Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Online farming - but this time it's for real!

The National Trust has started a new scheme called My Farm. It's a big online experiment in farming and food production, giving 10,000 members of the public a say in the running of a real working farm on the Trust's Wimpole Estate, near Royston in Cambridgeshire.

People who sign up as Farmers will join forces on the website to discuss and make decisions on every aspect of the farm: the crops grown, the breeds of animal stocked, any new facilities invested in and the machinery used. The aim of the farm (which is organically run) is to be profitable, and to maintain the highest standards of sustainability and welfare.

The core of the project will be the monthly votes. At the beginning of each month, there will be a new question to the MyFarm community. For the following three weeks, there will be discussion and debate on the website - the Farmers will be able to give opinions and ask questions of Richard, the farm manager. and his team. There will be information and input from the farm team and industry experts and the vote will then go live, with Richard setting out the options, and Farmers will have a week to make their choice.

Alongside this, there will be a constant stream of blogs, videos and podcasts, so Farmers will be able to keep up to date with everyday events on the farm.

As the Trust's MyFarm website says:
This is a real farm. It might be a little different from most of the farms around the UK because part of it is a visitor attraction, but it still has to earn its keep like any other. While some things are easier at Wimpole, many are harder. We won’t hide anything from you – with the help of Scott, Richard and the team, you’ll see the challenges a real farmer faces every day, and face them with us. . . This is an online project, but it’s not Farmville. There’s a real farm here.
(Farmville is an online social gaming site where people tend virtual farms and earn credits, as in any other game. It's one of a number of online simulation games. For a discussion of the experience of playing Farmville, see this article.)

It costs £30 per year to be part of this project - this will cover the Trust's running costs for the online project and may (I imagine) act as some kind of financial buffer if the online community makes some daft decisions! The whole scheme is an educational project, aimed at increasing people's knowledge and understanding of where their food comes from. It's clear from the sign-up page that they hope some school teachers will sign up on behalf of their classes, thus involving children in thinking about the realities of food production.

There's plenty of basic information on the website, about crops, livestock and wider impacts. There's a map of the farm and encouragement to visit the real thing.

I've signed up and will bring reports to this blog - if anyone reading this also signs up, please do use the comment facility here!

The first vote is happening now - what crop to grow in Pond Field? The choice is wheat, oats or barley. There's a lot of information about soil type, growing requirements, likely yield, market conditions and prices, risks and opportunities. I voted for oats, and at the time I cast my vote, about 50% had also chosen this, with wheat and barley at about 25% each. Since then more people have voted and the choice is changing - the site is now registering 49% for wheat, 21% for barley and 29% for oats. The vote closes tomorrow.

For people who like lots of online interaction, there are blogs and discussions on the site. You don't have to be a member of the National Trust to sign up.
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If you want to post a comment, and are having technical difficulties, you can email your comment to me at Good.Lives@woodbrooke.org.uk and I can post it for you.

If you are reader from outside the UK, please remember to post your comment in English - I won't post anything if I don't know what it says.

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