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

Group News

APPGSTA Annual Report 2017/18
October 2018

APPGSTA Income and Expenditure Statement
October 2018

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



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


2018 Archive


2017 Archive


2016 Archive


2015 Archive


2014 Archive


2013 Archive


2012 Archive


2011 Archive

2010 Archive

2009 Archive

2008 Archive

Science & Technology News



Harper Adams launches autonomous farm

A new three-year project called ‘Hands Free Farm’ will be launched at Harper Adams University this year, to build on the success of the pioneering ‘Hands Free Hectare’.

Hands Free Hectare – run in 2017 and 2018 - demonstrated it was possible to grow a crop without human beings entering the field.

Hands Free Farm expands that to 100 acres (40 ha), with the plan being to grow a combination of autumn and spring crops with autonomously controlled machines. more

Farmers Guardian, 21 May 2019 

We must ditch red meat to save planet, top scientist warns

People need to give up red meat to prevent catastrophic damage to the planet's climate, a former government chief scientist has told Sky News.

Professor Sir David King, who is setting up a centre for climate repair at the University of Cambridge, said cattle and sheep produce so much greenhouse gas that diets must radically change to stop global warming.

Research shows that beef has a carbon footprint up to nine times higher than the same weight of chicken and around 200 times higher than vegetarian protein such as beans. Sir David revealed that he has already stopped eating beef and is trying to give up lamb - and said we have a moral imperative to do the same. more

Sky News, 15 May 2019 

Defra approves new GM camelina oil field trials

A five-year series of trials using genetically modified camelina plants has been given the green light by the UK government.

The successful application by Rothamsted Research follows previous GM camelina trials carried out last year by the agricultural institute across two sites in Hertfordshire and Suffolk.

The research will determine performance in the field, and the seed oil yield, of transgenic Camelina plants that have been engineered to accumulate omega-3 fish oils in their seeds. more

Farmers Weekly, 10 May 2019 

Winter weather window costing UK rapeseed growers millions

UK rapeseed growers are losing up to a quarter of their crop yield each year because of temperature rises during an early-winter weather window. New research by the John Innes Centre has identified a critical period from late November to the Winter Solstice, December 21 or 22, where temperature has a strong link to yields.

The research, which appears in the journal Scientific Reports, reveals that a mere one-degree temperature rise in this volatile weather period costs UK rapeseed growers £16m in lost income six months down the line when the crop is harvested.

Based on analysis of climate and yield data, the team calculate that temperature variation during this critical time window can lead to losses of up to £160 million in the UK rapeseed harvest - about 25 percent of the total value. more

Farming UK, 6 May 2019 

English wine one of the fastest growing industries in UK agricultural sector

English wine is proving to be one of the fastest growing industries in the UK agricultural sector, opening up new business opportunities for some landowners.

Ed Mansel Lewis, head of Strutt and Parker’s vineyard advisory group, said the acreage of land planted to vines in the UK had grown 160 per cent in the past 10 years and further significant growth was forecast.

Mr Mansel Lewis said the rapid growth of the wine industry may open up new opportunities for landowners, with sites that are suitable for wine production attracting premium prices. more

Farmers Guardian, 29 April 2019  

Environment groups resign from government’s pesticides forum

The RSPB and a number of other environmental groups have resigned from the government’s pesticides forum, claiming voluntary efforts to reduce the use of chemicals in agriculture are failing to deliver.

The charity, along with the Wildlife and Countryside Link and the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) UK, have written to Defra to announce their formal resignation from the Pesticides Forum and the Voluntary Initiative (VI).

The two groups were established by the government in the 1990s in a bid to reduce the environmental damage caused by pesticides. But the RSPB says the use of pesticides has risen from 45 million ha back then to 70 million ha today. more

Farmers Weekly, 23 April 2019 

Agri-food sector now worth £122bn to UK economy

New data shows that the contribution of the agri-food sector to the national economy increased from £113 billion to nearly £122 billion in 2017.

Figures in Defra's new State of the Farming Economy report show that the UK food and drink exports increased by 2.5% to £22.6 billion in 2018. There are also even more people now employed in the UK agri-food sector, with the number surpassing 4 million.

The NFU, reacting to the figures, said that the 'strategic importance' and 'economic value' of the British food and farming industry must 'not be overlooked' in the Brexit discussions. more

Farming UK, 19 April 2019 

MEP hits out at ‘disappointing’ EU Parliament pesticide report

A Conservative MEP has hit out at a report by the European Parliament’s special committee on pesticides which ‘vilified’ the bodies involved in approvals for plant protection products (PPPs).

The report, which recommended the decision to re-licence glyphosate be re-assessed, was adopted by the European Parliament with 526 votes to 66.

But Anthea McIntyre, who sat on the special committee, has now published her own alternative report, describing the original piece of work as ‘extremely disappointing’ and a ‘poor reflection’ on the European Parliament. more

Farmers Guardian, 17 April 2019 

Food Strategy should push for meat eating reduction, says Government chief adviser

The Government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, has said Defra’s upcoming Food Strategy should ‘absolutely’ encourage people to eat less meat.  Sir Patrick, who previously worked as an NHS consultant and has expertise in the areas of medicinal chemistry and structural biology, suggested a move towards more plant-based diets is ‘the right direction to push in’.

Defra’s own chief scientific adviser, Professor Ian Boyd, also said recent research showed if people ate less meat environmental impacts would be ‘significantly less than they are now’. The two men were giving evidence to MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee as part of an inquiry on planetary health. more

Farmers Guardian, 8 April 2019 

Legacy of UK research on weed management is being 'eroded'

The legacy of the UK's research on weed management is being 'eroded' amid industry fears over the gradual loss of key reference sources.

Essential weed management information could be lost to the farming industry unless key sources of reference material are identified and archived, a new report states.

This was a key conclusion of the first ever major cross-sector review of weed management, commissioned by AHDB and the British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO). more

Farming UK, 5 April 2019 

Anger over Government refusal to pay farmers to improve soil health post-Brexit

Industry leaders have reacted with anger to a Government decision which could stop farmers being paid to improve soil health after Brexit. An application for an Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) trial focused on crop rotations has been rejected by Defra on the grounds healthy soil is a ‘natural asset’ from which public goods can flow, but not a public good in its own right.

This means any project which aimed to improve soil health alone would not attract investment under ELMS. Defra’s refusal to accept the trial has come as a shock to its creator, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT). more

Farmers Guardian, 5 April 2019

Scientists to investigate how bird and swine flu jumps species

A new study aims to identify genes that are important in reducing 'bird flu' and 'swine flu', and genes that limit the spread of the virus to people. The Influenza A virus – known for causing “bird flu” in poultry and “swine flu” in pigs – can affect both people and animals.

The virus is able to jump to new species, where it can cause more severe symptoms. Seasonal epidemic outbreaks cause significant disease and death in people. But now a new study led by the Roslin Institute, located at the University of Edinburgh, aims to identify the genes that are important in reducing such infections in livestock. more

Farming UK, 1 April 2019 

Scientists find new, more efficient way to reduce water use and improve plant growth

A team of scientists has revealed a new, sustainable way for plants to increase carbon dioxide (CO2) use for photosynthesis while reducing water usage.

The breakthrough was led by a team of plant scientists at the University of Glasgow and is published in the journal Science. The researchers used a new, synthetic light-activated ion channel, engineered from plant and algal virus proteins, to speed up the opening and closing of the stomata – pores in the leaves of plants - through which carbon dioxide (CO2) enters for photosynthesis. more

BBSRC, 27 March 2019

Loss of British bees threatens food security

A third of British wild bees and hoverflies are in decline, according to a new study.

If current trends continue, some species will be lost from Britain altogether, the scientists say.

The study found "winners" and "losers" among hundreds of wild bees and hoverflies, which pollinate food crops and other plants. more

BBC News, 26 March 2019  

Facial recognition tool 'could help boost pigs' wellbeing'

Scientists are using facial recognition technology to assess the emotional state of pigs. It is hoped the project at Scotland's Rural College (SRUC) Pig Research Centre in Penicuik, Midlothian, could help improve animal wellbeing.

Researchers want to work out from a pig's expression whether the animal is content or distressed. A tool could then be developed to monitor individual faces and alert farmers to health and welfare problems. more

BBC News, 19 March 2019  

Artificial meat: UK scientists growing 'bacon' in labs

British scientists have joined the race to produce meat grown in the lab rather than reared on the hoof.

Scientists at the University of Bath have grown animal cells on blades of grass, in a step towards cultured meat.

If the process can be reproduced on an industrial scale, meat lovers might one day be tucking into a slaughter-free supply of "bacon". more

BBC News, 19 March 2019 

Climate change: Pledge to cut emissions from dairy farms

A dairy firm is pledging to make its operations carbon-neutral from cow to supermarket by 2050, including more than 2,000 farms in the UK.

This will require "radical changes" over the coming decades, including developing new technologies, the dairy co-operative, Arla Foods, said.

It admitted the target was "ambitious", but said it was achievable. more

BBC News, 11 March 2019 

Consent sought to release GM potatoes for UK trials

The Sainsbury Laboratory, Norwich, has applied to Defra for consent to release genetically modified potatoes for trials work.

The potato plants have been genetically modified to improve different traits including resistance to Phytophthora infestans, the organism responsible for late blight; resistance to potato cyst nematodes (PCN); and improved tuber quality. more

Farmers Guardian, 6 March 2019 

Bird extinctions 'driven' by global food trade

About 100 bird species are predicted to go extinct based on current farming and forestry practices, according to a new global analysis.

This number has increased by 7% over the first ten years of this century alone, say scientists.

They say the biggest factor is cattle farming, but the impact of oil seed crops like palm and soy is growing fast. more

BBC News, 5 March 2019 

NIAB launches open access wheat pedigree resource

A new, open access, wheat pedigree resource for plant breeders has been launched by NIAB, detailing more than 100 years of UK wheat - the NIAB UK wheat varieties pedigree.

It means wheat breeders and researchers can trace the heritage of the majority of modern wheat varieties in one place, as well as find out which genes breeders have been selecting for in recent decades. more

Seedquest, 4 March 2019

John Lewis and agri-tech startup to progress 'mini-farm' concept

John Lewis and a British agri-tech company are teaming up in their quest to create 'mini-farms' within retail stores. Agri-tech startup LettUs Grow is embracing the use of retail space in their pursuit of a more sustainable approach to farming.

The partnership between the two companies could transform how consumers shop in the future by pioneering technology to create the sustainable mini-farms. By situating mini-farms within stores, retailers could slash food miles, minimise food and plastic waste, as well as helping to connect customers with growing. more

Farming UK, 25 February 2019 

UN: Growing threat to food from decline in biodiversity

The plants, animals, and micro-organisms that are the bedrock of food production are in decline, according to a UN study.

If these critical species are lost, the report says, it "places the future of our food system under severe threat".

The study says that land-use changes, pollution, and climate change are all causing biodiversity loss. more

BBC News, 22 February 2019 

British start-up breeds high performance bugs for animal feed

After centuries of selective breeding of animals and plants to maximise yields in agriculture, bugs are getting the same treatment, as demand for insect protein grows.

British start-up Beta Bugs is breeding high performance strains of black soldier fly for the insect feed sector, and is selecting traits like growth rate, protein content, fat composition and even temperature tolerance according to clients' needs, resulting in highly optimised insects. The feed is made from fly maggots. more

Reuters, 20 February 2019 

From robots to virtual fencing – what does the future hold for food and farming in Britain?

Robots, vertical farms and virtual fencing could soon be the farming of the future, according to a new trailblazing report from the NFU that has taken a leap into the future to explore what the landscape of British food and farming will look like in 20 years.

The Future of Food 2040 report highlights the importance of establishing a future domestic agricultural policy that enables the farming industry to increase its productivity, profitability and resilience in the future, which will be crucial for businesses to thrive in an increasingly volatile world. more

Farm Business, 18 February 2019 

Environment in multiple crises - report

Politicians and policymakers have failed to grasp the gravity of the environmental crisis facing the Earth, a report claims. The think-tank IPPR says human impacts have reached a critical stage and threaten to destabilise society and the global economy.

Scientists warn of a potentially deadly combination of factors. These include climate change, mass loss of species, topsoil erosion, forest felling and acidifying oceans.

The report from the centre-left Institute for Public Policy Research says these factors are "driving a complex, dynamic process of environmental destabilisation that has reached critical levels. more

BBC News, 12 February 2019 

Global insect decline may see 'plague of pests'

A scientific review of insect numbers suggests that 40% of species are undergoing "dramatic rates of decline" around the world.

The study says that bees, ants and beetles are disappearing eight times faster than mammals, birds or reptiles. But researchers say that some species, such as houseflies and cockroaches, are likely to boom.

The general insect decline is being caused by intensive agriculture, pesticides and climate change. more

BBC News, 11 February 2019 

Food industry warns Gove on Brexit 'crisis'

The UK food industry has threatened to stop co-operating with government policy consultations, saying it is busy trying to stave off the "catastrophic impact" of a no-deal Brexit.

The warning came in a letter to Environment Secretary Michael Gove from more than 30 business leaders. They said it looked "ever more the likeliest outcome" that the UK would leave the EU without an agreement. They added that it was a "moment of potential crisis" for their industry.

Those signing the letter included the heads of the Food and Drink Federation, the National Farmers' Union and UK Hospitality. more

BBC News, 11 February 2019

Gene editing: how agritech is fighting to shape the food we eat

From battling disease in banana crops to overcoming avian flu, scientists are seeking wider acceptance for the technology. more

Financial Times, 9 February 2019 

Politicians face ‘critical choice’ on food security, warns scientist

A top scientist is waiting to hear whether MPs will probe the “urgent need” for additional government investment in crop protection.

Agricultural entomologist Toby Bruce – a professor at Keele University – presented his research on food security, environment and crop protection to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee late last month. Prof Bruce was one of just 10 speakers selected from 80 submissions to the committee’s My Science inquiry – which gives scientists and the public the opportunity to highlight important topics they believe deserve greater scrutiny.

Resistant pests and the loss of active ingredients to UK farmers mean there is an urgent need for investment in innovation in crop protection, he said. It is vital to bring new products to market and provide knowledge exchange for farmers tackling these challenges. more

Farmers Weekly, 5 February 2019 

Potatoes and other veg at risk due to climate change

Extreme weather events brought about by climate change are putting supplies of potatoes and other fruit and vegetables at risk, new report has warned.

Drought and extreme heat saw potato yields drop 20 per cent in 2018, with the conditions leading to smaller average sizes.

Analysis from The Climate Coalition says that as climate change intensifies, the UK could lose almost three-quarters of the area of land currently well suited for potatoes by 2050s. more

Farmers Guardian, 5 February 2019

Rapid gene cloning technique to transform crop disease protection

Researchers have pioneered a new method which allows them to rapidly recruit disease resistance genes from wild plants and transfer them into domestic crops.

The technique called AgRenSeq or speed cloning has been developed by John Innes Centre researchers alongside colleagues in the United States and Australia to speed up the fight against pathogens that threaten food crops worldwide.

It enables researchers to search a genetic “library” of resistance genes discovered in wild relatives of modern crops so they can rapidly identify sequences associated with disease fighting capability. more

Farming UK, 4 February 2019 

Petition calls for food and farming to be made a school subject

A petition which calls on the government to introduce agriculture as a compulsory subject up to year 9 and an option for GCSE has been launched.

The petition was launched this week, and needs 10,000 votes for a government response and 100,000 to trigger a debate in parliament.

It says: “Agriculture on a whole is an extremely important industry, it is used by everyone across the country, across the globe and it's not just for food. Hopefully, teaching children and young adults correct and factual information will help support UK and worldwide farmers and the industry in the future.” more

Farming UK, 29 January 2019 

GM chickens lay eggs with anti-cancer drugs

Researchers have genetically modified chickens that can lay eggs that contain drugs for arthritis and some cancers. The drugs are 100 times cheaper to produce when laid than when manufactured in factories.

The researchers believe that in time production can be scaled up to produce medicines in commercial quantities.

The chickens do not suffer and are "pampered" compared to farm animals, according to Dr Lissa Herron, of Roslin Technologies in Edinburgh. more

BBC News, 28 January 2019

Scientists make gene-edited chickens in bid to halt next pandemic

British scientists are developing gene-edited chickens designed to be totally resistant to flu in a new approach to trying to stop the next deadly human pandemic.

The first of the transgenic chicks will be hatched later this year at the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, said Wendy Barclay, a professor of virology at Imperial College London who is co-leading the project.

The birds’ DNA has been altered using a new gene editing technology known as CRISPR. In this case the “edits” are to remove parts of a protein on which the flu virus normally depends, making the chickens totally flu-resistant. more

Reuters, 23 January 2019 

Application made for UK GM wheat trials

Researchers at the John Innes Centre have applied for consent from Defra to carry out field trials of genetically modified wheat and CRISPR brassicas.

The GM wheat trials will look at using biofortification to increase the iron levels in commercial varieties of wheat, which researchers hope could help to alleviate anaemia around the world.

Brassicas modified using CRISPR gene-editing technology will determine the role of a gene which regulates sulphur metabolism in the crops. more

Farmers Guardian, 22 January 2019 

MEPs agree plans to improve EU pesticides approval procedure

The European Parliament has put forward plans aimed at boosting trust in the EU approvals procedure for plant protection products, by making it more transparent and accountable.

MEPs agreed that the public should be granted access to the studies used in the approvals process to authorise a plant protection product (PPP), including all the supporting data and information relating to an application, and in doing so endorsed one of the many proposals put forward by the special committee on the European Union’s authorisation procedure for pesticides (PEST committee) set up in February 2018. more

Farmers Guardian, 22 January 2019 

Small Robot Company raises £1m in quest for sustainable farming

A British agri-tech company which advocates sustainable farming by using robots on-farm has secured more than £1.2m through an online crowdfunding campaign.

The Small Robot Company has raised the hefty sum from more than 1,200 investors after breaking its funding target of £500,000 within minutes of its launch in mid-December.

The company’s successful start to its campaign was overwhelmingly due to backing from the farming community. It is also gathering pace with the technology community, including early investment from Matt Jones, Principle Designer at Google AI. more

Farming UK, 16 January 2019 

New research to examine £250m problem of lameness in dairy cows

Work has begun on a new £1 million research project to discover what causes lameness in dairy cows. On any given day, lameness affects around one in three milking cows in the UK, costing the industry around £250m a year.

BBSRC is funding new scientific research project led by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) to generate a deep understanding of the reasons dairy cows become lame.

The multi-institutional project is being run in collaboration with the University of Liverpool and the Royal Veterinary College, University of London. more

Farmers Guardian, 15 January 2019

Spiders' natural toxins to help protect crops in new project

A major new project will see the use of spiders' natural toxins to offer a more sustainable approach to crop protection by reducing chemical inputs. The EcoStack project aims to develop sustainable crop production by developing new resources to support agricultural biodiversity and existing ecosystem services.

Many current chemical pesticides, such as neonicotinoids, are under increasing regulatory scrutiny due to the damaging environmental effects they can cause. However, the use of natural biopesticides, based on natural toxins found in species of spiders, will be used in the new project. more

Farming UK, 8 January 2019 

Genetically modified 'shortcut' boosts plant growth by 40%

Scientists in the US have engineered tobacco plants that can grow up to 40% larger than normal in field trials.

The researchers say they have found a way of overcoming natural restrictions in the process of photosynthesis that limit crop productivity.

They believe the method could be used to significantly boost yields from important crops including rice and wheat. The study has been published in the journal Science. more

BBC News, 3 January 2019 

Gove warns of risks of no deal Brexit

Defra Secretary Michael Gove has spelled out the potentially debilitating impact on the farming sector of a No Deal Brexit.

Opening the flagship Oxford Farming Conference, Mr Gove urged the industry to ‘look beyond the horizon and take a longer view’ of the benefits Brexit could bring.

He said it would provide the opportunity to break free from the shackles of the EU and embrace the opportunities provided by the ‘fourth agricultural revolution’, driven by technological advance. He said opportunities provided by the likes of robotics, drones, big data, gene editing and vertical farming will help boost productivity and reduce the industry’s reliance on labour. He urged farmers to embrace change. more

Pig World, 3 January 2019


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