Regular news updates on the group's activities and key developments in science and technology in agriculture.

Group News

Westminster Hall Debate
Agriculture GCSE

(Julian Sturdy MP)
February 2018

APPGSTA Annual Report 2016/17 September 2017

News release: APPG meeting highlights vital role of horticultural innovation post-Brexit, September 2017

APPGSTA Income and Expenditure Statement
July 2017

Promotion of Innovation

House of Commons, BEIS Questions
September 2016

APPGSTA Annual Report 2015/16
July 2016

APPGSTA Income & Expenditure Statement
July 2016

APPGSTA Annual Report 2014/15
July 2015

Balancing the Debate - Mark Spencer article for New Statesman
March 2015

Agri-science MP concerned over axing of EU chief scientist role
News Release, 13 November 2014

APPGSTA Annual Report 2012/13
January 2014

The UK as a global hub of agricultural innovation: George Freeman presentation to Oxford Farming Conference, January 2014

VIDEO: MP hails agri-tech project

VIDEO: George Freeman MP explains the significance of the Agri-Tech Strategy

UK Agri-Tech Strategy published

22 July 2013


APPGSTA Annual Report 2011/12

December 2012


Progressive agriculture can still be sustainable, Farm Business article, November 2012


George Freeman MP hails £250m bio-economy boost

24 May 2012


House of Lords Debate -

Innovation in EU Agriculture

February 2012


APPGSTA Annual Report 2010/11

December 2011



Support for agricultural R&D is essential to deliver sustainable increases in UK food production, November 2010


2017 Archive


2016 Archive


2015 Archive


2014 Archive


2013 Archive


2012 Archive


2011 Archive

2010 Archive

2009 Archive

2008 Archive

Science & Technology News



MacFry Academy opens its doors to potato growers

Potato growers supplying McDonald’s are set to benefit from the provision of free agronomy skills training to improve crop performance and quality with the launch of the MacFry Potato Academy.

The Academy is a joint initiative between NIAB and McDonald’s UK and Ireland, in association with potato suppliers McCain Foods and Lamb Weston.

In 2015 McDonald’s made a commitment to source 100 per cent British potatoes for all their UK fries. As the business sources in excess of 280,000 tonnes of British potatoes each year, the MacFry Potato Academy will be a key component in ensuring a vibrant and sustainable potato industry that can secure a growing volume of great quality ingredients, according to the company. more

Farmers Guardian, 12 March 2018 

Scientists develop harvesting robots that could revolutionise field vegetable production

Scientists at the University of Plymouth are developing ground-breaking technology which could assist fruit and vegetable growers with the challenges they face in harvesting crops.

Increasing demand for home grown produce, coupled with concern about workforce shortages in the wake of Brexit, are leaving farmers across the UK facing a unique set of pressures.

The Automated Brassica harvesting in Cornwall (ABC) project has secured funding from Agri-Tech Cornwall, a three-year, £10million initiative part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, with match-funding from Cornwall Council. more

Farming Online, 8 March 2018 

Animation launched to highlight importance of GM to UK livestock sector

A new animation has been launched which highlights the existing importance of GM feed imports to the UK livestock sector.

The animation, launched by the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC), aims to highlight the importance of better regulation for the agri-tech sector after Brexit to the UK economy and environment.

The Council say that improved regulation will enable the UK to realise the full potential of innovation in agricultural technology and better protect the environment after leaving the EU. more

Farming UK, 7 March 2018 

New research network involving 3,500 cattle aims to promote innovation

A new research network involving 3,500 cattle and 30 projects is to be created to promote innovation in the farming industry. SmartCow – a research network of 3,500 cattle and 30 pan-European projects – is to be created by the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA).

It will increase access to the most advanced research facilities and equipment for the cattle sector across Europe, and aims to improve the quality and ethics of cattle research through identification and promotion of best practices, new measurements techniques, and smart technologies.

The network will promote innovation in the European cattle sector, and UK-based Agrimetrics is supporting the consortium of ten research institutes with its expertise in big data for the agri-food industry. more

Farming UK, 5 March 2018 

Rumen genotyping advances could enhance cattle breeding

Future cattle selection decisions could extend to breeding for rumen microbiome characteristics, say researchers who have recently mapped more bovine rumen microbe genomes than ever before.

A British study. published in Nature Communications this week, has doubled the number of rumen microbes sequenced and available on public databases. This progress is still “early days”, but could influence cattle breeding, bovine nutrition and even biofuel technology in the years ahead, researchers said.

Led by researchers from the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), the study analysed rumen microbes in 43 commercial beef cattle (Limousin, Aberdeen Angus, Charolais) at the SRUC’s Beef and Sheep Research Centre. more

Farmers Weekly, 2 March 2018 

Gene injection set to bring big benefits to pea crops

Scientists are injecting genes into pea plants to speed up introducing better disease resistance and improving the nutrition of this pulse crop within the next five years.

Adding valuable genes from wild pea varieties from Africa and Asia is set to bring improved resistance to the potentially devastating disease downy mildew, with fungicide control being limited to seed treatments.Researchers are also well down the path of improving the nutrition of combine peas both for human consumption and for animal feed to potentially reduce expensive imports of soya.

Claire Domoney at the John Innes Centre says speedier breeding techniques mean these new beneficial traits can now be introduced more quickly into farm crops. more

Farmers Weekly, 28 February 2018 

Once-in-a-generation opportunity to shape future farming policy

Farmers, landowners and food producers have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to shape the future of English farming and the environment, with a consultation launched today (27 February) by Environment Secretary Michael Gove.

The government’s proposals will see money redirected from direct payments under the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), which are based on the amount of land farmed, to a new system of paying farmers “public money for public goods” - principally their work to enhance the environment and invest in sustainable food production.

Other public goods which could be supported include investment in technology and skills to improve productivity, providing public access to farmland and the countryside, enhanced welfare standards for livestock and measures to support the resilience of rural and upland communities. more

Farming Online, 27 February 2018 

Arctic stronghold of world's seeds reaches one million mark

The vault storing the world's most precious seeds is taking delivery on Monday of donations that will take it to the one million mark.

More than 70,000 crops will be added to frozen storage chambers buried deep within a mountain in the Arctic Circle. Cereal staples, unusual crops like the Estonian onion potato, and barley used to brew Irish beer are among the consignments.

Monday marks the tenth anniversary of the Global Seed Vault in Svalbard. more

BBC News, 26 February 2018 

Government announces £90m for agri-tech projects

In a keynote speech to the NFU conference on Wednesday (21 February), Business Secretary Greg Clark highlighted how new technology is boosting farmers’ earning power and making agri-businesses more productive and profitable.

Mr Clark has announced the £90 million new funding to bring together the UK’s agri-food sector with expertise in robotics, AI and data science.

The funding, delivered as part of the new the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, will make it easier for food and agri-business to embrace technology and innovation. more

Farming UK, 21 February 2018 

New report gives insight into emerging digital agri-tech market

The race is on to become the dominant digital platform in the agriculture sector, harnessing technologies that boost agricultural productivity through data capture and integration, according to new research.

PA Consulting Group's research creates a detailed overview of the digital agri-tech market, tracking 136 deals - including partnerships, acquisitions and investments - for 11 of the biggest agri-tech businesses and 200 start-ups and technology companies operating in the space since 1997.

The report offers five insights into the digital agritech market, including the need for closer collaboration between the established players and start-up companies. The companies that fail to collaborate will be left behind, says Oliver Lofink, lead author of the report and a digital agriculture expert at PA Consulting Group. more

Farming UK, 19 February 2018

NFU launches farm education package to combat ‘huge lack of knowledge’

Teachers will soon be able to educate youngsters on all things food and farming thanks to a trial Science Farm series designed by the NFU.

The initiative was launched on Monday (February 12) on the ethos ‘farms are the perfect place to learn about science’.

It came following concerns there was a ‘huge lack of knowledge’ among children about how and where their food is produced. more

Farmers Guardian, 13 February 2018 

Temperature resilient crops now an “achievable dream” say authors of new study

Breeding temperature-resilient crops is an “achievable dream” in one of the most important species of commercially-cultivated plants, according to a new study by the John Innes Centre which has established a genetic link between increased temperature and the problem of pod shatter in the crop.

The research, by the team led by Dr Vinod Kumar and Professor Lars Østergaard, reveals that pod shatter is enhanced at higher temperature across diverse species in the Brassicaceae family, which also includes cauliflower, broccoli and kale.

This new understanding brings the prospect of creating crops that are better adapted to warmer temperatures a step closer. more

Farming Online, 13 February 2018

Sweet route to greater yields

A promising technique that makes maize more productive even in droughts has now been unpicked and looks set to do the same for a range of other crops, including wheat and rice.

Three years ago, biotechnologists demonstrated in field trials that they could increase the productivity of maize by introducing a rice gene into the plant that regulated the accumulation of sucrose in kernels and led to more kernels per maize plant.

They knew that the rice gene affected the performance of a natural chemical in maize, trehalose 6-phosphate (T6P), which influences the distribution of sucrose in the plant. But they were keen to discover more intimate details of the relationships governing the increased productivity. more

BBSRC, 9 February 2018

Stem rust could wipe out 70 percent or more of barley and wheat crops scientists warn

A devastating disease that attacks barley and wheat - the world's most widely grown crop - could re-emerge in Britain, scientists said today. Over 80 percent of 57 wheat varieties tested in Britain are susceptible to the strain of stem rust that was discovered in an infected plant in Suffolk in 2013, the first time the disease has reappeared since 1955, they said.

The same strain battered wheat crops in Ethiopia, and caused smaller outbreaks in Sweden, Denmark and Germany in 2013, a study in the journal Communications Biology said.

These outbreaks, as well as the infection in Britain, are "a warning sign" to take immediate action, Diane Saunders, a plant pathologist at the UK-based John Innes Centre and lead author of the study, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. more

Farming UK, 8 February 2018

Tories condemn new EU committee on glyphosate

Conservative MEPs have condemned a European parliament decision to set up a new special committee to review the EU’s authorisation process for pesticides, with a particular focus on glyphosate.

The new committee has 30 members and has given itself nine months to examine the licensing procedures, in particular whether there are any failures in the way substances like glyphosate are approved.

“It is regrettable that there are individuals in parliament who remain determined to ignore the science and keep kicking this particular political football,” said Conservative MEP Ashley Fox. “We believe the EU already has a system for examining and licensing pesticides, which is fit for purpose. It places scientists front and centre, not politicians with an axe to grind or a campaign to advance.” more

Farmers Weekly, 7 February 2018 

MP calls for introduction of GCSE in agriculture

An MP has said teenagers around the country should be offered a GCSE in Agriculture to help Britain gain a more productive workforce.

According to Conservative MP for York Outer Julian Sturdy, who is an ex-farmer, the course could help create a "better skilled and more productive workforce" for Britain.

Mr Sturdy will today (7 February) lead a debate in Westminster on introducing the qualification, which he says would allow teenagers who are interested in food and farming to get a step on the ladder “at the earliest possible opportunity”. more

Farming UK, 7 February 2018 

Food and Drink Council meets for first time to discuss boosting productivity

The newly-formed Food and Drink Sector Council has met for the first time to discuss boosting agricultural productivity and increase industry skills.

Meeting for the first time this week, the Council, made up of industry figures from agriculture and others, agreed priorities for the next 12 months.

The new group will work together to boost skills in the agricultural and food industry, increase productivity and make it more competitive. more

Farming UK, 31 January 2018 

New poll finds public uneasy about pesticide use

The NFU has set out to reassure the public that farmers are not using pesticides excessively after a recent poll found 67 per cent of respondents wanted to reduce their use.

The survey, carried out on behalf of the Pesticide Action Network and campaign group SumOfUs, also showed 78 per cent of those polled would like the Government to provide more support to UK farmers to cut their pesticide use.

63 per cent of the total number of respondents wanted to retain EU regulations on pesticides after Brexit, with 57 per cent of leave voters and 77 per cent of remain voters feeling the same way. more

Farmers Guardian, 31 January 2018 

New field station makes space for innovative crop science

A new facility to assist advances in crop science is taking shape in the Norfolk countryside. The field experimental station at Church Farm, Bawburgh, will allow scientists at the John Innes Centre to carry out ground-breaking research in crop improvements.

Bringing together lab and field research in one location will further research in understanding how genes control plant growth in the field. The aim is to create tools for plant breeders to produce new varieties that are more reliable, nutritious and resilient to pests and diseases. more

Farmers Guardian, 29 January 2018 

'Super' crops and cows - Bill Gates, UK inject cash into farm science

Research that could lead to cows producing more milk, chickens laying better-quality eggs and crops being able to withstand droughts or disease received a funding injection of about $174 million from Britain’s Department for International Development and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Gates Foundation will invest $40 million in projects to develop livestock vaccines and make them accessible to the poorest small-scale farmers across Africa and South Asia through the Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines, a public-private partnership based in Edinburgh.

Britain will support CGIAR, a global research body, with funding of £90 million ($128.25 million) over three years to deliver new farm technologies that will support food security by producing more nutritious and climate-resilient crops. more

Reuters, 26 January 2018 

New £1m poultry research facility aims to improve bird welfare

A new £1m poultry facility offering specialist and industry-focused research into both laying hen and broiler health, behaviour and productivity has opened at the University of Bristol’s Veterinary School.

The new poultry facility, which features fully-monitored and controlled hatching housing, sits alongside Bristol's other agricultural facilities for cattle, pig, sheep and aquaculture.

It forms part of the Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock (CIEL), a national consortium comprising 12 research institutes across the UK, funded by Innovate UK, to develop new industry-needed solutions as well as commercial trial farms for real world results. CIEL is also one of the UK’s four Agri-Tech Centres established as a key pillar of the government’s Agri-Tech Strategy. more

Farming UK, 24 January 2018 

AHDB commits £5m to fix ‘fragmented’ farming innovation pipeline

The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) is committing £5m to fund Britain’s next generation of agricultural experts in an effort to overhaul the industry’s “fragmented” innovation and skills pipeline.

It will plough the funds into supporting PhD university students over the next five years, following its recent report which identified a UK productivity gap worth over £4bn in lost Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Modern agriculture is a diverse and highly advanced technological industry which has attracted increasing numbers of university students over the last 10 years. But industry experts have warned that the UK must overhaul its “fragmented” innovation and skills pipeline to drive change within the sector and keep pace with competitor countries. more

Farming Online, 19 January 2018 

New crop breeding method is exempt from GMO rules - EU court adviser

Crops obtained by the plant breeding technique of mutagenesis do not fall under laws restricting the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) but individual EU states can regulate their use, an adviser to Europe’s top court said on Thursday.

Mutagenesis, which generates a genetic mutation that can occur naturally or be induced, has been around for decades but advances in the technique have ignited a row over whether it should face the same EU rules as GMOs, which are often subject to a long process of scrutiny to win approval.

Michal Bobek, whose advice as advocate general is not binding but usually followed by European Court of Justice (ECJ) judges, said European Union rules on GMOs exempted mutagenesis and did not differentiate between old and new techniques. more

Reuters, 18 January 2018 

French seed group says GMO protests could force R&D relocation

Limagrain, the world’s fourth-largest seed maker, will consider moving its research activities out of France if field trials in its home market continue to be sabotaged by opponents of genetically modified crops.

The French cooperative group was targeted last month by protestors who invaded test fields southeast of Paris and scattered non-commercial seed. That was the latest in a series of actions by opponents of gene-editing technology, which they say will herald a new generation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Limagrain said the incident ruined a 37-hectare trial of wheat based on conventional breeding and showed the risk of a repeat of virulent debate over GMOs. more

Reuters, 16 January 2018 

New robotics survey highlights more investment is needed

An AHDB Horticulture survey has revealed that 82 per cent of UK growers believe recent developments in automation have helped reduce their reliance on labour.

Growers also report key areas for future investment should be focused on harvesting and improvements within the pack-house.

Areas of production with particularly high manual labour inputs – such as harvesting – are high priority for future research and investment, with nearly 60 per cent of growers identifying this as an area to focus on. more

Farming Online, 9 January 2018 

Seed breeders warn of major Brexit impact

Seed breeders have warned that British production would decline if growers have less access to new varieties after Brexit.

The UK could end up producing less fresh produce and importing more without access to European variety catalogues and protection of Intellectual Property, seed breeders have warned. 

The news is a major reversal of pro-Brexit reports in the national press that have suggested Britain could become more self-sufficient in fresh produce, and comes as UK breeders have voiced fears that the impact on their sector has been forgotten, despite its significance to UK production and wider economy. more

Fresh Produce Journal, 9 January 2018 

Genetically-modified animals could be sold in UK after Brexit, says Michael Gove 

Genetically-modified animals could be sold in the UK after Brexit, Michael Gove has said.

The Environment Secretary said that “bio-tech changes” are coming which will “challenge us to think about the future” as he suggested gene editing could be used to create “more valuable livestock”.

But he admitted that the science was still “in its infancy” and that its use would raise “political and moral questions”. more

The Telegraph, 4 January 2018  

New technique opens door to faster crop breeding programmes

Scientists have drastically cut the time needed to breed new crop varieties using a combination of artificial environments and intense day-long lighting regimes using LED lights.

The speed-breeding platform allows as many as six generations of wheat to be grown in a single year, three times faster than the shuttle-breeding techniques currently used by breeders and researchers.

Six generations is also possible for bread wheat, durum wheat, barley, pea and chickpea, with four possible for canola. Brande Wulff of the John Innes Centre, Norwich, part of the international team with the University of Queensland and University of Sydney, said the improvement rates of several staple crops has stalled, but this new technique could overcome this. more

Farmers Weekly, 3 January 2018 

Rapid revolution in productivity needed

AHDB’s latest Horizon report said improved productivity was essential to capitalise on Brexit, feed the UK population and protect the environment

The UK has fallen significantly behind major competitors in its growth in productivity, with countries such as the USA and the Netherlands growing three times faster. This productivity gap was worth over £4.3bn in lost GDP between 2000 and 2013.

AHDB’s Driving productivity growth together report, launched at the Oxford Farming Conference, warned a revolution in productivity was necessary to capitalise on Brexit, continue to feed the country and protect the environment. more

Farmers Guardian, 3 January 2018 

New report shows UK farm productivity lagging behind major competitors

The USA and the Netherlands are out-performing the UK on agricultural productivity by as much as three times, according to a new report.

The AHDB study, as part of its Horizon series looking at the pressing Brexit questions and scenarios, states that UK agricultural productivity is lagging.

Total Factor Productivity (TFP) in the UK, which measures all inputs into outputs, has fallen behind that of many major competitors, averaging 0.9 per cent per year as opposed to 3.5 per cent in the Netherlands, and 3.2 per cent in the USA. more

Farming UK, 3 January 2018 

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