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Sustainability in Action ECIF Conference – The Future of Farming


In April 2024, ECIF hosted its annual conference, this year titled ‘Sustainability in Action’. The conference featured presentations from industry leaders, a fun speed-dating session for networking, and a tour of the world-renowned Long Term Experiments at Rothamsted Research.

Designed to cater to recent graduates and early-career professionals from diverse backgrounds such as research, agronomy, engineering, and farming, the event aimed to equip attendees with insights, knowledge, and connections to drive sustainable practices in agriculture.

Gabby Hart, Customer Executive at Yagro, shares what she learned and what inspired at the ECIF Conference. Gabby has actively engaged in a number of ECIF activities that, including this blog, has earned her a Silver certificate of ECIF participation (the first we have awarded since the programme began in September 2023!).

Gabby’s take on the ECIF Conference

A brisk, damp day in April 2024 welcomed a group of early-career individuals to the Rothamsted Research site in Harpenden. We delved into the realms of sustainability in agriculture, shared our experiences and knowledge, and were invited to explore the well-renowned Rothamsted trials.

Keeping Carbon Neutral

We began the day with a variety of presentations from sustainability experts and pioneers in the industry. Charles Hesketh of the NFU spoke about their Net Zero strategy, aiming for net zero greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural industry in England and Wales by 2040. In particular, they discussed their three pillar approach to achieve this: productivity improvement, farmland carbon storage, and bioeconomy-based measures.

We then heard from Megan Tresise at ADAS, who educated us on their YEN Zero network, and how they provide bespoke analysis for their net-zero community of growers who want guidance on how they can reduce their carbon emissions on farm. Next, Beatrice Guthrie from Holkham Farming Company informed us of their practices and how they use rotation strategies and soil health to improve their carbon footprint, highlighting the importance of figure-backed decision-making and using data as a tool for performance.

As someone with a keen interest in data, I found these talks captivating and inspired about the future of farming. I found myself considering how, as an industry, we all must unite in this movement towards sustainability, and we need to equip our farmers with as many tools as possible to guide them through this shift.

ECIF attendees at the Sustainability in Action ECIF Conference

The New Generation of Tech

James Miller at Earth Rover astounded us with their impressive tech, ‘CLAWS’ (Concentrated Light Autonomous Weeding & Scouting), which uses concentrated light to eliminate even chemically resistant weeds, without the use of herbicides or tilling. In turn, this improves soil health and makes the process far more efficient, as well as being free from greenhouse gas emissions.

Following this, Casey Woodward at AgriSound excited us with their unique sensor device, ‘Polly’, which monitors pollinators to help protect and enhance insect biodiversity, as well as providing bespoke reports for easy understanding. The concept of this new generation of tech is staggering, and it was intriguing to think about the endless limits of what is to come with advancements in AI and machine learning.

Meet & Mingle

Following an academic morning, we had the chance to connect with others, over lunch, in groups, and individually. As someone who is fascinated by learning, it was eye-opening to hear about so many backgrounds, topics, discoveries, projects, all in one industry. I was grateful to get a glimpse of different things occurring throughout the farming industry, as without this, I would have never known the scope outside my bubble.

Meeting so many like-minded people and broadening my horizons was a great opportunity to build connections in the agricultural world. Coming from a strictly customer service background, speaking to others reassured me that I can become an expert in anything!

ECIF attendees networking at the Sustainability in Action ECIF Conference

The Oldest Agronomic Trials in the World

We were very fortunate to be granted a tour of the Broadbalk and Park Grass long-term experiments, which have been conducted since the mid-1800s. Despite the bitter weather, we waded through the fields, led by knowledgeable individuals working on the site, who provided us with a fountain of expertise on the trials.

I found it astonishing that these experiments have continued more or less as originally planned, with minor tweaks only being made to ensure they remain relevant and that the most appropriate methods are being applied. I felt privileged to be able to visit and indulge in information about such a famed research site.

ECIF attendees at the Sustainability in Action ECIF Conference - at Rothamsted
Sustainability in Action ECIF Conference - at Rothamsted

The Early-Career Innovators’ Forum (ECIF) is a platform uniting early career individuals passionate about agricultural innovation.

Join the ECIF Programme to enhance your knowledge and network in agriculture, and to attend free activities, including research, farm and industry visits, an annual conference, and professional skills webinars. Explore more about ECIF and how to join here.