How can town dwellers learn about what goes into some of the real life choices that have to be made routinely on farms? The National Trust is recruiting thousands of virtual farmers across the UK through its MyFarm website and involving them in decision-making on a real farm.
Users are given background information, consulted and vote on strategic decisions, such as which crops to grow, which breeds of livestock to raise or how to manage a hedge. The 1,200-acre Home Farm on the Wimpole estate is an organic holding with a mix of arable land and pasture. It produces meat, eggs, wheat and oilseed rape.
Since March, online users have voted to stock rare breed Oxford Downs sheep and they have voted to manage some of the hedging by laying it during the winter, rather than having it mown or coppiced.
Over the coming weeks and months, MyFarm users will be able to make direct comparisons between the costs of running an organic farm and a conventional one. The tenancy on an adjacent 250-acre National Trust farm has just ended, with the retirement of the tenant, so MyFarm subscribers will see and discuss the relative costs of the two modes of agriculture.
“At the launch of MyFarm, the farming community expressed reservations over the choice of an organic farm for the the project, since organic production only accounts for 4% of UK output,” press officer Jeannette Heard told ARC 2020. “Now that issue can be addressed.”
Wimpole’s farm manager Richard Morris added: “We hope to make the differences and reasoning for both farming methods clearer and easier to digest. Whatever scenario the MyFarmers are presented with, we will be relying on them to make sure their decisions lead to both farms being profitable businesses.”
The development was welcomed by National Farmers’ Union senior policy advisor Paul Hammett: “The MyFarm community will now have a fantastic opportunity to run the farms in parallel and learn about the advantages and disadvantages of both farming methods. It will be really interesting to see how their views and attitudes change, if at all, over the coming months.”
Since its launch in May 2011, MyFarm project has gathered over 3,000 live subscriptions, with a mix of households and school classes. “Some of our most regular users are teachers,” observes Jeannette.
Over the Christmas period, MyFarm will reach additional households through a collaboration with the parenting site mumsnet.com
The National Trust is a UK charity what works to preserve and protect the coastline, countryside and buildings of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.