The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) is looking for six new monitor farms to join its research network - and for the first time one of them will be in Northern Ireland.

But researchers are not necessarily looking for the biggest or best farms; each monitor project is hosted by a farm that is representative of other farms in the area.

AHDB monitor farms bring together groups of farmers who want to improve their businesses by sharing performance information and best practice around a nationwide network of more than 30 host farms.

Monitor farms are part of AHDB’s wider Farm Excellence Platform, which works with the industry to improve performance through knowledge exchange and benchmarking.

Those who get involved in the project will also have the opportunity to learn from their peers.

'Neighbours aren't competitors any more'

Tom Bradshaw, former AHDB monitor farm host in Colchester said: “One of the real highlights of the Monitor Farm programme for me is sharing information. Neighbours get together; they are not competitors any more, but working together to solve challenges.”

Judith Stafford, AHDB knowledge exchange manager for Northern England and Northern Ireland, said the programme was an opportunity for farmers to develop their businesses.

Open-minded farmers looking to further their businesses are particularly well-suited to being a monitor farmer.

"We find that the more the host and the rest of the group are willing to put into the project, the more everybody benefits.

“The monitor farm and visiting farmers will also be able to learn from independent, non-commercial experts discussing subjects that are of local relevance and which have been identified as priorities by the farmer group," she said.

What do I have to do?

AHDB currently runs 14 arable-focused monitor farms in England, and three in Scotland under a joint scheme with Quality Meat Scotland (QMS). The latest plans will see six more farms join the programme in spring.

Each monitor farm project runs for three years, with between four and six meetings held a year - as well as the annual AHDB monitor farm conference held in November.

Farmers involved in the programme will also have the opportunity to take part in study tours to other parts of the country, to visit farms abroad and to have world-class experts speaking at meetings on the farm.

Interviews will be held in January and February 2018, with the successful farm being announced in March 2018.

Case study

Brian and Caroline Matheson farm at Ballicherry on the Black Isle, just north of Inverness in Scotland. They hosted monitor farm meetings from 2013 to 2016.

The business is predominantly arable, growing spring barley, oilseed rape and wheat - there is some livestock on the farm also.

Brian Matheson said it was an opportunity to refocus on the business.

The monitor farm was a chance to look again at the business and refresh what we’re doing, instead of doing what we’ve always done.

The decision was well justified, according to Caroline.

She added: “Our yields have improved over the last three years. Because of the monitor farm we have to justify our decisions now to the group and analyse everything. It’s made us think about the whole farm and makes us have a much greater attention to detail.”