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

Group News

Review of developments since 2010 APPGSTA report
- Professor David Leaver
February 2018

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

 

APPGSTA Report

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

 

 

Multi-million pound boost for crop resilience

UK universities and research centres which improve the resilience, sustainability and quality of major crops will benefit from a funding package worth around £5.3 million over five years, Environment Secretary Michael Gove announced today.

The funding will go to four leading agricultural research centres to help develop new technologies and environmentally friendly production for farmers and growers across the country.

They will focus on boosting productivity for pulses, wheat, leafy vegetables and oilseed rape as part of Defra’s Crop Genetic Improvement Networks (GINs). more

Farming Online, 15 June 2018  


Campaign to put arable farming top of political agenda

Growers are being urged to invite MPs on to their farms this harvest as part of a major campaign to highlight the importance of the cereals sector to the UK’s food and drink industry.

Launched by the NFU on the first day of Cereals, the Your Harvest campaign aims to raise the political profile of the arable sector – and emphasise its contribution to the economy – as the government prepares to publish its Agriculture Bill detailing its policies for farming after Brexit.

It comes amid concern that the government’s determination to deliver a “green” Brexit risks failing to recognise that farmers are primarily food producers and businesses in addition to their role as stewards of the countryside and the rural environment. more

Farmers Weekly, 13 June 2018 


AHDB launches farm data sharing project

Creating a best practice guide to sharing farm data is the focus of a new consultation launched by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB).

The project will develop a set of principles to help promote and facilitate data sharing within the agricultural industry. Based on input from farmers and the wider value chain, the aim is for an industry-supported code to be produced later this year.

AHDB chief strategy officer Tom Hind said: “Finding an effective way of removing the frictions surrounding the sharing of data is a critical step in unlocking the full potential of that data in our industry.” more

Farm Business, 12 June 2018 


Defra announces £23.5m package to boost farming productivity

Farmers across the country are to receive £23.5m in small grants allocated to boost farming productivity, the government has today confirmed.

More than 3,500 grants worth £23.5 million have been allocated from the Countryside Productivity Small Grants scheme (CPSG).

The scheme will help farmers to purchase the equipment they need to make their businesses more productive, with grants available to aid electronic identification of livestock, improve the application of manures, and introduce guidance systems to aid precision farming. more

Farming UK, 8 June 2018 


New study to drive future direction of British sheep genetics

A new scoping study that will drive the future direction of genetic improvement in the British sheep industry has been announced.

Funded by Defra, the project will be led by Scotland’s Rural College in collaboration with AHDB, the National Sheep Association (NSA), AbacusBio and the Centre of Innovation Excellence in Livestock (CIEL).

The project team, made up of industry experts and researchers, will also recommend solutions that deliver breeding goals to maximise genetic, economic and environmental gain across the sector. more

Farming UK, 7 June 2018 


National Reference Centre for Soils to be housed at new agri-informatics facility at Cranfield

A ‘ground-breaking’ ceremony today commemorated the start of construction on a new £3.2 million agri-informatics facility at Cranfield University. The new facility will provide the UK with a centre of excellence in data science related to precision agriculture.

The new facility will be the home of the National Reference Centre for Soils and associated Land information system, LandIS. It will be shared with Agri-EPI Centre who will focus on agri-tech research and innovation.

Funding for the facility has come from Innovate UK, Agri-EPI Centre, the Wolfson Foundation and the University itself, with construction being completed in 2019. more

Farming Online, 6 June 2018 


France backs GM labelling law for meat and dairy

French politicians have  backed a proposal for mandatory labelling of meat and dairy products from animals raised on genetically modified (GM) feed.

The proposal is contained in the first draft of president Emmanuel Macron’s Food and Agriculture Bill, which is being debated in French parliament.

The Bill is also seeking to make it mandatory for labels to include details of pesticides used on fruit and vegetables. more

Farmers Weekly, 5 June 2018 


Monsanto brand to disappear as Bayer deal finalised

German chemical giant Bayer will ditch the controversial Monsanto name as it prepares to close a $63bn takeover of the US seed and spray company on Thursday.

Monsanto, a 117-year-old brand, has long attracted criticism from environmental campaigners who oppose its use of genetically modified seed, and the brand was recently ranked the 16th most-hated in the US.

The combined entity will create the world’s largest seeds and agrochemical supplier despite Dow’s merger with Dupont and ChemChina’s takeover of Syngenta. more

Farmers Weekly, 5 June 2018  


Incentivise farmers and growers to share data

Businesses have a wealth of data on-farm which could be used to boost both productivity and profitability but farmers must feel motivated to collect and share it. 

A conference run by Agrimetrics, a big data centre of excellence for the agrifood chain, heard how farmers must be incentivised to use data, either through rewards such as ’insights’ or through some form of payment.

Prof Richard Tiffin, chief scientific officer, Agrimetrics, said trust was also an important element, as farmers and growers could be wary about where their data was shared, who it was shared with and where it ended up. more

Farmers Guardian, 4 June 2018 


Neonic ban dates announced

The European Commission has said that the sale and supply of neonicotinoid actives clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam for outdoor use will cease by September 19, 2018 at the latest, with the sale, storage and use of seed treated with them ending on December 19, 2018 at the latest, according to the Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC).

However, it is up to member states how they wish to implement the ban and some may go for an earlier date, says AIC head of crop protection Hazel Doonan. Hopefully people would still be able to drill winter wheat treated with a neonicotinoid seed dressing this autumn but it is not certain, she said. more

Farmers Guardian, 1 June 2018 


UK food and farming sector unites to set Brexit objectives for government

Leaders of over 100 organisations from across the nation's food supply chain have put their names to a manifesto setting out the key principles that can help ensure Brexit is a success for the supply of food in the UK.

The UK Food Supply Chain Manifesto, released today, has been drawn up by organisations representing farmers producing the raw ingredients and their suppliers, right through to manufacturers and retailers. It sets out the need for positive outcomes on trade, labour, regulation and domestic agricultural policy. more

Farming Online, 28 May 2018 


British government sparks new green revolution with £100m investment in 'super-crops'

Britain is helping breed a new generation of “super-crops” not only resistant to climate change, pests and disease but also fortified with vital vitamins and minerals.

The initiative could save the lives of hundreds of thousands of children who die each year from poor nutrition in developing countries as well as supplementing diets in the west.

The Department for International Development (Dfid) has quietly invested more than £100m into breeding the new generation of super-crops which now stand poised to create what experts are calling a “second green revolution”. more

The Telegraph, 26 May 2018 


Scientists look at ways farmers can move away from 'damaging' plastic

A research group is looking at ways to move farmers away from using potentially-damaging plastic, which could be affecting the soil and plants it touches.

Plastic soil mulch is currently favoured by farmers and gardeners, with millions of acres of farmland covered with it worldwide every year.

But scientists at Coventry University’s Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience are now investigating alternatives to using the potentially-damaging plastic. more

Farming UK, 25 May 2018 


£6m dairy research centre aims to raise sector productivity

A £6m Centre for Dairy Science has been opened at the University of Nottingham’s Sutton Bonington campus, intended to “cement the UK’s position” as a global leader in dairy research. The new facility has been jointly funded by the university and the Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Livestock (Ciel), and by the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK.

It will see a significant expansion in the university’s dairy herd, from 240 cows to 360, together with a new “cutting-edge” laboratory, eight robotic milking machines and a number robotic scrapers.

“This state-of-the art-facility will allow the UK’s dairy industry to work with leading researchers at the University of Nottingham to develop solutions the industry needs to build on its already excellent position in animal health and welfare,” said Ian Cox from Innovate UK. more

Farmers Weekly, 23 May 2018 


PM will pay to have 'full association' with EU research

The Prime Minister made the strongest commitment yet to "fully associate" the UK with the EU's £68bn research programme post-Brexit.

Theresa May said the UK would be willing to make "an appropriate contribution" and in return it would expect a "suitable level of influence".

She also said that Britain would participate in R&D with the EU's nuclear body Euratom. The announcements have been welcomed by UK scientists. more

BBC News, 21 May 2018  


GM potato trial cuts blight fungicide use by up to 90%

A genetically modified potato variety designed to resist the devastating disease blight, enabled fungicide use to be cut by 80-90% in trials, without compromising efficacy or yield.

Research company Teagasc has concluded that combining GM technology with an integrated approach to disease control can dramatically cut the overall environmental impact of potato growing. more

Farmers Weekly, 18 May 2018 


EU court backs near-total neonicotinoids ban

The EU's top court has backed an almost complete EU-wide ban on the use of three insecticides, which studies have linked to declining bee populations.

Chemicals giants Bayer and Syngenta had gone to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) hoping to get the restrictions on neonicotinoids overturned.

Last month EU governments agreed to ban all use of three neonicotinoids outdoors. Seeds treated with them can still be used in greenhouses. more

BBC News, 17 May 2018 


Is leaving the EU an opportunity to harness the potential of agri-tech?

A group of leading industry and research figures has agreed a series agri-tech measures that will be recommended to Government as a means of making British farming more profitable and productive post-Brexit.

Anthea McIntyre MEP, the Conservatives’ agriculture spokesperson in Europe, has once again brought together scientific, engineering and agricultural experts to devise a policy wish list from the UK Government as it devises a post-Brexit farming and land-use policy.

The result will be a consensus report that McIntyre, speaking at the gathering, said she will "push with [Defra secretary] Michael Gove and his ministers". Though she cautioned: "We don’t know what the Brexit deal will look like, so how much we will still be bound by EU regulation." The proposals range across sustainability, GM crops, plant-protection products and innovation more widely. more

Horticulture Week, 17 May 2018 


Fulfilling domestic demand for protein feed

Better crop genetics and the use of intercropping could improve the success of growing legumes in parts of the UK, helping fulfil demand for high protein livestock feed. Despite growing demand from UK livestock producers for locally-sourced protein feedstock, about 60 per cent of protein crops used for animal feed are imported, largely because of the difficulty in growing consistently high yielding legumes in some parts of the UK, according to Dr Robin Walker, a researcher at Scotland’s Rural College.

According to Dr Walker, the main barrier to increasing the production of home-grown proteins is the inconsistent yield and quality which is associated with many legumes, particularly in northern England and Scotland where demand for livestock feed is high. He believes intercropping could be a potential solution.“SRUC trial work from the 2016 and 2017 seasons showed how intercropping cereals with grain legumes in spring can lead to more reliable production of high protein feed, particularly in north of the UK.” more

Farmers Guardian, 15 May 2018 


Millennials 'have no qualms about GM crops' unlike older generation

The advent of genetically modified crops caused a scandal in the 1990s. But the younger generation is largely relaxed about eating GM foods, new research has shown, as farmers called for a post-Brexit technology revolution.

Two thirds of under-30s believe technology is a good thing for farming and support futuristic farming techniques, according to a survey. Only 20 per cent of millennials expressed concerns about the benefits of gene editing or genetically modifying crops, despite decades of opposition and media warnings.

The poll of more than 1,600 18 to 30-year-olds, carried out for the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC), also found that around two thirds of young people support the use of drones in livestock farming to count sheep and in arable farming to assess, monitor and spray crops. more

The Telegraph, 7 May 2018 


British farming productivity rises to record high

British farming productivity rose by 2.9% to its highest-ever level in 2017 after sharp increases in crop and livestock outputs, Defra figures reveal.

The data also shows the increased output, combined with higher prices, pushed up total income from farming (Tiff) by £1,683m to £5.7bn.

The department said a strong harvest in 2017 had been a major driver for the higher productivity, with a 7.3% increase in the volume of all crops produced. more

Farmers Weekly, 4 May 2018 


Total neonics ban sparks calls for urgent action on pests

Scientists called for the urgent development of alternative pest control methods after the EU widened its partial ban on three key neonicotinoids to cover all outdoor crops.

Ian Toth, a senior scientist at the James Hutton Institute, said: “The use of pesticides has been such an important part of crop production for decades that loss or reduction in the use of such chemicals, including neonicotinoids, will almost certainly affect crop yields.”

This would ultimately affect food prices for consumers, said Professor Toth. He added: “Now more than ever it is so important that we find alternative methods of control through more resistant crops, biocontrol and other integrated pests management approaches.” more

Farmers Weekly, 3 May 2018 


Farmers spend too much on machinery and don't get good returns

British farmers are spending too much on their farm machinery and are not getting a return on their expenditure. AHDB and Strutt & Parker looked at machinery and labour costs across the 21 farms in the Monitor Farm scheme.

Although the reviews have found huge variation between farms, the key thing is that machinery costs are too high. They found that growers are using very high capacity machinery and are not getting the return on expenditure in either reduced labour hours, costs or higher yields. more

Farming UK, 2 May 2018 


Neonicotinoid ban extended to all outdoor crops

European Union countries have voted to widen a partial ban on neonicotinoid pesticides so it covers all outdoor crops. The European Commission proposal to ban three key neonicotinoids used by farmers was endorsed by EU member states on Friday (27 April).

The use of active substances imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam will now only be allowed in greenhouses where they are not exposed to bees.

The ban was backed by Defra, which said it was committed to enhancing the environment and welcomed the vote in support of further restrictions on neonicotinoids. more

Farmers Weekly,  27 April 2018 


GM plant tech boosts malaria drug yield

Scientists have modified a plant's genetic sequence to make it produce high levels of a key malaria drug, potentially helping meet the large global demand.

The team identified genes involved in making artemisinin, altering their activity to produce three times more of the drug than "normal" plants make. more

BBC News, 24 April 2018 


Farmers face labour ‘struggle’ after Brexit

Agriculture is among the sectors likely to “struggle most” to attract workers after Brexit, a government adviser has warned.

Alan Manning, chairman of the Migration Advisory Committee said farming, food processing, hospitality and warehousing were all likely to struggle to attract enough workers after the UK leaves the EU in March 2019.

New immigration rules would hit lower skilled workers looking to come to the UK – making it difficult for industries such as agriculture which rely on recruiting temporary and full-time employees from overseas, said Prof Manning. more

Farmers Weekly, 22 April 2018  


New technology to make spectral imaging more affordable

Academics at the University of the West of Scotland (UWS), the University of Strathclyde (UoS) and the James Hutton Institute (JHI), led by Glasgow based product design firm Wideblue, have teamed up to develop a new type of hyperspectral imaging (HSI) system.

The government-funded collaboration has the potential to introduce an affordable spectral imaging technology to help agricultural businesses monitor and maximise crop production in fields and greenhouses.

The sensors in development are expected to be up to 90 per cent cheaper than equivalent equipment currently on the market and will allow farmers to monitor various crop attributes including plant health, hydration levels and disease indicators. more

Farmers Guardian, 19 April 2018 


Healthy soil lifts animal weight

Individual pastures on livestock farms yield surprisingly dissimilar benefits to a farm’s overall agricultural income, and those differences are most likely attributable to the varying levels of “soil health” provided by its grazing livestock, reveals a study published today.

The study, produced by an interdisciplinary team of 13 scientists and two PhD students from Rothamsted Research, evaluates how efficiently nutrients are used on a livestock farm, on a field-by-field basis for the first time, and links soil health to animal growth.

The team has developed a method to derive the contribution of individual fields to an animal’s growth and, in the process, has opened up the possibility of using field-scale metrics as indicators of animal performance and agricultural productivity. The findings appear in the journal Animal. more

13 April 2018, Rothamsted Research 


Britain will remain magnet for cutting edge agri-research, MEP says

Britain will remain a magnet for cutting edge research in agricultural techniques, a leading MEP told farming technologists this week.

Anthea McIntyre MEP also predicted that the UK government would put science at the forefront of future environment and agriculture policies.

Miss McIntyre, Conservative agriculture spokesman in Brussels, was addressing the Association of Agricultural Engineers in London this week. more

Farming UK, 12 April 2018 


Scientists hope US gene editing decision sets precedent

US regulators have ruled crops altered using gene-editing techniques do not need to come under the same restrictions as genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Although there has not yet been a decision taken on the issue in Europe, scientists in the UK have greeted the US department of agriculture’s (USDA) move with relief.

Ahead of the ruling, UK researchers here had been concerned the USDA would place gene editing within the same lengthy regulatory process as GMOs. And they feared such a move would sway the EU Commission towards adopting a similar stance. more

Farmers Weekly, 9 April 2018  


Wheat research discovery could shape future crops

A new study shows isolation of a gene controlling the shape and size of spikelets in wheat may help breeders deliver increased yields.

The findings discovered by the John Innes Centre gives breeders a new tool to accelerate the global quest to improve wheat, and also highlights a range of next generation techniques available for fundamental research into wheat.

Dr Scott Boden from the John Innes Centre, whose crop genetics laboratory led the study alongside colleagues from Australia and Cambridge, said it represented a breakthrough both in lab and field. more

BBSRC, 10 April 2018



New genomic tool searches wheat's wild past to improve crops of the future

A newly launched genetic directory will enable researchers and breeders to scan the genomes of wild relatives of modern wheat to find disease-fighting properties lost to domestication.

The time-travelling trawl is possible following the launch of the Open Wild Wheat, a directory which includes the genetic sequences of 150 wild wheats belonging to the goat grass species Aegilops tauschii ssp. strangulata.

The directory is the crowd-funded outcome of an international consortium led by wheat researchers at the John Innes Centre, Norwich, UK, and Kansas State University. more

Farming Online, 5 April 2018 


'Send in the drones' to protect soil

Squadrons of drones should be deployed to locate and penalise farmers who let soil run off their fields, a report will say.

A coalition of campaigners complains that the Environment Agency can only check soil on 0.5% of farms each year. Their report says drones can help to spot bad farming, which is said to cost more than £1.2bn a year by clogging rivers and contributing to floods. The government said it was considering the ideas for combating soil run-off

The proposals come from the Angling Trust, WWF and the Rivers Trust - with support from the RSPB. Their preliminary briefing has been seen by the Environment Secretary Michael Gove. The groups say poor farming is the chief cause of the UK's decline in the health of rivers, and a major contributor to flooding. more

BBC News, 3 April 2018 


Former chief vet joins RUMA scientific group

RUMA has announced that former Chief Veterinary Officer Nigel Gibbens is joining its Independent Scientific Group. He will sit alongside other eminent scientists from the veterinary, medical and microbiological field, providing insight and recommendations to inform RUMA’s policy on the responsible use of medicines in farm animals.

Speaking of his decision to join the group, Professor Gibbens says he has been very impressed with recent progress made by the UK livestock sectors on reducing, refining or replacing use of antibiotics. But he says it is now time to look forward to the next steps, and how science can support further efforts to reduce on-farm antimicrobial use. more

Farm Business, 27 March 2018 


‘Bee-friendly’ neonics in the pipeline

‘Bee-friendly’ neonicotinoids which protect crops from pests without harming honeybees and bumblebees could be on the radar. Findings from Rothamsted Research said immunity in two species of bees to one neonicotinoid insecticide but not to others should prompt the substance to be considered ‘on its own risks and merits, not just its name’.

They suggested it was due to a bee’s biochemical defence system which defines its sensitivity to insecticides by enabling it to metabolise the chemicals safely.

“Some neonicotinoids are highly toxic to bees but others have very low acute toxicity; in public debate, they tend to get tarred with the same brush,” said Lin Field, head of biointeractions and crop protection and lead of the group at Rothamsted. more

Farmers Guardian, 22 March 2018 


'Radical change' needed on countryside

The UK government is failing rural communities and the natural environment, a report says. The Lords Select Committee document says there should be radical change in how the countryside is looked after.

It recommends stripping the environment department Defra of its power to regulate on rural affairs, and reforming the Countryside Code. The Lords said Defra had focused too much on farming and agriculture, rather than other aspects of rural life. more

BBC News, 22 March 2018


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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