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

Group News

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


2011 Archive

2010 Archive

2009 Archive

2008 Archive

2012 Archive - Science & Technology News


Wheat, rice output stagnating: Scientists

A wilting Green Revolution is adversely affecting grain output in China and India, warn US and Canadian scientists, adding that output of crops meant to feed animals or provide car fuel seems to be getting priority.

The scientists found that the output of wheat and rice, which supply roughly half of the world's dietary calories - is declining across a higher percentage of cropland worldwide than those of corn and soybean, which are used largely to feed cattle for slaughter or biofuel.

Reserchers from University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment (IonE) and McGill University led by IonE's Deepak Ray, developed geographically detailed maps of annual crop harvested areas and yields of maize (corn), rice, wheat and soybean from 1961 to 2008, the journal Nature reports. more

New York Daily Times, 20 December 2012 

'Environment Agency merger means jobs will go'

Shadow DEFRA secretary Mary Creagh has warned that merging Natural England and the Environment Agency will lead to further cuts in staff and budgets.

Under proposals listed in DEFRA's joint triennial review, the two bodies responsible for the environment could merge to create a single environmental body.

But Mrs Creagh warned: "Merging the Environment Agency with Natural England, when both are sacking large numbers of staff to deliver government cuts, will leave strategic weaknesses in our environmental management, as ash dieback has shown.” more

Farmers Weekly, 19 December 2012


EU crop diversity 'under threat'

Ten leading agricultural food chain members have urged the European Commission to act immediately to address what they have said is the limited availability of Plant Protection Products for minor uses and speciality crops in Europe.

The lack of plant protection products for minor uses and speciality crops is becoming a crucial factor for future cultivation of these crops in the European Union, the groups – including Areflh, Celcaa, Coceral, Copa-Cogeca, Ecpa, Esa, Freshfel, Ibma, Profel and Union Fleurs – said.

"The lack of proper tools compromises not only the competitiveness of the entire agri-food chain, including its sustainability and the employment generated, but also the diversity [of] high quality food in Europe," said Luc Peeters, chairman of Copa-Cogeca's phytosanitary group, on behalf of the 10 agri-food chain associations. more, 18 December 2012 

Farmers must adapt to climate change

Farmers must urgently adapt to our changing climate to deal with extreme weather that will likely become more frequent, says the UK's global food security champion.

Climate change is already happening and extreme temperatures that was historically a one in 30,000 years episode, could now be expected to happen every 40 years, warned Tim Benton, UK champion for food security and professor of population ecology, University of Leeds.

"Over the next decade, I predict there will be at least one year where worldwide production of major crops will decrease by up to 25%, due to extreme weather from climate change", said Prof Benton. more

Farmers Weekly, 14 December 2012

FAO report links high food prices to biofuel demand

Biofuels account for the largest source of new demand for agricultural production and have helped drive price volatility in grain crops like wheat and maize, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization says in a new report.

Biodiesel accounted for 80% of the EU’s vegetable oil production while 37% of the grain crop in the United States went towards ethanol production, the FAO’s ‘State of Food and Agriculture 2012’ report shows. more

Euractiv, 14 December 2012 

Honey bees’ genetic code unlocked

Researchers say they have unlocked the genetic secrets of honey bees' high sensitivity to environmental change.

Scientists from the UK and Australia think their findings could help show links between nutrition, environment and the insects' development.

It could, they suggest, offer an insight into problems like Colony Collapse Disorder, a mysterious cause of mass bee deaths globally. more

BBC News, 11 December 2012 

Improving plant photosynthesis to increase crop yields

An important new project, funded by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has been launched yesterday which will seek to explore new ways to improve plant photosynthesis in order to improve crop yields.

This project takes seven innovative approaches to overcome limitations in the photosynthetic mechanisms of 'C3 plants' that make up the majority of plants on earth. more

BBSRC, 11 December 2012 

Food minister Owen Paterson backs GM crops

Genetically modified food should be grown and sold widely in Britain and consumer opposition to the technology is a “complete nonsense”, the Cabinet minister in charge of food and farming has said.

Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, made the remarks as ministers prepare to relax controls on the cultivation of GM crops, which he said had “real environmental benefits”.

Some senior Government figures privately believe that the technology — which can increase crop yields and prevent disease — is essential in assuring Britain’s future food security and to avoid dependency on imports. more

Daily Telegraph, 10 December 2012 

Global wheat project aims to increase yields by 50%

A new global wheat initiative has been launched to raise yields and develop new varieties better able to cope with disease, drought and other stresses.

The international Wheat Yield Network (WYN) is a long-term project that aims to increase wheat yields using sustainable methods by up to 50% during the next 20 years.

Crop experts at the UK's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) are working with research organisations in 16 countries, including the USA and Mexico, for the project. more

Farmers Weekly, 5 December 2012 

Price of bread set to rise after weather hits UK wheat crop

Flour mills have been forced to order the biggest wheat imports in more than 30 years after the spring weather hit British farmers' crops. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said millers were expected to import 2m tonnes of mostly German wheat to make up for a 13% shortfall in the homegrown crop.

It will be the biggest wheat import since 1980, and is expected to lead to a substantial increase in the price of bread next year. The price of bread-quality wheat for delivery to the north-west, the worst-affected area of the country, rose by £5.50 a tonne last week to £261.50 a tonne, according to the Home Grown Cereals Authority (HGCA), a trade body.

The cost of basic feed wheat on the futures market rose to a record high of £227 a tonne, a 45% increase since January. Global wheat prices are also at near-record highs. more

The Guardian, 5 December 2012 

Bioethanol and biodiesel crucial to meeting future energy needs, says NFU

Biodiesel and bioethanol markets are both crucial to meeting our future energy needs and contribute an estimated £1billion to the UK economy, the NFU said.
It comes following a series of meetings between the NFUs biofuel delegation and the key players in the industry, starting with Norman Baker, Secretary of State for Transport and culminating with a visit to bioethanol producers Ensus yesterday.
The NFU believes that the two markets must co-exist in order to drive improvements in yields, the environment and on farm efficiencies, and are vital for a sustainable, thriving local market for both wheat and animal feed. more

Farm Business, 5 December 2012 

Cambridge University Farm Potato Agronomy Unit to transfer to NIAB

The Potato Agronomy Unit at the Cambridge University Farm (CUF) is set to become part of NIAB in a move which strengthens the future of world-leading potato agronomy research at the Cambridge-based Unit, while opening up promising new areas of collaborative research to meet the future needs of UK potato growers and their customers. more

Farming Futures, 4 December 2012 

Towards a universal influenza vaccine

Researchers at The Pirbright Institute, which receives strategic funding from BBSRC, in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Oxford working together as the Jenner Institute, have taken an important step towards a universal vaccine against avian influenza. This virus disease threatens the £8 billion poultry industry in the UK and poses a risk of new human strains of flu. The research is published 'In Press' in the journal Vaccine.

Dr Colin Butter led the research, he said "Traditional avian flu vaccines are only effective against one particular type of flu but we want to be able to protect birds, and ultimately people, against different subtypes using just one vaccine. This research suggests that in principle a universal vaccine is possible." more

BBSRC, 4 December 2012

World food prices stable but high

The World Bank, releasing its latest 'Food Price Watch' report, said on Thursday (29th November) that global food prices remain stable, but worryingly close to record levels seen in 2008, when a world food crisis contributed to uprisings around the world.

World Bank rapporteur Otaviano Canuto said more expensive food risks becoming the "new norm," increasing hunger across the world. He added that this situation is inacceptable and the world cannot afford to "get used to or be complacent" about higher prices.

Overall, food prices are 7 percent higher than they were this time in 2011. Grains have driven prices up by the highest amount. Having risen 12 percent since 2011 grain prices are approaching their 2008 levels; in July and August maize and wheat prices reached record highs when fears over drought in the United States sparked grain rallies. more  

Farming Online, 30 November 2012 

Major breakthrough in deciphering bread wheat’s genetic code

Scientists have unlocked key components of the genetic code of one of the world's most important crops. The first analysis of the complex and exceptionally large bread wheat genome, published today in Nature, is a major breakthrough in breeding wheat varieties that are more productive and better able to cope with disease, drought and other stresses that cause crop losses.

The identification of around 96,000 wheat genes, and insights into the links between them, lays strong foundations for accelerating wheat improvement through advanced molecular breeding and genetic engineering. The research contributes to directly improving food security by facilitating new approaches to wheat crop improvement that will accelerate the production of new wheat varieties and stimulate new research. The analysis comes just two years after UK researchers finished generating the sequence. more

BBSRC, 29 November 2012

Syngenta urges MPs to focus on 'real threats to bees'

Growers could see millions wiped off the value of oilseed rape, sugar beet and cereal crops if valuable pesticides claimed to be linked to a decline in bee health are withdrawn, crop experts warn.

A restriction or ban on the use of neonicotinoid seed treatments in this country could even make growing some crops "economically unviable", according to Swiss agrichemical company Syngenta.

The warning comes as parliament's Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) hears evidence this week for and against the retention of neonicotinoid pesticides, which have been linked to bee colony collapse. more

Farmers Weekly, 27 November 2012 

USDA study shows trends in public and private agricultural R&D

Analysis published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS) in the most recent issue of the journal Science examine the relationship between public and private investments in research and development (R&D) and their importance in agricultural input industries. The Science article is drawn from a recent ERS study that provides new details on the rapid growth and changing composition of private investments in global agricultural R&D and traces the implications for agriculture.

"Agriculture is more dependent on scientific innovation than any other industry," said Catherine Woteki, USDA's Chief Scientist and Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics. "This study shows the great job that private industry is doing in research, much of which was built on the genetic technology USDA scientists have been working on for decades. It's crucial that we continue supporting this kind of R&D." more

USDA, 26 November 2012 

Rothamsted Research Biotech Experiment Reaps 8% More Oil From Rapeseed

Rothamsted Research said Thursday it had successfully performed an experiment which accumulated around 8% more oil from rapeseed by using biotechnology to switch off an enzyme responsible for oil breakdown for the duration of seed development.

The agricultural research centre said further work is required to establish the efficacy of the method in the field and to investigate if it could be applied to other oilseed crops or successfully combined with different approaches to boost yields. more

Dow Jones Newswires, 24 November 2012

Nitrogen fixing wheat 'possible in the next 20 years'

The transfer of genes from legumes and oats into wheat will allow the production of cereal crops capable of fixing nitrogen and with resistance to take-all in the next 20 years, according to one scientist.

Giles Oldroyd of the John Innes Centre told delegates at the AIC conference in Peterborough that long-term work which looked across the entire breadth of the plant kingdom was coming up with innovative solutions to food security threats. more

Farmers Weekly, 23 November 2012 

DEFRA minister backs use of 'safe' GM crops

Farmers in the UK should be able to use genetically-modified crops, provided they can be shown to be safe for health and the environment, according to a DEFRA minister.

Lord de Mauley, the newly appointed parliamentary under secretary of state, said it was important that British farmers were given access to GM crops if the science demonstrated their safety.

Speaking at the launch of a new report into agricultural research priorities, Lord de Mauley said EU legislation was stifling research into GM crops, which are being used widely in the USA and many developing countries. more

Farmers Weekly, 22 November 2012 

Scientists call for united approach to produce more food

A united approach from government, researchers and industry to develop new technologies is required to meet the challenges of feeding an increasing global population, a leading scientist has warned.

Over the next 20 years, British farmers will be part of a global food network that will require them to produce 50% more food with less available land, said Chris Pollock, principal editor of a new study into the future of food production in the UK.

However, he warned that government departments and research councils were not working as effectively with farmers now as in the past - yet they are being expected to address a much broader range of issues. more

Farmers Weekly, 21 November 2012 

Major international push to maximise bioscience research to help world’s poorest farmers

Over 40 international research organisations are joining forces in a unique £16M initiative that will harness bioscience to improve food security in developing countries.

Funding has been awarded to 11 new research projects, announced today, which will develop ways to improve the sustainability of vital food crops in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. The projects aim to develop staple crops better able to resist pests or thrive in harsh environmental conditions. more

BBSRC, 20 November 2012 

£12m grant awarded to help combat Foot-and-Mouth virus

RESEARCHERS have been awarded £12m to tackle some of the world’s most devastating livestock and poultry viruses.

The two projects, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), aim to provide solutions to combat the Foot-and-Mouth Disease Virus (FMDV) and other emerging poultry viruses. more

Farmers Guardian, 19 November 2012 

Agricultural machinery ‘must innovate’ to meet food demand

Companies in the agricultural machinery supply chain will need to change their business models to meet the growing global demand for food, according to a report from Rabobank.

With global demand for food expected to increase by 70 percent by 2050, the role of the machinery manufacturer and equipment dealer is changing, and machinery is becoming an integral part of the all-encompassing solution to increase productivity. more

Farming UK, 19 November 2012

Better agronomy ‘first step’ in yield restoration claims report

Addressing shortcomings in current agronomic practice is one of the first steps needed to tackle the UK’s yield plateau in winter wheat and oilseed rape, according to an HGCA study published today.

The Yield Plateau report was commissioned by HGCA and Defra in 2011 to look at the factors limiting increased yields in the UK and to address gaps in current industry research.

The study, led by NIAB TAG in conjunction with SRUC and Cambridge University, is the first to take an independent and comprehensive overview of the issues and involved the analysis of data going back to the 1940s. more

Farming UK, 13 November 2012 

Biomass may hinder climate fight

A report by campaign groups has warned that burning biomass (such as wood) in power stations may hinder attempts to tackle climate change.

Biomass is expected to contribute about third of the UK's mandatory EU target for renewable energy by 2020.

It's described by the Committee on Climate Change as an economic means of low-carbon power. But the report warns it will take too long for trees to re-absorb the carbon emitted by burning wood. more

BBC News, 12 November 2012 

Biofuels no longer realistic, says expert

The biofuels ‘bubble has burst’, one expert has claimed. Prof Denis Murphy of the University of Glamorgan said the realisation crops were being diverted away from much-needed food production meant their role as energy providers was diminishing fast.

“I personally would not invest in a biodiesel plant in the UK,” he added at the NFU Cymru conference this week.

The emergence of second generation biofuel crops such as grass or tropical vegetation not being grown for food might be an option, but were still a long way off reality. more

Farmers Guardian, 10 November 2012 

Policies and pests hamper progress on food security

Inadequate EU and government policies and growing problems with pesticide resistance are the biggest brakes on the sustainable intensification of agriculture, said Keith Norman, technical director of Velcourt as this year's CropWorld Global event.

Burgeoning blackgrass resistance, with leading herbicides only 60% efficient, a huge shift this year in septoria resistance to triazole fungicides, and pyrethroid resistant aphids, which were unknown two years ago in the UK, were just a few examples of the resistance challenges farmers now face, he said.

Meanwhile, policy problems included an EU pesticide review threatening many existing pesticides, particularly triazole fungicides, with a ban possible. more

Farmers Weekly, 8 November 2012 

‘Better leadership needed on new technology’

Technology, and biotechnology in particular, can help farmers feed the world. But if it is to help deliver the sustainable intensification of agriculture as desired, governments must take more of a leadership role.

The pressure is on as 9bn people need feeding by 2050, requiring 70% more food than today as eating habits evolve.

"How do we face this really pressing global crisis," asked NFU president Peter Kendall at the CropWorld Global event in London. "As John Beddington has pointed out, we should have focused not on feeding 9bn in 2050 but on 2025, when there will be another half a billion people in Africa alone. Politicians get 2025, 2050 is somebody else's problem." more

Farmers Weekly, 8 November 2012 

Californian voters reject GM food labelling

A Californian ballot proposing the labelling of genetically modified ingredients in food products has been rejected by the state's voters.

With 95% of votes counted, the polls showed 47% voted in favour and 53% against. The contentious measure, proposition 37, would have required GM labels on food sold in supermarkets, and was seen as a testbed case for the US as a whole. more

The Guardian, 7 November 2012 

How genetically modified tomatoes ‘can help beat heart disease’

Tomatoes could be the key to a healthy heart. Genetically modified ones can reduce fatty deposits that clog arteries, according to research.

Scientists have created for the first time genetically engineered tomatoes which produce a potent peptide that mimics the action of good cholesterol when eaten.

Mice fed the freeze-dried, ground tomatoes had less inflammation and reduced atherosclerosis – plaque build-up. They also had higher levels of an antioxidant related to a lower risk of heart disease and lower levels of a tumour promoter that accelerates plaque build‑up.

Daily Express, 5 November 2012

Technique to control fruit ripening

Fruit could be engineered to ripen on demand after scientists identified a protein that plays a key role in its development.

Manipulating the protein can change the rate at which tiny structures in plant cells develop and create the bright pigments which give ripened fruit its distinctive colour.

It raises the prospect of farmers being able to speed up or delay the ripening of entire crops of fruit to prevent them falling victim to unseasonal weather. more

The Telegraph, 2 November 2012 

Job cuts threatening ability to combat new plant pathogens

An Audit of Plant Pathology Education and Training in the UK, published by the British Society for Plant Pathology (BSPP), reports a serious decline in teaching and research on plant diseases in British universities and colleges.

Plant pathology has been lost completely or greatly reduced at 11 universities and colleges while fewer than half the institutions which teach biology, agriculture or forestry offer courses in plant pathology. The audit revealed that, of the higher education institutions examined, fewer than half of the 103 offering biology, agriculture, horticulture or forestry at BSc level provide teaching in plant pathology and in those that do, teaching can be as little as one or two lectures. more

Farming Online, 1 November 2012 

Fungicide ban 'would cut OSR yields by 10%'

Oilseed rape yields could be cut by almost 10% if a key fungicide group is banned by EU officials, a report has warned.

The report, written by ADAS for the European Crop Protection Association, evaluates the potential impact of losing the azole group of fungicides if Brussels imposes a ban on health and safety grounds.  It shows UK yield reductions of 9.8%, or about 215,032 tonnes a year.

A ban could be introduced through the new hazard-based approach to pesticide reviews in the EU. more

Farmers Weekly, 30 October 2012 

Agriculture industry unites behind technology roadmap

Two years on from the Foresight Report into the Future of Food and Farming, four national organisations are working together to shape the science that will deliver food for future generations.
In 2010, the Foresight Report highlighted major challenges facing the global food system. Against a background of volatile food prices and a more uncertain climate, it warned of a serious lack of research and development in agriculture – the tools needed for primary food production to increase output in a sustainable way.
The NFU, the Royal Agricultural Society of England (RASE), the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) and the Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC) have responded to this challenge by commissioning a high-level research and development agenda, to produce a set of clear and deliverable development priorities. more

Farm Business, 26 October 2012 

MPs reject government plans for pilot badger cull

MPs have voted against the government's policy of culling badgers in two pilot schemes in England. It follows a highly-charged debate led by backbenchers in the Commons.

Ministers want to hold a pilot badger cull in two areas of the south west next year because badgers spread tuberculosis to cattle.

In a non-binding vote, MPs rejected the policy by 147 votes to 28, calling instead for vaccination, improved testing and bio security. more

BBC News, 25 October 2012 

Super dairy plan in Powys rejected by councillors

Plans for a controversial "super dairy" with 1,000 cows at a farm have been rejected by Powys councillors. The vote is the latest twist in the debate about the dairy near Welshpool, which councillors had backed last year.

A protest was held outside the meeting against how livestock will be kept inside for 250 days of the year.

Farmer Fraser Jones, who wants to build one of the first parlours of its type in Wales, has said the proposal would result in improved conditions. more

BBC News, 23 October 2012 

Badger cull: Government to delay scheme until next year

The government has announced it will delay a planned cull of badgers in England until next summer, after widespread protests against the scheme.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said this was necessary to "get it right" and the "optimal time" for this year had passed.

Under the coalition's plans, several thousand badgers could be shot by trained marksmen, in an effort to reduce levels of bovine tuberculosis. more

BBC News, 23 October 2012

Combined pesticide exposure linked to impaired bumblebee colony success

Individual worker behaviour and colony success are both affected when bees are exposed to a combination of pesticides, according to research conducted by Dr Richard Gill and Dr Nigel Raine at Royal Holloway, University of London.

This research, published in Nature, investigated social bumblebee colonies which rely on the collective performance of numerous individual worker bees. It showed that chronic exposure to two commonly-used pesticides (a neonicotinoid and a pyrethroid), at concentrations approximating field-level exposure, impaired natural foraging behaviour and increased worker mortality. This led to significant reductions in colony success, and increased rates of colony failure. more

BBSRC, 22 October 2012

Barley genome could hold key to better beer  

An international consortium of scientists has published a high resolution draft of the barley genome. The research, published in the journal Nature, will help to produce new and better barley varieties that are vital for the beer and whisky industries.

The UK team behind the research was led by Professor Robbie Waugh of Scotland’s James Hutton Institute who worked with researchers at The Genome Analysis Centre, Norwich.

Barley is the second most important crop in UK agriculture and malting barley underpins brewing and pub industries worth some £20 billion to the UK economy.The breakthrough is a critical step towards barley varieties able to cope with the demands of climate change. It should also help in the fight against cereal crop diseases that cause millions of pounds of losses annually. more

Farm Business, 18 October 2012 

MP debate on TB will help to explain science behind badger culls

News that parliament will be given chance to debate the government’s TB eradication programme and the inclusion of badger controls has been welcomed by the NFU.
The debate, which has been triggered by a public e-petition asking for further discussions on the current government policy to eradicate bovine TB, will take place on Thursday October 25 2012.
NFU President Peter Kendall said that the parliamentary debate offers a fresh opportunity for the science to be fully explained and for any misinformation that exists to be corrected. more

Farm Business, 17 October 2012

Large-scale can be sustainable, but industry needs to address perception issues

Large-scale livestock farming can be sustainable, but the UK now needs to take a proactive approach to establish an evidence base and best practice standards so these systems can form part of a successful and diverse food production landscape for the future.

This is the key conclusion of a new report from the Worshipful Company of Farmers. In all three areas of sustainability - economic, environmental and social, including animal welfare - it finds that large-scale has the potential to deliver to high standards, but says the evidence of how this can successfully be delivered and guaranteed within the UK environment and economy is still lacking. more

Farming UK, 16 October 2012 

Insect protein could offer cheaper poultry feed

A project to develop novel insect-derived feed protein that could help replace expensive soya bean meal and fishmeal in poultry and pig diets has been announced by ABN's parent company, AB Agri.

The project involves entomologists, biochemists and nutritionists, combining the expertise within ABN with that of scientists at the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera). Insect larvae will be grown on organic waste materials, then processed for use in animal feeds and initially evaluated in poultry. more

Farmers Weekly, 13 October 2012 

UK must unlock agricultural science potential says MP

Not enough is being done to unlock the UK's agricultural science base in a world hungry for food, Conservative MP George Freeman told delegates at the Crop Protection Association fringe meeting in Birmingham.

Unveiling the thinking behind a new agri-science strategy to be launched next Spring by the coalition Government, Freeman, life sciences adviser to Science Minister David Willetts and chair of the All-Party Group on Science and Technology in Agriculture, believes Britain must reverse a 20 year decline in applied agricultural research and dispel the myth that environmental sustainability is a barrier to economic growth – in fact the two are inextricably linked. more

Farming UK, 12 October 2012 

Government sets out ambition to drive growth and improve food security through agricultural technology

A new strategy that will take advantage of the UK’s world class research base to improve global food security, whilst driving economic growth, has been kick started today by the Government.

A new agri-tech strategy will be developed to help UK businesses, including farmers, make best use of new technologies and techniques to meet the needs of consumers and food producers worldwide, at a time of rapid population growth and climate change.

It will focus on improving agricultural efficiency whilst avoiding harm to the environment, and forms part of the Industrial Strategy set out by the Business Secretary last month. It will also complement the Strategy for UK Life Sciences launched in December 2011. more

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, 11 October 2012 

Can science help improve food security?

Farming and retail experts warn that this year's poor UK's harvest is going to trigger a rise in food prices on supermarket shelves.

The past 12 months have seen a range of extreme weather not just in this country, which experienced its second-wettest summer on record, but around the globe, such as the droughts in Russia and the US Midwest that effectively devastated these regions' wheat yields.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) latest figures showed that global food prices had risen by 1.4% in September as a result of fears of food shortages following poor harvests.

Projections of future changes to the planet's climate and its impact on the agriculture sector's ability to feed a rising global population has made the issue a priority for scientists. more

BBC News, 11 October 2012 

Wet weather set to hit UK food prices

Food prices look set to rise after poor UK harvests due to recent wet weather.

The National Farmers' Union (NFU) said wheat yields in England were down by almost 15% on the five-year average, with productivity down to 1980s levels.

The British Retail Consortium said food prices were already being driven up after a rise in grain costs following the worst drought in 50 years in the US and a heatwave in Russia. more

BBC News, 10 October 2012 

Task-force to quantify reasons for low 2012 wheat yields

NIAB TAG has set up a task-force to investigate the 2012 yield performance issues in winter wheat, with the aim of understanding and explaining the drop in yield across much of the country as well as significant local yield variations.

The investigation forms part of NIAB TAG’s ongoing work on the causes of wheat yield stagnation and the steps needed to drive yield improvement going forward. NIAB specialists in genetics, plant breeding, variety performance, agronomy and pathology have been recruited into the team, demonstrating the range of factors involved in the project. The conclusions will include guidance and strategies that growers could adopt in the future. more

Farming UK, 9 October 2012 

Vaccination is not an alternative to badger cull - Paterson

DEFRA Secretary Owen Paterson has insisted that bovine TB (bTB) vaccination is not a viable alternative for badger culling at the present time.

Speaking at the Conservative Party Conference, he reiterated his determination to press ahead with the two badger cull pilots in England this autumn and insisted the Government would not be ‘knocked off course by a few extremists’.

Mr Paterson was responding to reports of a breakthrough in cattle vaccination, based on work by Professor Glyn Hewinson, of Animal Health and the Veterinary Laboratories Agency in Weybridge, Surrey, on a DIVA test able to differentiate between infected and vaccinated animals. more

Farmers Guardian, 8 October 2012

Irranca-Davies calls for more urgency in farm science

SHADOW DEFRA Secretary Huw Irranca-Davies has called on politicians to ignore short-term electoral concerns and take a longer-term, more co-ordinated approach to agricultural and food-related science.

In a debate on meeting the food security challenge at an NFU-FDF fringe meeting in Manchester, he said there was an urgency to address the need to produce enough food to feed eight billion by 2025, while coping with climate change and looking after the environment.

He stressed the importance of applied science to help farmers play their part in the food security challenge ‘with society also expressing a view about what sort of farming and landscape they want to have’. more

Farmers Guardian, 3 October 2012 

"DNA" sequencing to create new rice variety with greater health benefits

DNA techniques are being used to analyse genes in rice in pioneering research which aims to develop a new variety of the grain with greater health benefits.

Rice is relied upon as a sustenance food by half of the world’s population.

University of Aberdeen scientists are leading the rice study which is also investigating how to reduce the amount of water required in rice production, to make the grain a more sustainable food option for the future. more

Farm Business, 2 October 2012 

Scientists create GM cow to cut milk allergies in children

Scientists have created a genetically modified (GM) cow that produces milk with low levels of a protein known to cause allergic reactions in a significant proportion of children. The researchers believe it could one day lead to the sale of "hypoallergenic" milk from herds of GM cows.

The calf had been cloned and genetically engineered with an extra piece of genetic material that switched off its natural gene for producing a milk protein called beta-lactoglobulin, which is not present in human milk and causes allergies in some young children. more

The Independent, 2 October 2012 

Misery for households as food prices soar at twice the EU average

The squeeze on household finances will continue for at least the next decade as experts warned prices would continue to increase at double the current rate of inflation.

Food prices in Britain have risen by 32 per cent since 2007, double the EU average, according to figures released by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

Economists expect the cost of the weekly shop to continue to rise by around 4 per cent a year until 2022 at least. The increase is almost twice the current rate of inflation of 2.5 per cent. more

The Telegraph, 27 September 2012

RSPCA call for 'badger-friendly' milk

The RSPCA has called for ‘badger-friendly’ labels on milk and yogurt so consumers can choose dairy products that do not come from farms taking part in the controversial badger cull.

Natural England issued a licence for farmers to shoot badgers in West Gloucestershire last week. A cull in West Somerset is expected to get the go-ahead this week.

Farmers argue that the cull will stop the spread of bovine tuberculosis, a cattle disease that is carried by badgers. more

The Telegraph, 26 September 2012

Cruiser OSR study 'flawed', say British scientists

British scientists have branded a study that prompted a French ban on a valuable oilseed rape pesticide as "flawed".

France withdrew Syngenta's marketing licence for Cruiser OSR in June, amid claims in a study that neonicotinoids cause honeybee colony collapse.

But research from the Food and Environment Agency and the University of Exeter, published in the Science journal, has highlighted flaws with the original study. more

Farmers Weekly, 26 September 2012 

Farm minister casts doubt over anaerobic digestion support

Industry leaders have voiced fears that the government is preparing to clamp down on farmers who use anaerobic digestion to create renewable energy.

Farm minister David Heath told a fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrat party conference that anaerobic digestion has "enormous potential" to create energy from food waste.

But he cast doubt on government support for farmers who grow biofuel crops such as maize specifically for anaerobic digestion. more

Farmers Weekly, 26 September 2012 

Russia introduces import ban in wake of French GM study

Russia has banned imports of genetically modified maize in light of a recent French study which linked consumption of Monsanto's GM maize with cancer in rats.

Although scientific opinion on the study is divided, Russian authorities announced a temporary ban on GM maize pending an investigation by the country's Institute of Nutrition. The study is also being investigated in France, where the government had introduced a ban on a variety of Monsanto's GM maize (MON810, sold as Yieldgard) prior to its publication. more

Farming Online, 25 September 2012

Triazole fungicides vital for EU wheat production

The EU would no longer be self-sufficient in wheat production if triazole fungicides were to be withdrawn, according to a new report.

Carried out by Italian research institute Nomisma, the economic and environmental consequences of withdrawing triazole products would be severe, with a forecast 12% drop in yields wiping €4.6bn off the value of EU wheat production by 2020. An extra 14% cultivated area would, therefore, be needed to maintain the EU's self-sufficiency in wheat.

In particular, EU crops would be critically vulnerable to septoria, the most economically damaging pathogen of European wheat. more

Farmers Weekly, 21 September 2012 

Defra won't back down on pesticide regs despite criticism

In a recent review into the effects of neonicotinoids, Defra has concluded there is currently no need to change the regulation of the pesticide, despite claims the chemical is linked to a collapse in the UK bee population. The review was in response to several studies released the spring of this year, which suggested low doses of the neonicotinoid could have sub-lethal effect on bees.

The studies were assessed by the Chemicals Regulation Directorate of HSE, an independent expert advisory committee on pesticides, bee experts in Defra’s Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) and Defra’s Science Advisory Council. The respective bodies concluded although they were ‘interesting’, the studies did not show that the current permitted levels of the pesticide would have serious implications for the health of bee populations. more

Farmers Guardian, 20 September 2012 

French GM-fed rat study triggers furore

A furious row has erupted over a French study claiming to have found tumours and other problems in rats fed on genetically modified maize and exposed to a common, associated herbicide.

The rodents ate the GM diet over a two-year period - a normal lifetime. The study's length made its results far more reliable than previous research, said team-leader Gilles-Eric Seralini.

But independent scientists criticised the work for its statistical methods and for using the wrong type of rat. more

BBC News, 19 September 2012 

Plant breeding named in top 10 list of food and drink innovations

The Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science, has listed plant breeding among the top 10 innovations in the history of food and drink.

Plant breeding came eighth in a shortlist of 20 selected by a panel of Royal Society Fellows and then voted on by Fellows of the Society and experts in the food and drink industry. Each innovation was judged on four criteria: accessibility, productivity, aesthetics and health. more

Farm Business, 16 September 2012 

France pushes for strategic food stocks to cool prices

RENNES, FranceFrench President Francois Hollande has launched a global campaign to win support for creating strategic stockpiles of agricultural commodities, he said on Tuesday, one of the boldest measures yet to tame volatile food prices.

Amid fears that the world could be on the brink of a third food price panic in four years after dire droughts in the U.S. Midwest and the Black Sea area, Hollande's comments once again put France in the vanguard of efforts to give major producers and consumers greater power to prevent price spikes. more

Reuters, 12 September 2012 

EU proposal would limit use of crop-based biofuels


The European Union will impose a limit on the use of crop-based biofuels over fears they are less climate-friendly than initially thought and compete with food production, draft EU legislation seen by Reuters showed.

The draft rules, which will need the approval of EU governments and lawmakers, represent a major shift in Europe's much-criticized biofuel policy and a tacit admission by policymakers that the EU's 2020 biofuel target was flawed from the outset.

The plans also include a promise to end all public subsidies for crop-based biofuels after the current legislation expires in 2020, effectively ensuring the decline of a European sector now estimated to be worth 17 billion euros ($21.7 billion) a year. more

Reuters, 11 September 2012 

Large-scale farming offers wildlife benefits

A larger-scale approach to sustainable farming could be more beneficial for wildlife than our current system of farm-based agri-environment payments, according to new research.

Researchers at the University of Leeds have been investigating the most effective approaches to optimising sustainable food production while protecting wildlife. more

Farmers Weekly, 10 September 2012

Smartphone app helps farmers predict harvest

A new smartphone app allowing farmers to more accurately predict future harvests is being trialled across 46 potato farms.

It is the latest development from PepsiCo’s collaboration with Cambridge University and works by photographing and analysing ground coverage of potato leaf canopies to predict crop development. more

Farmers Weekly, 5 September 2012 

Action needed to prevent food price catastrophe - U.N.

World leaders must take swift, coordinated action to ensure that food price shocks do not turn into a catastrophe that could hurt tens of millions of people in coming months, the United Nations' food agencies said in a statement on Tuesday.

Global alarm over the potential for a food crisis of the kind seen in 2007/08 has escalated as drought in the U.S. Midwest has sent grain prices to record highs, fuelling a 6 percent surge in the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation's (FAO) July food price index.

FAO said in a joint statement with the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) that swift international action could prevent a renewed food crisis. more

Reuters, 4 September 2012 

Teagasc criticised over GM potato trial

TEAGASC has been criticised by campaigners against genetically modified (GM) crops for beginning its field trial of GM potatoes before a three-month judicial review period has elapsed. The agriculture and food development authority defended its actions and said it was doing everything in strict accordance with the licence granted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Teagasc planted the GM potatoes, which have improved resistance to late potato blight, at their facility at Oakpark, Co Carlow, last Monday. The trial will investigate whether there are long-term effects associated with growing the GM crop in carefully controlled conditions. more

Irish Times, 31 August 2012 

Feasibility study looks at new e-passport system

The UK cereals industry is a step closer to joining the digital age this summer with the launch of a feasibility study into a new e-passport system. With the potential to remove millions of pounds of unnecessary costs from the supply chain, farmers across the country could stand to benefit.

The current paper-based Combinable Crops Passport is central to the flow of data between grower, haulier and processor, as well as monitoring post-harvest pesticide treatments. However, its hard-copy nature introduces substantial delays and costs due to data input duplication, as well as unnecessary rejections, claims and haulage. more

Farmers Weekly, 26 August 2012 

More GM trials needed says Defra’s chief scientist

DEFRA’S outgoing chief scientific adviser has questioned his former bosses’ commitment to GM technology.

Prof Robert Watson, who is due to leave his post at Defra next month, highlighted the need for more ‘credible’ research into GM technology, but added more funding was crucial.

He said a lack of financial stability in the sector, coupled with the devolved nations’ unwillingness to agree a policy on GM, was creating a barrier to new scientists entering the industry. more

Farmers Guardian, 24 August 2012

No-till could help maintain crop yields despite climate change

Studies from the United States Department of Agriculture have shown ‘no-till’ farming, a method which reduces soil erosion and increases the amount of nutrients and water in the soil, will help reduce crop losses caused by drought and climate change.

The researchers’ timing is especially convenient given that the country’s worst drought in 50 years has caused widespread damage to US farmers’ major export crops of maize and soy in the Midwest. more

Farming Online, 23 August 2012 

Wild rice gene gives yield boost

A gene from wild Indian rice plants can significantly raise the yield of common varieties in nutrient-poor soils.

Scientists from the International Rice Research Institute (Irri) identified a gene that helps uptake of phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium, and transferred it into commercial strains.

Their yield was about 60% above normal in phosphorus-poor soils, the team reports in the journal Nature. more

BBC News, 22 August 2012 

US drought will lead to inflation and higher food prices, says report

America's worst drought in half a century will push up inflation and put a fresh obstacle in the path of the struggling global economy, one of the UK's leading banks has warned.

Senior global economist at HSBC, Karen Ward, said sharp rises in the cost of wheat, corn and soya beans came when growth was slowing but said the weakness of wage pressure meant there was no need for central banks to raise interest rates in response to a higher cost of living.

Blistering heat in the US has destroyed 45% of the corn and 35% of the soya bean crop in the worst harvest since 1988. Russia and Ukraine have also had poor crop yields. Ward said higher food prices would result. more

The Guardian, 20 August 2012 

Food costs stoke debate about EU biofuels targets

Drought-stricken crops and record-high grain prices have strengthened critics of the European Union biofuel industry, adding fears of a food crisis to their claims that it does not ultimately reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The renewed anxiety adds to pressure on the European Commission to forge a deal this year to help ensure that EU biofuels do not clash with food production or the environment.

Such an agreement would remove some of the uncertainty that has hung over the multi-billion-euro bioenergy industry during years of debate. more

Euractiv, 16 August 2012 

Climate change poses risks to food, beyond U.S. droughts

Downpours and heatwaves caused by climate change could disrupt food supplies from the fields to the supermarkets, raising the risk of more price spikes such as this year's leap triggered by drought in the United States.

Food security experts working on a chapter in a U.N. overview of global warming due in 2014 said governments should take more account of how extremes of heat, droughts or floods could affect food supplies from seeds to consumers' plates. more

Reuters, 15 August 2012 

CPA: EU must rethink science-based agriculture

The EU must rethink its stance on modern, science-based agriculture or risk sleep-walking into a food crisis with "potentially devastating socio-economic and humanitarian consequences", the Crop Protection Association (CPA) has warned.

Global food prices returned to dangerously high levels last month, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation's (FAO) global food price index. more

Farmers Weekly, 13 August 2012 

Concern mounts as reports reveal rising prices, reduced crop estimates

Following the release of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Crop production Report, experts have warned of repercussions including increased food and feed prices. The USDA report today revealed that severe drought in the country has left maize and soy crops in their worst state since 1988. more

Farming Online, 10 August 2012

Demand for water exceeds supply in major agricultural regions

A global analysis of groundwater depletion has concluded that in many of the world’s major agricultural regions demand has outstripped supply for groundwater use.

According to the study, published in the journal Nature, almost a quarter of the global population live in a region where groundwater is being abstracted faster than it can be replenished. more

Farming Online, 9 August 2012

Global food prices rise in July due to extreme weather

Global food prices sharply rebounded in July due to wild swings in weather conditions, a UN food and agricultural body has said. The rise has fanned fresh fears of a repeat of the 2007-2008 food crisis which hurt the world's poorest.

Untimely rains in Brazil, drought in the US and production difficulties in Russia drove the rally, said the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Food prices jumped 6% in July from June after falling three months in a row. more

BBC News, 9 August 2012 

GM blight-resistant trials 'successful'

British trials of genetically modified blight-resistant potatoes have been hailed a success.

Scientists at Norfolk's John Innes Centre have developed varieties of potato that are resistant to late blight. Early results from the third year of trials at Colney, Norwich, showed that GM potatoes remained healthy, while traditional potatoes planted alongside got blight. Research leader Jonathan Jones said the GM potatoes combatted blight in the worst disease onslaught for years. more

Farmers Weekly, 9 August 2012 

Schmallenberg could spread to whole of GB

The Schmallenberg virus has successfully overwintered and could spread as far as Scotland and Wales in the coming breeding season, researchers have warned.

Tests on sheep and cattle carried out by the researchers at the Royal Veterinary College and Institute for Animal Health, Pirbright, showed animals were showing new signs of exposure to the disease. more

Farmers Weekly, 7 August 2012 

Super-yielding wheat may solve food crisis

A FLUKE experiment tinkering with the genes of Australian wheat has created a new variety that could rocket wheat yields by 30 per cent a year. The chance discovery by a CSIRO research team is considered so significant that it has been heralded worldwide as a possible solution to future global food shortages. Grains Research & Development Corporation chief John Harvey described the surprise breeding breakthrough as one of the most exciting scientific advances for wheat in decades.

"It was a lucky, serendipitous discovery," a delighted Mr Harvey told a national grain industry conference in Melbourne. "Researchers at CSIRO's division of Plant Industry were looking at ways to change starch in wheat (for industrial processing reasons) and noticed when they grew (these new wheat types) the plants ended up 30 per cent larger, with 30 per cent bigger heads and a 30 per cent increase in grain yield." more

The Australian, 6 August 2012 

Research underway to drought-proof crops

BRITISH scientists are investigating ways to protect crops from damage caused by drought. Researchers from Harper Adams University College in Shropshire are using special compounds which reduce water loss.

Plants lose water from their leaves and if this is more than what is available in the soil, growth is reduced. Antitranspirants decrease this water loss by acting as ‘waterproofing’.

This technique is commonly used on Christmas trees, to reduce water loss and needle drop, but is not so commonly used in crop protection. more

Farmers Guardian, 1 August 2012 

GM potato trials approved in Ireland

Environment chiefs in Ireland have approved the country's first trial of genetically modified potatoes. The small 2ha trial of potatoes, which have been modified to resist blight, will go ahead in Co Carlow over the next four years.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it had given its approval for the trials following a detailed assessment. The agency said the trials would be subject to strict controls, regular reporting and monitoring. more

Farmers Weekly, 30 July 2012 

Dramatic change as two-thirds now support GM crop testing

Public opinion appears to be shifting in favour of the development of genetically-modified crops, according to a ComRes survey for The Independent.

Asked whether the Government should encourage experiments on GM crops so that farmers can reduce the amount of pesticides they use, 64 per cent of the public agreed and 27 per cent disagreed, while 9 per cent replied "don't know".

There was a significant "gender gap", with women more cautious about the trials than men. While 70 per cent of men believe that such experiments should be encouraged, only 58 per cent of women agree. more

The Independent, 25 July 2012 

No risk with GMO food, says EU chief scientific advisor

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are no riskier than their conventionally farmed equivalents, the European Commission’s Chief Scientific Advisor Anne Glover has told EurActiv in an exclusive interview, calling for countries impeding GMO use to be put to proof.

The endorsement of GMO safety will rattle member states where bans are in place, and represents the CSA’s highest-profile policy intervention since Glover became Commission President José Manuel Barroso’s scientific advisor last December.

“There is no substantiated case of any adverse impact on human health, animal health or environmental health, so that’s pretty robust evidence, and I would be confident in saying that there is no more risk in eating GMO food than eating conventionally farmed food,” Glover told EurActiv, saying the precautionary principle no longer applies as a result. more

Euractiv, 24 July 2012

New method for associating genetic variation with crop traits

A new technique will allow plant breeders to introduce valuable crop traits even without access to the full genome sequence of that crop. The technique, published today in the journal Nature Biotechnology, links important agronomic traits in crop plants with active regions of the genome. Instead of requiring knowledge of the crop’s complete genome, it identifies only expressed genes.

“For many crop plants, markers are still lacking because of the complexity of some plants’ genomes and the very high costs involved,” said Professor Ian Bancroft, who led the study at the John Innes Centre. “We have succeeded in developing markers based on the sequences of expressed genes, widening the possibilities for accelerated breeding through marker assisted selection.” more

Farming Online, 23 July 2012 

Sequencing technology helps reveal what plant genomes really encode

Scientists from the James Hutton Institute and the University of Dundee have teamed up with researchers in the USA to use a new technique to sequence the genes of the plant Arabidopsis. This approach, which allows researchers to see exactly where a plant’s genes end, could be applied to crops in the hope of boosting efforts to breed new varieties.

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)–funded team are the first in the world to try to understand how plant genes are organised by directly sequencing a molecule called RNA rather than DNA.  Their findings are published today in the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology. more

Farm Business, 22 July 2012

Nestle blames biofuels for high food prices

The head of the world's largest food producer believes high prices are due to the growing of crops for biofuels. "The time of cheap food prices is over," says Nestle chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe.

He is highly critical of the rise in the production of bio-diesel, saying this puts pressure on food supplies by using land and water that would otherwise be used to grow crops for human or animal consumption. "If no food was used for fuel, the prices would come down again - that is very clear," he says.

"We are now in a new world with a completely different level of food prices because of the direct link with fuel," he says. more

BBC News, 18 July 2012 

British GM crop scientists win $10m grant from Gates

A team of British plant scientists has won a $10m (£6.4m) grant from the Gates Foundation to develop GM cereal crops. It is one of the largest single investments into GM in the UK and will be used to cultivate corn, wheat and rice that need little or no fertiliser.

It comes at a time when bio-tech researchers are trying to allay public fears over genetic modification. The work at the John Innes Centre in Norwich is hoped to benefit African farmers who cannot afford fertiliser. more

BBC News, 15 July 2012 

Report highlights role of hi-tech agriculture

The importance of agricultural science and technology in meeting the world's burgeoning demands on food, feed and fuel have been highlighted in a major international report.

The latest OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook report, released earlier this week, concludes that agricultural production must increase by 60% over the next 40 years to meet the rising global demand for food. This equates to an extra 1 billion tonnes of cereals and 200 million tonnes of meat per year by 2050 compared with 2005/07 levels.

Additional production will also be required to provide feedstock for an expanding biofuel market set to consume an estimated 16% of oilseed output, 14% of cereals and 34% of sugar cane by 2021. more

Farming UK, 13 July 2012 

Green food project unveiled by Farming Minister

PRODUCING food while protecting the environment is at the heart of a new Defra-led project. Unveiled by Farming Minister Jim Paice at the Great Yorkshire Show today (July 10), the Green Food Project brings together a host of industry organisations to tackle an issue central to the food production debate.

The initial report of the Green Food Project sets out the first steps on the road to using less energy and water in food production; increasing crop yields; introducing more innovative technology; improving conservation management; and boosting numbers of talented, entrepreneurial young people making careers in the food industry. more

Farmers Guardian, 10 July 2012 

$12M UK-US collaboration to rethink fertilisers for farming

UK and US researchers are being invited to participate in an ’Ideas Lab’ that will radically rethink current approaches of producing crops to reduce reliance on nitrogen fertilisers.

The joint Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and National Science Foundation (NSF) Ideas Lab aims to help meet the challenge of sustainably producing enough food for a growing population, whilst reducing costly fertiliser inputs that can impact the environment.

Nitrogen is essential for plant growth and many agricultural crops rely on the addition of nitrogen-based fertilisers. With increasing demand for food and other crops, we’re expected to use around 190.4 million tonnes of fertiliser each year globally by the end of 2015. more

Farm Business, 9 July 2012 

New effort to harmonize measurement of livestock’s environmental impacts

A new FAO-led partnership is looking to improve how the environmental impacts of the livestock industry are measured and assessed, a necessary first step in improving the sustainability of this important food production sector.

Livestock-raising and the consumption of animal products make a crucial contribution to the economic and nutritional well-being of millions of people around the world - particularly in developing countries.

Yet, as the global consumption of meat, dairy products and eggs continues to rise, increasing attention is being paid to the livestock sector's environmental performance - such as the efficiency with which it uses scarce natural resources, its  impact on water resources, and how it contributes to climate change. more

FAO, 4 July 2012 

Biorenewables lab opens in York

A NEW centre which researches ways in which to create renewable chemicals and materials was opened today (Wednesday).

Business Secretary Vince Cable cut the ribbon to York University’s newly extended Biorenewables Development Centre (BDC), which will manufacture technologies that use plants, microbes and biowastes as the raw materials for high value products. 

University bosses hope it will bridge the gap between the laboratory and industry, providing companies and academia with a way to test, develop and scale up biorefining processes.

The expansion of the centre has been supported with £2.5 million from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). more

Farmers Guardian, 4 July 2012

Food prices could rocket as US harvest continues to wilt in blistering heat

Fears that food prices will rocket at the end of the year after a poor US harvest were heightened after predictions that a drought across the Midwest will to continue for at least another week.

Maize yields are suffering after a long drought that hurt the crop in its crucial pollination phase, experts said, as the price of Chicago new-crop corn jumped more than 3% to its highest since last autumn.

Soybean crops and the crucial wheat harvest are also expected to suffer in the blistering heat, which has stayed in the high 30s centigrade for much of the last few months. A repeat of the drought in 2010 in another crucial wheat producing country, Russia, which saw food prices rise in the UK, is likely to make the situation worse, while soybean producers Brazil and Argentina have also suffered poor weather. more

The Guardian, 2 July 2012 

Sir Mark Walport appointed as UK's next chief scientific adviser

The government's next chief scientific adviser will be Sir Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust. He will begin in April next year when the incumbent, Sir John Beddington, finishes his term.

Walport is an accomplished rheumatologist and immunologist and was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society in 2011. He has been head of the Wellcome Trust, the second largest medical research charity in the world which invests more than £600m in scientific research every year, since 2003.

He spent more than a decade before that as professor of medicine at Imperial College London, including six years as the head of the division of medicine. He has also been a member of the prime minister's scientific advisory group, the Council for Science and Technology, since 2004. more

The Guardian, 29 June 2012

GM cow produces 'human' milk

SCIENTISTS in Argentina have confirmed that a genetically modified (GM) cow has become the first in the world to start producing human-like milk.

Researchers at the National Institute of Agribusiness Technology in Buenos Aires (INTA) said the animal was engineered to produce milk containing two proteins found in human breast milk: lactoferrin and lysozyme, which provide infants with anti-bacterial and anti-viral protection.

INTA researcher Nicolas Mucci said the development could have big implications for infant nutrition, particularly for children that cannot be breastfed by their mothers. more

Farmers Guardian, 27 June 2012 

Experts meet to discuss agricultural technology

FEEDING an ever expanding population and keeping up with competition from other countries will be high on the agenda when senior figures from the agricultural industry meet today.

The meeting, chaired by George Freeman MP, Chair of the All Party Group on Science and Technology in Agriculture, marks the launch of Going for Growth, a new report on the potential economic opportunity presented to the UK by agricultural technology research and innovations, published by the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC).  

Minister for Universities and Science Rt Hon David Willetts MP said: “Food security is a global challenge which is increasing as the population grows and climate change threatens agricultural areas. Britain has traditionally been at the forefront of research. We continue to be committed to finding ways of producing food efficiently and advocating the role of agricultural technology to tackle the problem.” more

Farmers Guardian, 26 June 2012

Research calls stir ‘Frankenfood’ debate

An ambitious growth strategy for agricultural science and technology is expected to show greater government support for genetically modified crops.

Ministers will formulate the strategy over the next few months, in response to pressure from agricultural research institutes, farming organisations and the food industry.

They want the government to support agricultural research as strongly as health-oriented biotechnology – and for the debate on genetic modification to be reopened, more than a decade after scaremongering about “Frankenfood” left the UK and Europe almost devoid of GM crops. more

Financial Times, 26 June 2012 

British research leads to UK-wide launch of Beneforté broccoli

UK science has led to a new variety of broccoli with higher levels of a key phytonutrient, to be sold in all major UK supermarkets from next week.

The new broccoli, Beneforté, was developed from publicly-funded research at two of the UK's world-leading biological research institutes: the Institute of Food Research and the John Innes Centre. They both receive strategic funding from the government-sponsored Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). Beneforté was initially trialled in Marks and Spencer from October last year. more

BBSRC, 25 June 2012

Scottish scientists discover super barley secret that could feed the world

SCOTTISH scientists have made a world-first breakthrough that could help feed the world by developing a “next generation” barley seed which inherits disease-resistant qualities from its parent plant.

A research team from the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) has discovered a technique that for the first time allows barley – the fourth most important cereal crop grown across the globe – to pre-arm its seeds against attack in a process that may be passed on to subsequent crops.

The new weapon against agricultural pests will mean that farmers do not have to use so much pesticide, thus cutting costs and reducing the amount of chemicals entering the food chain. more

The Scotsman, 22 June 2012 

Obesity threatens food security, report warns

Rising obesity levels are threatening world food security, a new report warns. Scientists from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) said tackling population weight was crucial for food security and environmental sustainability.

“Population growth threatens global environmental sustainability – our study shows that population fatness is also a major threat,” said Ian Roberts, who led the research. “Unless we tackle both population and fatness, our chances are slim.” more

Farmers Weekly, 19 June 2012 

Britain beginning to accept GM technology – Paice 

THE British public is softening its views towards GM crops, according to Farming Minister Jim Paice. Speaking at Cereals 2012 on Wednesday morning, Mr Paice said the media had adopted a ‘very balanced’ approach in its reporting of the planned attacks on the Rothamsted Research institute’s GM wheat trials at the end of May. This was thanks in parts to the efforts of Rothamsted scientists in challenging the protestors’ claims.

“I think that demonstrates that public opinion is beginning to take a more balanced view towards where GM fits into the whole technology sphere,” he said. But he said more work needed to be by the farming and chemical industries and the scientific community to communicate the ‘full facts’ about GM crops. more

Farmers Guardian, 14 June 2012 

Plant breeding route to crop productivity gains

SUSTAINABILITY targets for future food production are not achievable without plant breeding developments and profitable farming. And progress in several key areas is set to help UK growers benefit from plant breeding innovation going forward.

That was the message from British Society of Plant Breeders chairman Nigel Moore speaking on the eve of Cereals 2012. more

Farmer Guardian, 13 June 2012

Rothamsted and BBSRC launch “20:20 Wheat ®"

Plans to help increase potential wheat yields in the UK to 20 tonnes per hectare within the next 20 years have been launched by Rothamsted Research scientists and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). The new 20:20 Wheat ® programme was unveiled at the UK Cereals 2012 event today and aims to provide the knowledge base and tools to tackle food security challenges for a growing population.

It is hoped that this programme will bring significant economic benefit to UK farmers as every one tonne per hectare increase in yield is estimated to be worth £318M per year at the farm gate. more

BBSRC, 13 June 2012 

Danish deal on GM crops fails

A Danish plan to break the deadlock in Europe over genetically modified crop cultivation has failed. The Danish-led EU presidency had been keen to push through a rule change drafted by the European Commission, which would allow individual EU member states to ban or allow cultivation of GM plants on their territory.

EU health and consumer commissioner John Dalli had said the proposal would provide an answer to a “long-standing problem” and break the stalemate over GMs in Europe. But at a council meeting in March, member states including the UK, Germany, Spain and France, declined to support the Danish proposals.

Now it has emerged that the subject has failed to make it onto the agenda of the EU Environment Council meeting in Luxembourg on Monday (11 June). more

Farmers Weekly, 12 June 2012 

Kendall: Super farms needed in the UK

NFU president Peter Kendall believes the UK needs more "super farms" to prevent food prices from rising too high and maintain high animal welfare standards.

In an interview with the Guardian newspaper, Mr Kendall said the government should allow some farms to keep several thousand animals as part of a trial to help Britain feed its increasing population as food demand rises globally. more

Farmers Weekly, 6 June 2012 

MPs claim CAP greening proposals will cut food production

Controversial plans to green the Common Agricultural Policy would hit food production and damage the environment, a House of Commons committee has ruled today.

The environment, food and rural affairs (Efra) committee joins the growing chorus of discontent over the rigid greening agenda being touted by European Agriculture Commissioner DacianCiolos in his Cap reform package. more

The Press and Journal, 1 June 2012

Scientists sequence tomato genome

The successful sequencing of the tomato genome is likely to improve yield, nutrition, disease resistance, taste and colour of tomatoes and other related crops. For the first time, a team of 300 international scientists have decoded the genome of the tomato, Solanum lycopersicum, and its wild ancestor, Solanum pimpinellifolium.

This achievement, by The Tomato Genome Consortium (TGC), will help breeders to identify important tomato genes allowing them to deliver new varieties more quickly and efficiently.  In total, 35,000 tomato genes were identified in the study, arranged on 12 chromosomes, or “packages” of DNA. more

Farmers Weekly, 31 May 2012 

Beddington: GM wheat protests misguided

The government's chief scientist has condemned attempts by GM protesters to destroy a trial plot of GM wheat. Professor John Beddington said the trial at Rothamsted Research could bring huge environmental benefits to farming.

Scientists at the Hertfordshire agricultural research institute are conducting an experimental trial of wheat that has been genetically modified to repel aphids. And if the trial proves successful, it could resolve "real issues with pesticides" in aphids, added Prof Beddington. more

Farmers Weekly, 29 May 2012 

GM protesters' plan to trash GM site thwarted

Anti-GM campaigners’ plans to ‘trash’ the Rothamsted wheat trials were halted yesterday when hundreds of extra police officers and security staff were drafted in to protect the site.

Hertfordshire Police were joined by officers from neighbouring forces to deal with the Take the Flour Back protesters, who had promised to destroy the genetically modified wheat crops.

The group said 400 people joined the group as they marched through the site in Harpenden. Police said there were up to 200 protesters. more

Farmers Guardian, 28 May 2012 

Agriculture gets share of £250m funding

Agricultural institutes and universities have been boosted after the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) announced plans to invest £250m into research programmes for part of one of a five-year investment into bioscience.

The funding will ensure the UK’s bioscience research base remains globally competitive and at the forefront of meeting the grand challenges faced by society in the coming decades, according to the government-backed BBSRC, which is already funding the GM wheat trial at Rothamsted Research.

This latest investment will help the UK to meet challenges such as sustainably feeding the growing world population, finding alternatives to dwindling fossil fuels and supporting an ageing society to remain healthy for longer. more

Farmers Weekly, 24 May 2012 

Launch of globally unique farm research platform

A new 'Farm Platform', launched today (24 May 2012) at Rothamsted Research North Wyke in Devon, aims to help farmers to optimise productivity in ways that are sustainable, whilst at the same time understanding the impact of farming methods on the environment.

The North Wyke Farm Platform will bring together scientists from across disciplines and countries to spark new ideas to meet the food security challenge.

Funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the North Wyke Farm Platform is comprised of three beef and sheep farmlets. Each of these will be managed differently so that scientists can understand how best to optimise production whilst minimising environmental impact. more

BBSRC, 24 May 2012 

French ban of Monsanto GM maize rejected by EU

France's attempt to ban the planting of a Monsanto strain of genetically modified maize was rejected by the EU's food safety body on Monday.                                      

In response to scientific evidence submitted by France backing its bid to ban the GM maize, the European Food Safety Authority ruled that "there is no specific scientific evidence, in terms of risk to human and animal health or the environment" to support a ban.

In 2008, France banned the the strain MON 810 following public protests against the GM maize, but this was overturned by a French court in 2011. However, in March the French government reinstated the ban, with the then agricultural minister Bruno Le Maire saying the move was "to protect the environment". more

The Guardian, 22 May 2012

GM wheat trial at Rothamsted vandalised

A man has been charged with criminal damage following a break-in at the Rothamsted Research centre where a trial of GM wheat is being held. The incident took place on Sunday morning at the centre's test site.

The project in Harpenden, Herts, aims to see whether the modified crops can deter aphids - a major wheat pest.

Rothamsted has previously pleaded with anti-GM campaigners not to destroy their experimental plots, which they say could help reduce pesticide use. But opponents of GM technology claim that planting the crops in the open air would allow them to get out into the surrounding environment. more

BBC News, 21 May 2012 

UK science base 'insufficient' to meet food security challenge

The UK does not currently have the basic science base to deliver more sustainable food production practices, a new report warns.

Sustainable Food, a report by a cross-party group of MPs, said the government must take a more active role in directing research to ensure we have the science base to deliver food security and sustainability. more

Farmers Weekly, 14 May 2012 

Aberystwyth University Phenomics Centre to develop new plants and crops

A £6.8m research centre which aims to develop new plants and crops has been opened at Aberystwyth University.

The university claims the National Plant Phenomics Centre includes the UK's most advanced research greenhouse.

It hopes research will help develop new plant varieties to "help tackle the global challenges of climate change". more

BBC News, 14 May 2012 

MPs urge Government caution on GM crops

An influential committee of MPs has called on the Government to refrain from licensing genetically modified (GM) crops until their benefits have been proved.

The Environmental Audit Committee challenged the Government’s promotion of the ‘sustainable intensification’ model of food production – ‘the need to produce more from less’ - in a report on Sustainable Food, published over the weekend. more

Farmers Guardian, 14 May 2012  

MPs call for wider food strategy

The government needs to tackle the UK's "failing food system" by linking its policies on health, environment and education, a committee of MPs has said. The Environmental Audit Committee said a focus on sustainable intensification - or increasing food yields - risked "damaging the environment and society".

It called for gardening and cooking to be part of school curriculums, and for stricter junk food advertising limits.

Defra said it was trying to boost food production at less environmental cost. more

BBC News, 13 May 2012 

Free farm carbon footprint tool

Farmers have access to a new free tool to help them calculate their carbon footprint in minutes.

The Cool Farm Tool was created by the University of Aberdeen in partnership with Unilever and the Sustainable Food Lab to help farmers calculate their greenhouse gas emissions and provide tips on reducing their environmental impact. more

Farmers Weekly, 10 May 2012 

£1.25m cash for crop research

Scotland’s leading plant breeding station, the James Hutton Institute, has been awarded £1.25 million for research projects aimed at improving the quality and reliability of malting barley.

Speaking after the awards – from the Crop Improvement Research Club – were announced, Dr Bill Thomas, an expert in barley genetics at the institute in Dundee, said the new funding would enable research workers to work towards new, improved crop varieties. These, he added, would not only result in better yields and quality but would also require less inputs making them more sustainable. more

The Scotsman, 8 May 2012 

Helping farmers produce more efficiently

A new virtual institute to help farmers produce more efficiently and an updated software ‘tool’, which helps farming and food industries to calculate their carbon footprint, are being launched this week.

The Cool Farm Tool (CFT) was created by the University of Aberdeen in partnership with Unilever and the Sustainable Food Lab to guide farmers over their greenhouse gas emissions and to provide tips on how they might reduce their environmental impacts. more

Farmers Guardian, 4 May 2012  

Scientists urge GM campaigners to call off protest

GM researchers have pleaded with environmental campaigners to call off their planned destruction of a new trial on an experimental form of wheat.

Scientists spoke out after activists calling themselves "Take the Flour Back" called for members of the public to join them in a mass "decontamination" of the trial site at Rothamsted, Herts on May 27.

 The experiment is aimed at genetically engineering wheat so that it releases a chemical signal which aphids use to warn each other of imminent danger, thereby scaring the pests away. more

The Telegraph, 2 May 2012 

Bovine TB: Prof Chris Pollock quits over badger cull U-turn

A scientist advising on bovine TB has resigned over the Welsh government's reversal of a planned badger cull. The Welsh government confirmed the resignation of Prof Chris Pollock from its TB eradication board.

Last month, a planned pilot cull in west Wales was dropped in favour of vaccination, which the chief vet called a "perfectly reasonable approach". Prof Pollock said he was not confident vaccination would work and "had no option but to resign". more

BBC News, 30 April 2012 

Potato genome mapping benefits within a decade

Growers could start seeing the benefits of the potato genome being sequenced within the next decade, with varieties bringing new traits such as PCN resistance or improved tuber shape.

That was the message from Glenn Bryan, leader of potato genetics at the James Hutton Institute, at a recent Potato Council briefing. more

Farmers Weekly, 30 April 2012 

Chinese delegation to look at Scottish agricultural research

A Chinese delegation is due to visit Scotland next week to learn more about the country’s expertise in agricultural research.

During their time in Scotland, the Shandong province vice-governor Jia and his delegation will meet Environment Minister Stewart Stevenson and visit the Scottish Agricultural College and the Roslin Institute.

The visit follows the Scotland First Minister Alex Salmond’s successful trade and cultural mission to China last December during which he signed an innovation focused Memorandum of Understanding with the Governor of Shandong. more

Farmers Guardian, 26 April 2012 

Global food prices up, poor at risk: World Bank

Global food prices again rose in the first quarter on the back of higher oil prices, putting millions of people at risk of not having enough to eat, according to the World Bank.

The eight percent increase from December 2011 to March 2012 was due to "higher oil prices, adverse weather conditions, and Asia's strong demand for food imports," the World Bank said in its latest Food Price Watch, on Wednesday.

The bank's Global Food Price Index was "only one percent below a year ago and six percent below the February 2011 historic peak," it said. more

AFP, 26 April 2012

The best food is neither cheap nor chips

As world food prices rise, we must change our wasteful habits and clear out overstuffed fridges, writes Laura Sandys MP

Cheap food is something that we’ve all come to take for granted in Britain. But the world around us is changing at an alarming pace: within a decade, this country may not be a member of the G8; keeping the lights on will be a real challenge; and food that’s as “cheap as chips” will be a thing of the past.

The signs are there already. Last month, food inflation increased to 5.4 per cent, up from 4.2 per cent in February. My constituents frequently raise the issue in the same breath as they complain about the cost of filling up their car or their heating bills. Food is a necessity, rather than a luxury, and it will be the worst off who’ll get hit the hardest. more

The Telegraph, 24 April 2012 

New Chief Scientist appointed

Professor Ian Boyd has been appointed by Defra to be its new Chief Scientific Adviser.

Professor Boyd, who is the current Director of the Scottish Oceans Institute at the University of St Andrews and the Sea Mammal Research Unit, will join Defra in September on a three year contract. He will replace Professor Sir Bob Watson, who is leaving Defra after five years in the post. more

Defra, 24 April 2012 

Science and industry club together to deliver better crops

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is announcing nine new industry-relevant crop science projects as part of the Crop Improvement Research Club (CIRC).

The research is aimed at delivering improvements to the main UK cereal crops - oilseed rape, barley and wheat - so boosting efforts to ensure food security.

Together, the projects represent an investment of over £4M by BBSRC, the Scottish Government and 14 companies including plant breeders, farmers and food processors. more

BBSRC, 24 April 2012

Public back wind farm subsidies, survey suggests

More Britons than not regard subsidies for wind power development as a good deal, an opinion poll suggests.

Commissioned by trade body Renewable UK, the Ipsos-Mori poll found that 43% see the UK subsidy as good value for money against 18% who do not. Another survey has also found a big majority in favour of renewable energy. more

BBC News, 23 April 2012 

Leading food industry figure calls for GM rethink

A LEADING representative of the food manufacturing sector has called for a major rethink on attitudes towards GM technology in the UK and Europe. Food and Drink Federation (FDF) president Jim Moseley has issued a plea to EU politicians, consumers and the food chain to at least consider the merits of technologies like GM in the current economic and social climate.

Speaking at an FDF president’s dinner in London this week, he said: “When for the first time in living memory, the proportion of our income that we spend on food has gone up; when globally the world has planted well over a billion hectares of GM crops; and when well over a billion people go to be hungry every night, surely the time is right for us to have the debate about new technologies both here and in Europe.” more

Farmers Guardian, 21 April 2012 

Badger culling: High Court challenge granted

Government plans to cull badgers in England are to to be reviewed in the High Court following a legal challenge by the Badger Trust. In December, finalised plans were announced for a cull - initially in pilot areas - to try to curb the spread of tuberculosis (TB) in cattle.

The trust says culling may spread TB. It hopes the legal challenge will be heard in June. The government said it had to "take action now" over Bovine TB. more

BBC News, 20 April 2012 

UK will be left behind if it ignores GM, claims MP

The UK will price itself out of the global market if it does not embrace biotechnology. That was the message from Neil Parish MP who was speaking at the Women’s Food and Farming (WFU) conference on Friday, April 13.

Mr Parish, who is a member of the Defra Select Committee, said UK producers were already facing big competition from other countries, but an unwillingness to allow GM technology would negatively impact the industry. more

Farmers Guardian, 14 April 2012 

Cash to help fight pervasive honey bee pest

Scientists are to try to turn a honey bee parasite's natural defences against itself in a bid to beat the pest. University of Aberdeen researchers have won £250,000 to study how to subvert the varroa mite's immune system.

The blood-sucking varroa mite is endemic in many honey bee colonies and saps the vitality of a hive if present in large numbers. Novel ways to tackle varroa are needed because mites are becoming resistant to existing chemical treatments. more

BBC News, 11 April 2012 

World food prices rise further, raising fears of unrest

Global food prices rose in March for a third straight month with more hikes to come, the UN's food agency said on Thursday, adding to fears of hunger and a new wave of social unrest in poor countries.

Record high prices for staple foods last year were one of the main factors that contributed to the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as bread riots in other parts of the world. more

Reuters, 5 April 2012 

Mass protest planned against GM wheat

Protesters are planning to descend on the gates of Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire as part of a campaign against genetically modified wheat.

The group, called "Take The Flour Back", has launched a website campaign to protest against the aphid-resistant wheat trial at Rothamsted. They say say they are planning a "mass action against genetically modified wheat" at the research institute's heaquarters. more  

Farmers Weekly, 4 April 2012

Forage based protein research underway in £2m project

SCIENTISTS at Aberystwyth University are addressing the UK protein deficit through a five-year research project valued at £2.15 million.

As consumers increasingly switch from largely vegetable based diets to consumption of more meat and dairy, global demand for animal protein is predicted to rise by 85 per cent by 2050 driven by population growth and increasing affluence in developing countries. more

Farmers Guardian, 3 April 2012 

Major changes are needed in agriculture and food consumption around the world if future generations are to be adequately fed, a major report warns.

Farming must intensify sustainably, cut waste and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from farms, it says. The Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change spent more than a year assessing evidence from scientists and policymakers. more


GM wheat which repels aphids is planted at Rothamsted

WHEAT plants which have been genetically engineered to produce an aphid alarm pheromone to repel the pests have gone into a field trial at Rothamsted.

Announcing the trial in London this week, scientists said the genetically modified (GM) plants would cut the amount of insecticides currently being used on crops.

This will be only the third current field trial of a GM crop variety in the UK. more

Farmers Guardian, 28 March 2012 

Drought-tolerant pea varieties to be studied

New research could help breeders develop drought-tolerant pea varieties that can withstand drought conditions and climate change.

ABSTRESS, a five-year, €3m (£2.5m) European project, is being led by the Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA), which says it will “revolutionise the way in which plant varieties are produced.” more

Farmers Weekly, 27 March 2012 

UK agricultural engineering exports jump

The grand total of exports of agricultural engineering and outdoor power products rose 17.8% in 2011 to £1,701 million (provisional figures). Within this total the element relating to agricultural engineering rose 18.8% to £1,554m and that to outdoor power equipment rose 8.1% to £147m. more

Farm Business, 20 March 2012 

Ideas Lab aims to reduce reliance on fertilizers

A joint Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and National Science Foundation (NSF) 'Ideas Lab' is in development in a bid to provide radically new approaches to producing crops with minimal input of nitrogen fertilizers.

Global food production will need to increase significantly if we are to be able to feed the growing human population. To address this challenge improved farming methods and technologies are needed to decrease inputs, like nitrogen fertilizer, while maintaining or increasing crop yields. more

BBSRC, 16 March 2012

Scientists create salt-tolerant wheat

A salt-tolerant wheat has been created by scientists that may help combat the threat to food production posed by climate change.

Grain yields are boosted by up to 25 per cent when the crop is grown in salty soils. In normal conditions, it performed as well as ordinary wheat.

The durum wheat strain, containing a wild salt-tolerance gene, was produced by conventional breeding methods rather than genetic modification. more

The Scotsman, 12 March 2012 

Huge potential of UK bio-based economy highlighted in Parliament

The potential of the bioeconomy to generate jobs, economic growth and wellbeing in the UK was highlighted at a meeting in the House of Parliament yesterday. The event was hosted by George Freeman MP, Chairman, All Party Group on Science and Technology in Agriculture, and supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

The bioeconomy encompasses a wide range of activities that use bioscience based research or processes to produce products, food, fuel or therapies and is driven by increasing demand. Across Europe the sector already represents a market worth over €1.5Tn and more than 22Mn people are employed in the bioeconomy. more

BBSRC, 9 March 2012

Public concern over GM food has lessened, survey shows

The UK public's concern over genetically modified food has softened in the past decade, according to a new survey.


A quarter of Britons are now unconcerned by GM food, compared with 17% nearly a decade ago, when supermarkets debated whether to introduce GM products following widespread public opposition and attacks on GM test fields in the 1990s. The number of people "concerned" about GM has also fallen by 5%, said the Populus survey, commissioned by the British Science Association and published on Friday. more

The Guardian, 9 March 2012

Ciolos shifts focus to food and farm research

EU farm chief Dacian Ciolos has called for better communication between scientists and farmers over the latest food and farm research.

Agricultural research and innovation “has for too long been left to the relative obscurity of scientific laboratories and academic publications”, he told a conference on ‘Enhancing Innovation and the Delivery of Research in EU Agriculture’. more

Farmers Weekly, 8 March 2012 

Organic sector told to be more open on GMs

The organic sector has been urged to be more open to GM technology in order to boost future productivity.

Oxfam director of policy and campaigns Phil Bloomer told the Soil Association’s annual conference in London that the organic movement often appeared “insular” and should be more open to techniques such as marker selection, which could dramatically speed up varietal improvements for organic producers. more

Farmers Weekly, 5 March 2012 

National Centre for Precision Farming is launched

THE National Centre for Precision Farming (NCPF) which is expected to give agriculture a boost in engineering was launched at the House of Commons this week.

More than 140 guests including MPs, engineering and farming experts, and research staff, attended the launch, hosted by Julian Sturdy MP, an alumnus of Harper Adams University College. more

Farmers Guardian, 2 March 2012 

Green Food Project unveiled

Britain can become an exporter of farming knowledge if it comes up with innovative ways to produce more food with less waste, Defra secretary Caroline Spelman has said.

The Green Food Project, announced by Defra at this week’s National Farmers’ Union conference, was “a genuine partnership between Government and industry”, Ms Spelman said, who added she wanted to “banish the myth that increased food production and environmental protection are incompatible”. more

Yorkshire Post, 27 February 2012 

Research investment ‘drives farm output’ in high-growth economies

Heavy investment in agricultural research is driving farm output in the high-growth economies Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRICs), according to a new study by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Each of the BRIC state authorities is offering financial backing to farmers, promoting best practices in farming, and strengthening rural infrastructure to secure their food supplies. The London-based business publisher’s report focused on new investments in plant research and entrepreneurial initiatives.  more

Irish Examiner, 24 February 2012 

Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman calls for new debate on GM foods

A government life sciences adviser told Norfolk’s farmers it would be “criminally irresponsible” not to explore the potential of genetically-modified crops to feed the world’s burgeoning population.

Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman called for a renewed public debate on GM foods during his speech at the Norfolk Farming Conference. With the global population expected to reach nine billion by 2050 and food demand set to rise by 70pc, he said it was now essential that the EU changed its opposition to engineered crops.

He said the market for agricultural biotechnology in the rest of the world is valued at over £90bn and growing at 10-15pc annually. And with developing nations such as the USA, China, Brazil and Argentina rapidly investing in the sector, he said it would be “madness” for Britain to be left behind. more

Eastern Daily Press, 23 February 2012 

Scots ban on GM crops ‘hinders research’

Scottish agricultural science is being held back by Scotland’s ban on GM crops, the director of the country’s main plant breeding institute has said. Professor Iain Gordon also said that by not allowing research into GM and biotechnology the scientific community was unable to speak with any authority on the issue and inform any future debate on whether the technique is right or wrong for the nation.

Prof Gordon, the director of the James Hutton Institute, added: “We are not allowed to do GM research by the Scottish Government. My own view is that researchers should be able to use GM to understand the way in which systems using it operate to provide advice on the pros and cons on its ability to produce food.” more

Press and Journal, 20 February 2012 

Food companies must help farmers increase productivity – Rabobank

Food and agriculture companies need to take the lead in collaborating with farmers to secure supplies and increases in productivity, says global banking group Rabobank.

A lack of agricultural investment in farming infrastructure, research and knowledge has created a vulnerable food market as we approach the challenge of feeding nine billion people by 2050, it said.    

Price pressure on both ends of the value chain had left farmers trapped and limited their ability to increase productivity. more

Farmers Weekly, 17 February 2012

Food prices rise by a quarter during recession

Food prices in Britain have risen by more than a quarter since the start of the financial crisis, new figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs show.  

Defra said that in the last five years food prices in the UK have increased “considerably more” than in the rest of the European Union. They rose by roughly three times more than both France and Germany.  The higher cost of food has been one of the key reasons that household budgets have been under pressure in recent years.

DEFRA said that between June 2007 and June 2011 food prices in the UK increased by 26 per cent – or over 12 per cent when inflation is taken into account. It said that there was “no evidence yet” of a return to a downward trend in the cost of food. more

The Telegraph, 16 February 2012 

 Spelman calls drought summit following CEH report

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman has called an emergency drought summit following the release this week of a report from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, which reveals the UK is almost certain to suffer from a lack of water over the summer.

The report showed the UK has experienced its driest winter since 1972, the last severe drought year. The meeting will be attended by NGOs, water companies, farming groups and wildlife charities in an attempt to find solutions to the fast approaching problem. Many farmers have begun creating their own water stores as the prospect of drier summers and less rainfall looks more likely. more

Farming Online, 16 February 2012 

 'Integrated' arable better than organic

FARMS aiming for high food production using environmentally-friendly practices could be better for the environment than both organic and conventional farms.

Oxford University scientists have found that ‘integrated’ farms, which maximised crop yields while using techniques such as crop rotation, organic fertilisers, over winter cover crops, and minimal use of pesticides, would use less energy and generate lower greenhouse gas emissions per unit of production than both organic and conventional farms. more

Farmers Guardian, 14 February 2012

£7M public funding available for research to deliver better fruit and veg

A new research initiative launched today (09 February) aims to bring academic researchers together with industry in order to deliver bigger yields of better quality fruits and vegetables for the consumer through more sustainable farming practices.

Fruits and vegetables are a vitally important part of a healthy diet. Increasing yields and reducing waste will be crucial if we are to ensure global food security, providing a healthy, nutritious and affordable diet to a growing global population.  more

 BBSRC, 9 February 2012

Spending on innovation vital to future of farming

Investment in agricultural innovation must be significantly increased if Europe is to avoid becoming the "granny of the world" in terms of technology and food production, say Lords.

Lord Carter of Coles, chair of the House of Lords Agriculture, Fisheries and Environment EU sub-committee, said the current level of investment in research and development across Europe was unacceptable. more

Farmers Weekly, 7 February 2012 

Global GM plantings up by 8% in 2011

Global plantings of genetically crops rose by 8% in 2011 taking the total area of biotech crops in the world to 160m ha, according to latest statistics.

Figures released by the International Service for the Acquisition of of Agri-Biotech Applications reveal that over 16.7m farmers in 29 countries planted GM crops during 2011. more

Farmers Weekly, 7 February 2012 

EU mycotoxin rules could leave UK farmers at risk

The NFU have urged European legislators to think carefully before approving new mycotoxin rules which could see around 16% of UK oats leaving the food chain.

The mycotoxins in question are produced by Fusarium langsethiae which appears in dry conditions, as opposed to DON (deoxynivalenol) which tends to be associated with wet conditions. more

Farmers Weekly, 4 February 2012

UN calls for science-led ‘ever-green’ agricultural revolution

THE UN has called on international Governments to create a 21st Century ‘ever-green revolution’ for agriculture that would aim to double production, while protecting the earth’s resources.

In a new report on global sustainable development, the UN highlights the importance of international investment in agricultural science, including biotechnology, to achieve these goals. more

Farmers Guardian, 1 February 2012 

US air pollution costs EU 1.2M tonnes of wheat a year

A team of researchers from the universities of Leeds and York has discovered that anthropogenic (human-made) air pollution from North America causes Europe to lose 1.2 million tonnes of wheat a year. The scientists have said their research shows for the first time the extent of the Northern Hemisphere's intercontinental crop losses caused by ozone - a chemical partly produced by fossil fuels.

The study’s outcomes reflect poorly on the North American countries, which have abandoned the Kyoto Protocol, as it suggests that increasing levels of air pollution from one continent may partly offset efforts to cut carbon emissions in another. more

Farming Online, 30 January 2012 

UK Expects Warming to Boost Crop Yields From Sugar to Wheat

Sugar and wheat farming probably will become more productive as the average temperature rises across the UK in the next 40 years, the government concluded in a report assessing the impact of climate change.

Sugar beet yields may rise 20 percent to 70 percent and wheat yields by as much as 140 percent because the atmosphere is warming, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said today.

“A warmer climate presents opportunities to grow new crops such as soya, sunflowers, peaches, apricots and grapes,” the department said a statement in London. more

Bloomberg, 26 January 2012 

Double agricultural research to help world's poorest: Bill Gates

The world needs at least to double its spending on agricultural research if it is to produce reliable crops and improve the lives of the one billion people who battle starvation every day, Bill Gates said in an interview on Tuesday.

A day before flying to Davos to meet political and business leaders, Gates said he was concerned the austerity drive in Europe could lead to a fall in foreign aid spending, setting back the fight against poverty, hunger and disease.

While acknowledging the difficulties policymakers in the richer world face at a time of slumping growth, the world's second wealthiest man said now was the time to invest in research and development. more

Reuters, 25 January 2012 

Fruit and vegetable consumption by poorer families falls 30%, figures show

Lower income families in the UK have cut their consumption of fruit and vegetables by nearly a third in the wake of the recession and rising food prices, to just over half of the five-a-day portions that the government recommends for a healthy diet.

Households in the lowest tenth of incomes were buying only 2.7 portions of fruit and vegetables a day at the end of 2010, the latest year for which figures are available, while the average household continued to buy about four portions per person, according to statistics from the Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). For lower income households, that represents a 30% decline in purchases of fresh fruit and vegetables since 2006. more

The Guardian, 23 January 2012

50% of EU-produced food thrown away

Half of the food produced in the EU gets wasted (89 million tonnes per year, equal to the weight of 1,000 Airbus planes per day), while 16 million EU citizens struggle every day to get a proper meal without support from charities, according to a report adopted by the European Parliament today in Strasbourg.

The report, drafted by S&D (Socialist and Democrat) MEP Salvatore Caronna, lays out an action plan for a 50% cut in edible food waste by 2025, calling on the European Commission to adopt practical measures to further this goal. more

Farm Business, 19 January 2012 

TB pilot areas confirmed

Landowners and farmers from two carefully-selected areas are now able to apply for licences to pilot new measures designed to tackle the devastating impact of bovine TB, Agriculture Minister Jim Paice has confirmed.
The disease forced the slaughter of 25,000 cattle in 2010 alone and will cost taxpayers around £1 billion over the next ten years if not effectively dealt with.
Two areas in West Gloucestershire and West Somerset have been selected, from a shortlist proposed by the farming industry, as the most suitable to pilot controlled shooting of badgers. This forms part of a science-led and closely monitored policy to bring bovine TB under control. more

Farm Business, 19 January 2012 

‘Super-grass’ may boost diet and bioenergy

A newly discovered family of genes could help scientists breed ‘super-grasses’ with improved properties for food and fuel, new research from Cambridge, UK, reveals.

Researchers from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council Sustainable Bioenergy Centre have discovered a family of genes that could help us breed grasses, such as rice and wheat, with enhanced properties for diet and bioenergy.

The research was carried out by a team from the University of Cambridge and Rothamsted Research, which receives strategic funding from BBSRC. Their findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. more

Business Weekly, 17 January 2012

Europol warns of counterfeit pesticide trade

The European crime intelligence agency Europol as issued a warning that organised crime groups in Europe are behind a growth in the trade of illegal and counterfeit pesticides. The agency said organised criminals have been attracted to the exceptionally ‘low risk – high profit’ margin of the market. This, combined with the lack of harmonisation in legislation and implementation, mean the trade is growing rapidly, according to Europol intelligence.

North East Europe in particular has been targeted by the criminal networks involved in the supply of illegal and counterfeit products, but the agency warned that the pesticides have been found throughout Europe. In some states, in excess of 25 per cent of the pesticides in circulation are believed to come from the illegal pesticide market; it is estimated that the global trade in illegal pesticides earns criminals billions of euros each year. more

Farming Online, 17 January 2012

BASF to end GM production in Europe

German chemical company BASF today announced it will be stopping production of genetically modified (GM) crops for the European market. The company blamed hostility from consumers as the reason behind its decision. Approval procedures in the EU take much longer than elsewhere and are frequently mired in stalemate, as politicians and member states' attitudes to GM differ.

Stefan Marcinowski, a spokesperson for BASF, said, “There is still a lack of acceptance for this technology in many parts of Europe – from the majority of consumers, farmers and politicians. It does not make business sense to continue investing in products exclusively for cultivation in this market.”

The company announced it will now move its plant-science unit from Limburgerhof, Germany to the United States and would be closing other sites in Germany and Sweden. BASF said it would also be withdrawing its Amflora potato from the European market, leaving Monsanto’s MON810 maize as the only crop licensed for production in the EU. more

Farming Online, 16 January 2012

Funding secured for NIAB Innovation Farm

A unique £6.8 million NIAB project has secured EU funding to improve the transfer of innovative plant science from research laboratories through to commercial markets.
NIAB Innovation Farm has been awarded a £2.7 million grant from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), with additional match-funding coming from industry and academic partners. 
The initiative, based at NIAB in Cambridge, demonstrates how plant resources and crop genetic improvement can help address the major global challenges of food security, climate change and resource conservation together with improvements in health and nutrition. more

Farm Business, 16 January 2012 

Discovery of plant ‘nourishing gene’ brings hope for increased crop seed yield and food security

University of Warwick scientists have discovered a "nourishing gene" which controls the transfer of nutrients from plant to seed - a significant step which could help increase global food production.

The research, funded by BBSRC and led by the University of Warwick in collaboration with the University of Oxford and agricultural biotech research company Biogemma, has identified for the first time a gene, named Meg1, which regulates the optimum amount of nutrients flowing from mother to offspring in maize plants. more

BBSRC, 13 January 2012 

Farming not to blame for human antimicrobial resistance

NEW research suggests animals may not be to blame for antimicrobial resistance in humans. Scientists from the University of Glasgow found the risk of antimicrobial resistance passing from animals to humans is lower than previous research has indicated.

The research, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, exploited long-term surveillance data of Salmonella Typhimurium DT104 from co-located humans and animals in Scotland. The findings demonstrated how animal and human DT104 populations differ significantly in several ways such as prevalence, linkage, time of emergence, and diversity suggesting the local animal populations are unlikely to be the major source of resistance in humans. more

Farmers Guardian, 9 January 2012 

Climate change 'will boost British farmers’

Climate change will be good for British farming, according to Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, with exotic crops such as melons already thriving.

In a speech at the Oxford Farming Conference, she said that, although problems such as droughts would become more frequent, warmer weather would also mean a longer growing season and less frost damage, allowing the introduction of crops such as peaches, maize and sunflowers. Already 10,000 melons are expected to be harvested in Kent this year.

Mrs Spelman said farmers must “seize the opportunities” of increased production as well as preparing for more droughts and floods by building reservoirs and drains. more

The Telegraph, 6 January 2012 

Tories and Labour renew backing for GM food crops

Controversial genetically modified food crops could help to massively increase food production to meet growing populations and consumption, politicians from both major parties said on Wednesday.

Speaking at the annual Oxford Farming Conference, agriculture minister Jim Paice said the promised benefits of GM varieties – which would need less nitrogen fertiliser, pesticides or fresh water than non-GM foods – could not be ignored, as demand was rising and pressure on resources and land increasing. more

The Guardian, 5 January 2012

BBSRC Impact Report 2011 highlights impacts in food security and innovation

Today (4 January 2012), the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) publishes its Impact Report 2011. The report details BBSRC's ongoing efforts to ensure that BBSRC-funded research in basic biology can be fully exploited to deliver economic and social benefits for the UK.

The report (see related links) picks out a number of major highlights from 2010 - 2011 including research to produce a draft sequence of the wheat genome and the launch of a new variety of Broccoli, called Beneforté, developed with funding from BBSRC. more

BBSRC, 4 January 2012 

Call for UK farmers to increase productivity

The government needs to introduce new policies to help strengthen farmers’ ability to produce food if the UK is going to remain a key player in global agriculture.

A report commissioned by the Oxford Farming Conference says UK productivity must improve considerably in the next decade, or risk putting its ability to feed itself under threat.

Without help from DEFRA to find new ways to increase productivity through research and development, the report says the UK will not be able to hold its position on the global farming stage. more

Farmers Weekly, 4 January 2012

© 2010 Front Foot Communications Design Martin Phillips Associates Ltd