The YEN Project: An overview
ADAS, an RSK company, is the UK’s largest independent provider of agricultural and environmental consultancy, rural development services, research and development, and policy advice. The UK-based agency is concerned with two major modern issues: securing the food supply and enhancing the environment. The company’s strong scientific research skills reinforce its aspirations to conduct in-the-field research and make a tangible difference to suppliers and producers in the UK and Europe.
In 2012, ADAS established the Yield Enhancement Network (YEN). The network is an open association of stakeholders that connects agricultural organisations and farmers committed to the improvement of crop performance. YEN has successfully employed an action-learning approach to identify, encourage and support arable innovators, whether on farms or in laboratories. This has resulted in successful spinouts of new networks (e.g., YEN Zero) and projects (e.g., YEN Wheat Quality and YEN Nutrition) to help address specific crop-performance issues and keep food security, nutritional quality and sustainability in focus.
The YEN approach has found appreciation; it has been awarded Innovate UK funding and is recognised globally through its involvement with farmers and organisations in several European countries and in North America. YEN, according to its founder, Roger Sylvester-Bradley, “is the pinnacle of the interconnection between farming and science. Scientists measure things and, in YEN, farmers measure things and scientists use those measurements to describe what is happening in predictable ways. So, science and farming come together in the form of YEN.”
YEN project objectives
The YEN crop networks consider each season’s yield potential and compare it with the actual yield achieved. To do this, they look at the development of a given crop, the basic resources (light energy and water) available to that crop, and then its success in capturing these and using them to form a yield. Specifically, YEN’s role involves estimating yield potentials, and thus yield gaps, for any crop, anywhere, and identifying and verifying high crop yields through annual crop-yield competitions. It also facilitates crop analysis to identify and explain causes of yield gaps and yield enhancements through benchmarking within each relevant network or project. YEN also shares findings among the networks to encourage research into innovative and relevant ideas that may enhance crop performance. It also oversees the management and administration of the networks.
The YEN Zero network aims to understand and share issues and ideas, agree common metrics and discover ‘what works’ to help achieve the goal of zero carbon emissions by 2040. The benchmarking of crop greenhouse gas intensities will enable fair and easy comparison of emissions between farms, fields and crops. This should enable the sector to learn what carbon-mitigation methods work best and explore these methods further to see if the benefits can be replicated for others. YEN Zero will be launched in 2021.
To enable growers and advisors to leverage YEN data in a visually enriched way and learn about their potential for fields and farms, YEN has received Innovate UK funding to develop a ‘dynamic benchmarking’ tool and make it available for assessing the key parameters for relevant networks and projects.
The YEN project portfolio
The YEN Wheat Quality contest promotes and encourages understanding how to produce high-yielding wheat that is also of high quality for bread making. The data gleaned from the competition are available to all sponsors, supporters and entrants so they can learn how high yields of high-quality grain have been produced. As the competition progresses from year to year, the data describing grain quality will increase, thereby instilling confidence in grain quality determinants for all participants.
The YEN Nutrition project was initiated following analyses of wheat grain samples from 936 UK crops registered by members of YEN from 2016 to 2019. These showed that concentrations of many nutrients were commonly below the critical thresholds that indicate sufficient nutrient supply; only about 25% of crops showed ‘no deficiencies’. Thus, the project is helping to augment conventional decisions about crop nutrition. YEN Nutrition is an independent project connecting anyone seeking to improve the nutrition of arable crops; members include farmers, advisors, suppliers and academics. Membership is open to anyone, from the UK or abroad, for any grain crop – cereals, oilseeds or pulses – and included in the membership cost are analyses of six grain samples for all 12 nutrients and three reports: the Nutrient Offtake Report, issued shortly after the samples and details of crop yields are received; the Nutrient Benchmarking Report, issued in November; and the annual YEN Nutrition Review, published in February.
In 2012, YEN initiated the YEN Yield Testing project, as part of which the farmers, advisers and scientists involved share and test ideas for enhancing crop performance. The project involves participants organising and undertaking analyses and research on particular hypotheses for increasing their yields. The project won funding from the agricultural European Innovation Partnership (EIP-AGRI), which resulted in investigating and learning about five key practical ideas by forming Farmer Innovation Groups (FIG); their work is published on the YEN website.