothamsted Research North Wyke Farm Platform.

The facility will bring dairy research to align with the national capability in beef and sheep systems research at the North Wyke Farm Platform.

The project is part-funded through the European Regional Development Fund and is part of the wider Agri-tech Cornwall project in partnership with the University of Exeter, University of Plymouth, Rothamsted Research and Cornwall Development Company.

It is also being part-funded by Cornwall Council and the Council of the Isles of Scilly. There is also support from the Centre for International Excellence in Livestock.

Future Farm is scheduled to be completed by the end of March 2020, when it will welcome its first researchers and students.