A world-leading research facility that will mimic on-farm scenarios was launched in sweltering heat in Devon last week.

The North Wyke Farm Platform – part of Rothamsted Research and funded to the tune of £3.6million by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), will bring scientists from across the world to the UK to work on grassland.

A slice of rural Devon! This model on the North Wyke lawn represents the semi-permeable and impermeable clay layers in the soil below the sward

A slice of rural Devon! This model on the North Wyke lawn represents the semi-permeable and impermeable clay layers in the soil below the sward which will allow rainwater falling on the three farmlets to be captured and monitored.

A slice of rural Devon! This model on the North Wyke lawn represents the semi-permeable and impermeable clay layers in the soil below the sward which will allow rainwater falling on the three farmlets to be captured and monitored.

Large amounts of data will be generated to help identify practices which are productive and economic for farmers, but that have the least negative environmental impact.

Three 20ha, hydrologically isolated farmlets have been created so that the results of different beef and sheep management can be studied in minute detail. Each will have a slightly different focus:
1)    Optimising output from permanent pasture by using inorganic fertilisers in a sustainable way
2)    Using legumes as a source of nitrogen rather than inorganic N
3)    Increasing production through innovations such as reseeding with different species and varieties of grass

Research hotel

The platform – a kind of ‘research hotel’ will provide the facilities for scientists to come and carry out their studies. Some students are already working there.

“No other research station has the control we have over what goes into and off the specific areas of managed land,” explained Dr Phil Murray who is heading the Farm Platform research.

“There are 200 instruments out in the fields feeding data back to the computer so we shall be able to measure, monitor and model what is coming off in the water and air.  No other facility in the world can offer that.”

BBSRC funding is in place to run the site for five years – 2012 is the base year for measurements and the three different farmlet treatments will start next April.

Anyone interested in carrying out research on the platform should contact Phil at phil.murray@rothamsted.ac.uk. Follow progress on twitter @FarmPlatform.

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