Online farmers face first challenge

Some 1,300 people taking part in an online experiment to run a real working farm have been asked to complete their first challenge.

Members of the MyFarm initiative must decide whether the National Trust should sow two fields of grass at Wimpole Farm, Cambridgeshire.

The project aims to give the public an insight into the sorts of decisions faced by Britain’s farmers.

Farm manager Richard Morris said: “Ordinarily, now would be exactly the right time to sow the seed. But there’s a problem: the weather. Do we gamble on rain coming and sow, or do we hold off?”

MyFarm members have until 9pm on Thursday (12 May) to discuss the issue in an online forum before casting their vote.

Mr Morris will then carry out their instructions.

The trust hopes 10,000 people will eventually join the initiative, although 6,500 subscribers will make the project viable.

More than 1,000 people parted with £30 each to sign up to the project within 48 hours of its launch last Wednesday (4 May).

Over the coming months, they will be asked to debate and vote on other crop management and livestock issues.

Like most eastern region farms, Wimpole has seen little rain this spring.

Mr Morris said: “If we sow and it doesn’t rain and the crop fails, then the farm will lose up to £3,500 – about 1% of the farm’s total annual turnover.”

Not sowing would minimise the financial risk, but leave weeds to multiply and represent a lost opportunity to improve soil fertility.

MyFarm project manager Jon Alexander said the vote would be the first time many people had experienced a real-life farming situation.

“It’s only by doing this that they appreciate the balancing act and element of risk real farmers encounter each day when making decisions.

“We hope this will illustrate to users the shape of things to come – as well as encouraging more would-be farmers to sign up.

The results of the vote will be announced at on Friday 13 May.


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