Friday, 21 December 2012

Looking back at six years of fun

As 2012 draws to a close and the end of Relu itself looms in March 2013, I have been looking back at my own experience of working on the programme.  I was appointed in January 2007, and there are two things that our Director Philip Lowe said to me in that first year that have coloured my view of my job ever since.  First, not long after I came to work in the Centre for Rural Economy, there was some discussion about our meeting room and who within the university should be able to book this resource.  Philip was adamant that the meeting room must be available to researchers within CRE because “It’s our research lab.  At any time one of might have a brilliant idea and we will want to rush in there to discuss it.”  This was slightly intimidating as I wasn’t sure how many brilliant, light-bulb moments I might be able to initiate, but also tremendously exciting.  I knew this was going to be a great place to work.  The second comment from Philip that has stuck in my mind referred to our forward planning for Relu.  He said: “We have to meet all the research councils’ requirements of the programme, but the really important thing is that we have fun at the same time.”  I think we have managed to do both over the past six years.  I also have the impression that Relu has generally been a positive experience for the academics who carried out the research.  It has certainly felt like a genuine community of minds.  As one prominent member of this community commented last week “Life will seem strange without Relu!”  But, of course, the world moves on, and already both academics and stakeholders are building on the outcomes of the programme.   The independent evaluation of the programme’s impact commissioned by ESRC couldn’t have been more positive, so I think all involved are entitled to feel a sense of achievement.    My colleagues Philip Lowe and Jeremy Phillipson deserve a very particular mention.   Working with them is a privilege and I was particularly pleased to see that Philip’s huge contribution to rural studies and to the interdisciplinary Relu programme has just been recognised by the Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry.  He will be presented with the prestigious Bertebos Prize by the King of Sweden on 28 January.  I know everyone in the Relu community will want to congratulate him.  Merry Christmas and a happy new year.  I'll see you in 2013.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Bridging the Ambridge divide

Before I came to work on rural research, I didn’t give much thought to the range of different skills that the farmer needs to access in order to run a farm efficiently.  Although I’m a regular listener to The Archers, all those references to land agents, agronomists and ecologists rather passed me by.  It didn’t help that land agent Graham Ryder was, for many years the most boring character in the serial.  As for Alistair Lloyd the vet, I was more interested in his relationship with Shula Hebden (nee Archer) than his farm health planning sessions with David Archer.  But over recent years even I have become aware of the complex challenges that the farmers of Ambridge are facing and their need for increasingly specialist knowledge across a wide range of professions.  Unpredictable weather has become a fact of life, even in Borsetshire.  The unprecedented wet summer and its effects have been written into the script and although we haven’t heard any discussions about its possible causes I’m sure that Brian and Pat have been locking horns over climate change in the Bull.  An ecologist was key in advising Willow Farm on a new eco-friendly reed bed solution to livestock waste disposal.  Meanwhile, over at Brookfield, David and Ruth Archer took specialist advice on their milk production, in the face of dwindling profits, and are now moving to autumn calving.  It’s a good time to be an independent consultant in Borsetshire, as everyone seems to be seeking their expertise.  Modern farming involves so many different professions, I just hope they are all working together on their project planning.  In fact I can’t help thinking that our new Landbridge networking site for rural professionals could help them to do just that.  And having now met several land agents who are very far from boring, I wonder whether logging into Landbridge might widen even Graham Ryder’s horizons.