This week saw the culmination of RAU’s Farm491 and BASF’s Challenge Prize ‘Digging for Innovation’. The challenge posed the question: "Can Productivity and Biodiversity CoExist?" and brought in a wide range of applicants from Europe and the UK.
Following a shortlisting process and a virtual bootcamp at the end of 2020, the six finalists went on to virtually pitch their ideas to a panel of judges; Farm491’s innovation Specialist Sarah Carr, soil health expert Jenni Dungait, BASF’s agricultural sustainability manager Mike Green and 2020 Soil Farmer of the Year, Jake Freestone.
The judges were impressed by the various interpretations of the brief and the tools that have been developed with improving soil health at the heart of each innovative idea.
All finalists were commended on their passion for their projects as well as their innovative approach to challenging existing methods of agricultural production.
The overall winner was Thomas Gent of Gentle Farming, whose business model and system allows farmers to quantify and market the amount of soil carbon they are sequestering into their soils per year.
A regenerative farmer himself, Gent made the most of the first lockdown by looking into what opportunities soil carbon could provide for farmers, and creating Gentle Farming.
BASF’s Mike Green commented:
Thomas has used his lockdown to great effect, with consultation and buy-in from others what many are only thinking about doing. The focus beyond just carbon is very important and the journey towards full international accreditation shows a wider understanding of the market complexities.
"A very exciting project and a worthy winner of the competition."
On finding out he had won the challenge prize, Thomas commended the extremely high calibre of the other finalists and thanked Farm491and BASF for their support. "I am really thrilled to win this competition.
Gentle Farming aims to seek support for regenerative agriculture and play a part in tackling climate change. The prize will allow me to develop business management systems and marketing in order to further promote UK regenerative farming.
In addition to the £5,000 prize money sponsored by BASF, Thomas will also receive a year’s free membership to Farm491.
Based at the Royal Agricultural University, Farm491 centre and events manager Verity Payne said:
"We have been delighted with the response to this competition.
"It has been a brilliant showcase for the scope of the work being done by agritech start-ups as they strive to secure the future of farming.
"We would like to thank BASF for their support in making this competition possible."