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

Group News

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

APPGSTA Annual Report 2012/13
January 2014

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

VIDEO: MP hails agri-tech project

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

UK Agri-Tech Strategy published

22 July 2013


APPGSTA Annual Report 2011/12

December 2012


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


George Freeman MP hails £250m bio-economy boost

24 May 2012


House of Lords Debate -

Innovation in EU Agriculture

February 2012


APPGSTA Annual Report 2010/11

December 2011



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


2013 Archive


2012 Archive


2011 Archive

2010 Archive

2009 Archive

2008 Archive

Science & Technology News


Bee-friendly pesticide research among Agri-Tech winners

Research to develop an environmentally-friendly pesticide, using spider venom, that is not harmful to bees will be among the beneficiaries of the latest tranche of Government funding aimed a tackling the big agricultural challenges of the day.

Businesses and universities across the UK will benefit from £16 million under the second round of funding to be distributed through the £70 million Agri-Tech Catalyst, announced as part of the UK Industrial Strategy for Agricultural Technologies in July 2013.

Among the most eye-catching beneficiaries is a £1m project aiming to further develop an environmentally friendly pesticide which is harmless to non-target species, including bees. Led by Arch UK Biocides in collaboration with the University of Durham, the Food and Research Agency (FERA) and I2LRESEARCH LTD, this project will receive over £650,000 in Agri-Tech Catalyst funding. more

Farmers Guardian, 24 December 2014 

SRUC and University of Edinburgh ‘most powerful’ in UK agricultural and veterinary research 

Agricultural and veterinary research at SRUC and the University of Edinburgh has been ranked as most powerful in the UK in the Research Excellence Framework (REF).

The REF process is an assessment of the quality of the research being undertaken at UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and the impact it has in society. Building on a long history of collaboration and complementary activities, SRUC and the University’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies – which includes The Roslin Institute - made a joint REF submission.

Three quarters of the research and related activity submitted by SRUC/UoE was judged to be “world leading” (receiving the top REF grading of four star) or “internationally excellent” (three star). more

Farm Business, 19 December 2014

NFU issues 'call to arms' on EU pesticide legislation

The NFU is urging farmers to make their views known to the European Commission about proposals that could remove key pesticides from the market.

The Commission is currently consulting on the definition of ‘Endocrine Disruptors’ a group of chemicals that could be removed under changes to EU pesticides legislation.

In a recent report, commissioned by the UK farming and agro-chemical industry, farm business consultants Andersons concluded the potential loss of pesticides from this and other EU legislation could have a devastating impact on the UK farming industry. more

Farmers Guardian, 17 December 2014 

Scientists discover ancient plant virus

Scientists from France's national agricultural research institute (INRA) have described a historical genus of plant virus, evidence of which is still in the genetic information of some crop plants.

Last month, scientists at INRA published information on a newly discovered genus of virus in the Caulimoviridae family (which includes the cauliflower mosaic virus, as well as other diseases that still affect soybeans, grape vines, rice, tobacco and other agricultural plants). The virus' existence was discovered by comparing the genomes of flowering plants with other types of flora.

The new genus, which the INRA researchers described in the journal Nature Communications, was discovered using new scientific knowledge and tools. more

Farming Online, 16 December 2014 

Insights into origins of agriculture help shape the future of food

Agricultural decisions made by our ancestors more than 10,000 years ago could hold the key to food security in the future, according to researchers at the University of Sheffield.

Scientists, looking at why the first arable farmers chose to domesticate some cereal crops and not others, studied those that originated in the Fertile Crescent, an arc of land in western Asia from the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf.

They grew wild versions of what are now staple foods like wheat and barley along with other grasses from the region to identify the traits that make some plants suitable for agriculture, including how much edible seed the grasses produced and their architecture. more

Farming Online, 12 December 2014 

EU pesticide review could cost UK industry £905m

The loss of agrochemical actives due to EU changes to pesticide laws could cost the UK farming industry more than £905m, according to an Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) report.

The European Commission is working on a definition of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), which have been linked to a range of serious illnesses. The revision of pesticide approvals legislation could result in a ban on key classes of crop protection products, such as azole-based fungicides.

A report by levy body AHDB shows the disastrous effect EU regulatory decisions could have on farmers’ access to vital pesticides. The loss of agrochemical actives as a result of recent EU hazard-based assessment criteria has the potential to cost UK agriculture more than £905m – or 10% of current farmgate value, the AHDB report warns. more

Farmers Weekly, 10 December 2014 

Scientists 'fixed' evidence to ban neonicotinoids

Research which claimed to prove neonicotinoids were responsible for the decline in honeybee populations has been called into question after a leaked note suggested scientists had decided in advance to find evidence to support a ban.

The note, which was seen by a journalist from The Times, appeared to record a discussion between four scientists about how to persuade regulators to ban the chemicals.

It said the scientists agreed to select authors to produce four papers and co-ordinate their publication to ‘obtain the necessary policy change, to have these pesticides banned’. more

Farmers Guardian, 10 December 2014 

Defra launches £4.5m sustainable intensification project

Defra has launched a £4.5m research project to investigate ways to increase farm productivity while reducing negative environmental effects. The scheme will bring together expertise from across the farming industry and research community to find ways to develop a more sustainable farming sector for the future.

Farm minister George Eustice said: “Supporting our farmers to become more productive while also protecting and improving the UK countryside is one of this government’s priorities. The £4.5m we are giving to these research organisations will help open up new opportunities for intensive, sustainable farming; boosting our farmers’ output in a way that safeguards the future of our environment.” more

Farmers Weekly, 5 December 2014 

An "awareness gap" about emissions from livestock could hamper efforts to curb climate change, a report warns. A survey showed that twice as many respondents thought emissions from transport were greater than from the global livestock sector. Yet emissions from the two sectors are almost equal, the study explained.

It added that the goal of keeping the global temperature rise below 2C (3.6F) would be "off the table" unless there was a change in consumption patterns.

"Unless something is done about the inexorable rise in emissions from the livestock sector, which already accounts for about 14.5% of global emissions, the expected trend is upwards because meat and dairy are two of the fastest growing sub-sectors of agriculture," said lead author Rob Bailey, research director of energy, environment and resources at international affairs think-tank Chatham House, which produced the report. more


EU pesticide policy putting food production at risk

The Crop Protection Association (CPA) has used the one year anniversary of a moratorium on the use of neonicotinoids to call for a ‘science-based’ approach to EU policy-making decisions.

Growers have reported oilseed rape (OSR) yields down by about 30 per cent in some areas and many struggled to control the booming flea beetle population which was brought on by the unusually warm autumn.

A HGCA report published in September noted 2.7 per cent of the national winter OSR crop, equivalent to 18,000 hectares, has been completely lost to the beetles. These losses also represent a reduction in one of the most abundant sources of early nectar and pollen for bees in the UK. more

Farmers Guardian, 1 December 2014  

85% of crop-based biofuel used on UK roads is imported

Only 15% of crop-derived biofuel used in UK transport is grown on British farms, new figures from Defra reveal. This is despite a 17% increase in UK-sourced biofuels being used in the nation’s vehicles between 2012-13 and 2013-14 to 332m litres.

Biofuels used in the UK in 2013-14 totalled 810m litres – with 85% coming from countries both in and outside of Europe.

The largest import came from the Ukraine, which exported 138m litres of corn-derived biofuels to the UK market. Other big exporters to the UK were France (71m litres from sugar beet compared to 57m litres home-grown) and the USA (60m litres from corn). more

Farmers Weekly, 26 November 2014 

Urban agriculture is playing an increasingly important role in global food security, a study has suggested. Researchers, using satellite data, found that agricultural activities within 20km of urban areas occupy an area equivalent to the 28-nation EU.

The international team of scientists says the results should challenge the focus on rural areas of agricultural research and development work. The findings appear in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

"This is the first study to document the global scale of food production in and around urban settings," explained co-author Pay Drechsel, a researcher for the International Water Management Institute (IWMI). more

Fracking could help boost UK fertiliser production

Fracking will help to stabilise UK fertiliser production, experts have claimed. The pro fracking group North West Energy Task Force said giving the go-ahead for the development of natural gas from shale would boost production and ‘ultimately allow UK farmers to meet increased global demand for food’.

However, anti-fracking campaigners criticised the claims, adding it was highly unlikely the fertiliser industry would benefit.

Debbie Baker from fertiliser manufacturer GrowHow said: “As gas is our primary raw material it determines our sustainability as a business. “Over the long term, we believe shale gas can help retain UK fertiliser production and has the potential to improve future energy and food security in the UK.” more

Farmers Guardian, 19 November 2014 

Most countries in the world are facing a serious public health problem as a result of malnutrition, a report warns. The Global Nutrition Report said every nation except China had crossed a "malnutrition red line", suffering from too much or too little nutrition.

Globally, malnutrition led to "11% of GDP being squandered as a result of lives lost, less learning, less earning and days lost to illness," it added. The findings follow on from last year's Nutrition from Growth summit in London. more


Agri-science MP concerned over axing of EU chief scientist role

The EU must guard against politicising decisions on agri-science if Europe’s farmers are to contribute fully to the urgent global challenges of food security and climate change. 

That was the warning issued today by Mark Spencer MP, chair-elect of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Science and Technology in Agriculture, in response to the decision by newly appointed EU Commission President Jean Claude Juncker to scrap the role of EU chief scientific adviser
. more

Farm Business, 13 November 2014  

Unite in fight to save pesticides, says minister

Farm minister George Eustice has called on industry leaders to build alliances across Europe in a bid to fend off further restrictions on pesticides. Defra was pushing for Brussels to take a risk-based approach to active ingredients, Mr Eustice told listeners at this week’s AIC Agribusiness 2015 event on Wednesday (12 November). “The more evidence we have to support us in that, the better,” he said.

A recent industry-funded report warning that EU decisions to ban some pesticides could increase food prices and hit farm profits was an “important contribution” to the debate, Mr Eustice told conference delegates at the Peterborough Arena.

Published last month, the independent report was compiled by farm business consultant Andersons. It was jointly commissioned by the NFU, the Crop Protection Association (CPA) and the Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC). more

Farmers Weekly, 12 November 2014 

GM crops 'good for farmers and the environment', study shows

GM crops are good for the economy and can reduce the amount of pesticides used in agriculture, that is according to a new study by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme.

Despite the rapid adoption of genetically modified (GM) crops by farmers in many countries, controversies about the technology continue. Uncertainty about GM crop impacts is one reason for widespread public suspicion, the report highlighted.

The results of the study found on average, GM technology adoption has reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yields by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68%. Yield gains and pesticide reductions are larger for insect-resistant crops than for herbicide-tolerant crops. Yield and profit gains are higher in developing countries than in developed countries. more

Farming UK, 12 November 2012  

MEPs vote to allow countries to ban GM crop cultivation

Long-awaited draft plans to allow member states to restrict or ban the cultivation of GM crops on their territory won the support of the European Parliament’s environment committee on Tuesday (11 November).

MEPs supported plans to allow members states to overrule the EU and ban GMs on environmental grounds. The vote was approved by 53 votes to 11, with two abstentions. However, the plans must still be given approval by the EU’s executive body, the European Commission and national governments.

The approved text empowers member states to pass legally binding acts to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of GM crops after they have been authorised at EU level. more

Farmers Weekly, 11 November 2014 

'Supercomputer' set to improve weather forecasts for farmers

Farmers could soon benefit from improved severe weather warnings and better long-term forecasts thanks to a £97m government supercomputer.

The weather ranks as one of the biggest topics of conversation among farmers and it has arguably become even more common in recent years due to the effect of climate change. But more help could soon be available for farmers with the launch of the Met Office supercomputer, which is set to give the UK its most accurate forecasts ever.

The world-leading high-performance computer (HPC) will be 13 times more powerful than the current system used by the Met Office and will have 120,000 times more memory than a top-end smartphone. The supercomputer will be built in Exeter next year and will be operational in September. more

Farmers Weekly, 8 November 2014 

Lack of engineers a 'ticking time bomb' for agriculture

A lack of engineers, not enough people promoting the land-based industries and a lack of apprentice opportunities for students is a 'ticking time bomb', according to a new survey.

The survey of agricultural machinery dealers
was designed to understand the challenges facing the land-based engineering industry such as, funding of technical education, apprenticeships, up-skilling the work force to meet the demands of modern business practices, attracting new recruits of the right calibre and raising the awareness of the industry and the career opportunities available. more

Farming UK, 6 November 2014 

Peas and beans in crop rotations 'increases productivity'

New European research, led by Scotland’s Rural College, suggests farmers could be encouraged to grow more legumes by introducing a “Legume Premium Payment” to woo them away from imported feeds like soya and grow their own. 

This advice is drawn from a recently completed research project called Legume Futures, which looked at whether including peas, beans or other nitrogen fixing legumes, in a crop rotation improved the yields of the crops following them. Researchers also considered whether legumes improved biodiversity, and assessed their effect on greenhouse gas emissions.

The study found that adding legumes into a rotation can increase farm profitability by £46 a hectare. The extra income results from substantially increased yields of cereal crops grown after the legumes, in some cases by as much as 25%. Researchers found growing legumes in a rotation helps control weeds or pests and improves soils structure, leading to increased nutrient uptake. more

Farming UK, 3 November 2014 

The unrestricted use of fossil fuels should be phased out by 2100 if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change, a UN-backed expert panel says.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says in a stark report that most of the world's electricity can - and must - be produced from low-carbon sources by 2050.

If not, the world faces "severe, pervasive and irreversible" damage. The UN said inaction would cost "much more" than taking the necessary action. more


Europe’s leading plant scientists call for urgent action to defend research

More than twenty of Europe’s most prominent plant scientists today signed a joint letter warning that Europe may lose its research lead unless plant science is adequately funded, GM plant varieties that have been found safe are allowed and field trials are protected from vandalism.

The scientists, world-leaders in disciplines ranging from botany to ecology to molecular biology, state that the current EU "de facto moratorium on transgenic plant approvals has been detrimental for applied plant science and has effectively eliminated possibilities for publicly funded scientists and small companies to address the big challenges for society". more

Farm Business, 30 October 2014 

Europe must lift GM food limits to help feed planet, say experts

Strict European controls on genetic modification should be swept away to open the door to new crop improving technologies, Government-funded experts have said.

In a new position statement, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBRC) challenged the current precautionary approach that has effectively stifled GM crop farming in the EU.

The body, which allocates British government funding for biotech research, highlighted the growing importance of ''genome editing'' technology that allows precise and targeted genetic changes without having to switch DNA between species. Such advances blurred the line between GM and non-GM breeding techniques, it was claimed. more

The Telegraph, 28 October 2014

£5 million for agricultural innovation

Businesses and universities across the UK will benefit from a share of £5M of funding from government and industry to develop innovations to solve some of the world's greatest agricultural challenges such as food security and sustainability, weed control and livestock disease.

This £5M is part of the second round of funding to be distributed through the £70M Agri-Tech Catalyst, announced as part of the UK Industrial Strategy for Agricultural Technologies in July 2013.

The Agri-Tech Catalyst, run by BBSRC and Innovate UK, is designed to support collaborative research between scientists and businesses to springboard projects from the lab to the market place. Innovations in this round include an autonomous robot weed sprayer for difficult terrain farm land and developing a cereal to create improved bread products for diabetics. more

BIS, 22 October 2014 

The EU's decision to ban the use of some pesticides could threaten UK crops, increase food prices and hit farmers' profits, a report has claimed.

The report commissioned by three farming bodies said the EU was on course to "ban" use of 40 chemicals by 2020 to reduce environmental damage.

It said this could lead to a surge in pests, affecting production of apples, carrots and peas, among other crops. more


Loss of pesticides could cost supply chain £2.6bn each year

Profits from UK agriculture could decline by over a third if present policy on pesticides is not reversed, a new report has claimed.

The study into the future of Plant Protection Products (PPP) in the UK found as a result of EU policies and their implementation in the UK, 87 out of around 250 approved pesticides in the UK could be lost to the farming industry.

Of these, about 40 are considered to have a high likelihood of disappearing or being restricted within the next five to seven years. The wider food supply chain could see economic losses of up to £2.5bn per year, according to the study published by The Andersons Centre. more

Farmers Guardian, 21 October 2014 

Britain has only 100 harvests left in its farm soil as scientists warn of growing 'agricultural crisis'

Intense over-farming means there are only 100 harvests left in the soil of the UK’s countryside, a study has found.

With a growing population and the declining standard of British farmland, scientists warned that we are on course for an “agricultural crisis” unless dramatic action is taken.

Despite the traditional perception that there is a green and pleasant land outside the grey, barren landscape of our cities, researchers from the University of Sheffield found that on average urban plots of soil were richer in nutrients than many farms. more

The Independent, 20 October 2014 

Government to end subsidies on land used for solar

Farmers will not be able to claim EU subsidies on land used for generating solar energy from January 2015.

The move, announced by Defra Secretary Liz Truss, means farmers who use fields for solar will not be eligible for any farm subsidy payments on that land, available through the Common Agricultural Policy.

The Minister said the reform was designed to stop productive farmland being ‘blighted’ by solar farms. more

Farmers Guardian, 20 October 2014 

Harper Adams and Dairy Crest unveil £4m innovation deal

Milk processor Dairy Crest and Harper Adams University have signed a £4m deal to build a brand-new food innovation centre.

Research teams from Dairy Crest’s Crudgington site will make the short six-mile trip to a purpose-built home on the university’s Shropshire campus.

As part of the joint project, the processor will tap into Harper’s food and farming research, while students and staff will benefit from placements and insight into the industry. more

Farmers Weekly, 14 October 2014 

Eblex claims multimillion-pound benefits to livestock farmers

Work to help average-performing beef and sheep farmers enter the top tier has been worth £217m to the industry, according to Eblex.

The levy board’s annual review claimed the £3.1m spent on research and knowledge transfer in the past year has been delivered many times that in benefits to English farmers.

Eblex collected £15.4m of income from the slaughter of cattle and sheep in the 2013-14 financial year – 1.5% more than the previous year. more

Farmers Weekly, 10 October 2014 

NFU predicts record wheat yields

This year’s wheat crop saw the highest yields ever recorded, the NFU has predicted. NFU’s harvest survey predicts average wheat yields for the 2014 UK harvest to be a record high at an average 8.6 tonnes per hectare, 16 per cent up on 2013.

The union pointed to ‘near perfect’ growing conditions for the crop, as well as farmers’ ability to control disease. But NFU combinable crops board chairman Mike Hambly said future years’ yield and quality could be hit as farmers’ use of fungicides and insecticides was currently in question.

He said: “Many of these are under threat from EU Commission regulation and as this legislation hits, it will in turn compromise both the quality and potential yield of wheat.” more

Farmers Guardian, 7 October 2014 

BBSRC unveils £125 million for doctoral training

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council is funding 12 partnerships that will train 1,250 PhD students over five years. Business secretary Vince Cable said the funding would “safeguard” Britain’s reputation as a world leader in the life sciences.

Awards of between £4 million and £15 million have been made to the groups, which include more than 30 universities in total, as well as research institutes and trusts. The partnerships will train the next generation of scientists that can help tackle major challenges in agriculture, food, industrial biotechnology, bioenergy and health. more

Times Higher Education, 3 October 2014

17,000ha of winter OSR lost to flea beetle damage

Around 17,000 hectares of winter oilseed rape crops have been lost due to damage from cabbage stem flea beetle (CSFB), according to an assessment commissioned by HGCA.

In the first autumn without neonicotinoid seed treatments, flea beetle damage has contributed to estimated losses of 3.2 per cent of the winter OSR crop across England and Scotland.

But this masks significant regional variation with some growers experiencing ‘significant control issues’ particularly in southern and eastern England. more

Farmers Guardian, 3 October 2014 

Public perception of farming 'increasingly positive'

More of the British public think positively about farmers and farming than last year according to a recent OnePoll survey commissioned by the NFU.

Following the launch of the Back British Farming campaign, the latest survey results reveal 67 per cent of people think favourably about farmers, a five per cent increase continuing an upward trend from 20121.

The survey also questioned people’s understanding of farming’s impact on the economy and the countryside. Results show that 90 per cent believe farming is fairly or very important to the economy and almost three quarters of people think farmers have a beneficial effect on the countryside. more

Farming UK, 1 October 2014

UK blackberry industry gets set for record growth

British blackberry growers have revealed that sales have nearly doubled in a year, having produced 1,123 tonnes to date compared to just 808 tonnes this time in September 2013 – a 44 per cent increase.

Industry experts are now predicting that this year’s crop will break records with consumers set to enjoy 2,000 tonnes of the fruit, exceeding last year’s production by a staggering 82 per cent.

This growth is only set to continue as commercial growers are developing new ‘sweet-eating’ varieties set to cause a surge in blackberries’ popularity and transform sales. This is thanks to advances in breeding resulting in new varieties. more

Farm Business, 29 September 2014 

Underestimated effects of neonicotinoid ban

Oilseed rape has been a victim of the growing gaps in control from crop protection products after the autumn sown crop was untreated due to the current restriction on the use of neonicotinoid seed treatment. Evidence from farmers and from ADAS’ preliminary reports on the damage caused by cabbage stem flea beetle show that policy-makers have widely underestimated the effects of this restriction.

NFU Deputy Director General Martin Haworth said: “We are frankly alarmed that a large percentage of oilseed rape, which makes up 15.7 per cent of UK arable land, is under threat from a destructive pest that was formerly controlled by neonicotinoids. Nearly 1.8million acres of oilseed rape were planted in 2013 and without the availability of crucial active ingredients in crop protection products, this vital farming crop will decline.

“The third most planted crop with much of it being exported to Europe, oilseed rape is used for biodiesel, cooking oil, animal feed and even industrial plastic. A decline in reduction would undoubtedly have a worryingly adverse impact on the wider economy." more

Farming UK, 29 September 2014 

CPA calls for better monitoring of neonicotinoid ban

Nick von Westenholz warned a fringe meeting organised by CPA at the Labour Party Conference that the ban is already threatening to have a negative impact on 2015 crop yields, with unintended consequences for pollinators.

“We are seeing farmers struggling very seriously to establish OSR crop. For the first time this autumn OSR crops are being planting without neonicotinoid seed treatments. more

Farmers Guardian, 24 September 2014 

Genetic preservation of poultry breeds one step closer

A “frozen aviary” that could preserve the genetic material of all types of poultry – from heritage commercial stock to pure breeds – is one step closer thanks to new funding. The Roslin Institute and poultry breeding firm Cobb have been awarded a £650,000 grant from Innovate UK, a government body that supports research, for an initial project in creating a record of poultry’s genetic stock.

Although embryonic preservation has been possible for mammals for some time, meaning animals can be stored and resurrected at a later date, it has not been possible to do so with poultry embryos. This has meant breeding companies such as Cobb have had to keep heritage strains of birds from as far back as 50-60 years in production, to preserve the traits that led to the modern broiler. more


Plant variants point the way to improved biofuel production

Manufacturing biofuels from food crop by-products such as straw could be made quicker and cheaper thanks to the work of scientists in the UK and France.

Researchers funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) have discovered variant straw plants whose cell walls are more easily broken down to make biofuels, but which are not significantly smaller or weaker than regular plants.

The discovery could help ease pressure on global food security as biofuels from non-food crops become easier and cheaper to make. more

BBSRC, 22 September 2014 

World population to hit 11bn in 2100 – with 70% chance of continuous rise

The world’s population is now odds-on to swell ever-higher for the rest of the century, posing grave challenges for food supplies, healthcare and social cohesion. A ground-breaking analysis released on Thursday shows there is a 70% chance that the number of people on the planet will rise continuously from 7bn today to 11bn in 2100.

The work overturns 20 years of consensus that global population, and the stresses it brings, will peak by 2050 at about 9bn people. “The previous projections said this problem was going to go away so it took the focus off the population issue,” said Prof Adrian Raftery, at the University of Washington, who led the international research team.

“There is now a strong argument that population should return to the top of the international agenda. Population is the driver of just about everything else and rapid population growth can exacerbate all kinds of challenges.” Lack of healthcare, poverty, pollution and rising unrest and crime are all problems linked to booming populations, he said. more

The Guardian, 19 September 2014 

A big step towards more efficient photosynthesis

For the first time flowering plants have been successfully engineered to fix carbon like the blue-green algae – this can potentially increase photosynthesis and yields in crop plants.

Plants, algae and some bacteria capture light energy from the sun and transform it into chemical energy by the process named photosynthesis. Blue-green algae have a more efficient mechanism in carrying out photosynthesis than plants. For a long time now, it has been suggested that if plants could carry out photosynthesis with a similar mechanism to that of the blue-green algae, plant productivity and hence crop yields could improve.

Rothamsted Research scientists strategically funded by the BBSRC and in collaboration with colleagues at Cornell University funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation have used genetic engineering to demonstrate for the first time that flowering plants can carry out photosynthesis utilizing a faster bacterial Rubisco enzyme rather than their own slower Rubisco enzyme. These findings represent a milestone toward the goal of improving the photosynthetic rate in crop plants. The study is published in Nature. more

Rothamsted Research, 18 September 2014

World hunger falls, but 805 million still chronically undernourished

About 805 million people in the world, or one in nine, suffer from hunger, according to a new UN report.

The State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI 2014) confirmed a positive trend which has seen the number of hungry people decline globally by more than 100 million over the last decade and by more than 200 million since 1990-92.

The overall trend in hunger reduction in developing countries means that the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the proportion of undernourished people by 2015 is within reach, "if appropriate and immediate efforts are stepped up," the report said. more

Farm Business, 17 September 2014 

Investment vital as food security pressures mount

Meeting the food security challenges posed by pests and pathogens, climate change and changing priorities for UK agriculture were all under the microscope at the inaugural Exeter Initiative for Science and Technology conference.

Our obsession with high profile problems such as HIV and Ebola means far less money is being spent on combating crop pests and pathogens – vital if we are to feed the globe’s growing population – according to a former president of the British Society of Plant Pathology.

Prof Sarah Gurr said every year the world was losing 16-23 per cent of crops to pests and pathogens, which was disturbing, given the anticipated rise in population from the current 7.2 billion to 9bn by 2050. more

Farmers Guardian, 13 September 2014 

Plant insights could help develop crops for changing climates

Crops that thrive in changing climates could be developed more easily, thanks to fresh insights into plant growth. A new computer model that shows how plants grow under varying conditions could help scientists develop varieties likely to grow well in future.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh built the model to investigate how variations in light, day length, temperature and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere influence the biological pathways that control growth and flowering in plants. They found differences in the way some plant varieties distribute nutrients under varying conditions, leading some to develop leaves and fruit that are smaller but more abundant than others. Their findings could help scientists develop crops that have high yield in particular environmental conditions. more

BBSRC, 9 September 2014 

Plant diversity in China 'vital for food security'

With climate change threatening global food supplies, new research claims the rich flora of China could be crucial to underpin food security in the future. The research was presented at the British Science Association’s press launch for the British Science Festival, which starts today.

A team from the University of Birmingham and partners in China have identified 871 wild plant species native to China that have the potential to adapt and maintain 28 globally important crops, including rice, wheat, soybean, sorghum, banana, apple, citrus fruits, grape, stone fruits and millet. 42% of these wild plant species, known as crop wild relatives (CWR) occur nowhere else in the world.

Farming UK, 8 September 2014 

Genetically modified crop harvested at Rothamsted

Britain’s first trial of GM crops enriched with nutrients to improve health has been successfully harvested.

Following a groundbreaking field trial, the first camelina (false flax) crop genetically modified to produce seeds rich in omega-3 fatty acids was harvested at Rothamsted Research on Friday (5 September).

The trial, sown in May, is the first field trial in the UK to test plants in which the genetic structure has been altered to produce health-boosting properties. For the experiment, genes taken from algae were inserted into the plants to make marine oils. more

Farmers Weekly, 6 September 2014 

More UK-grown protein for animal feed would push up meat prices

Meat and milk produced in Britain would cost more, and reliance on cereal imports would increase if the UK grew more of its own crop protein for animal feeds, University of Reading research has found.

While up to half of all imported soya meal for animal feed could be replaced by home-grown equivalents, the result would be higher feed prices for dairy and meat farmers, and a reduction in cereal production, meaning the UK would have to import more grain from abroad.

The research, from the University of Reading’s renowned Centre for Agricultural Strategy (CAS), was carried out in response to calls to make the British livestock industry more self-sufficient in protein feed, much of which is currently shipped in from overseas in the form of soya meal. more

Farm Business, 2 September 2014 

Green revolution meeting considers Africa’s food future

African ministers and business leaders have gathered in Ethiopia to consider ways to trigger a green revolution and improve the continent's food security.

The African Green Revolution Forum, being held in Addis Ababa, will focus on delivering agriculture-led economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa.

In June, the Africa Union issued a declaration to double food productivity and halve poverty by 2025. Almost 1,000 delegates are expected to attend the four-day meeting. more

BBC News, 1 September 2014 

Eat less red meat to help save the planet, say academics

People should eat no more than two portions of red meat per week to help the environment and meet increasing global food demand, scientists have found.

A study by Cambridge and Aberdeen universities found that population growth and the trend for Westerners eating more meat means that soon farmers will not be able to raise enough livestock. And researchers warn that attempting to produce more meat could be devastating for the environment.

Increased deforestation, fertiliser use and livestock methane emissions likely to cause greenhouse gas emissions from food production to rise by almost 80 per cent by 2050, experts from the University of Cambridge and University of Aberdeen warn. more

The Telegraph, 31 August 2014 

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Britain has “significantly underestimated” the risk that crop pests pose to its food supply. Fungi and viruses present so great a danger to staples such as wheat and potatoes that they may force the nation to change its diet, an academic has warned.

The rise of deadly pests poses a threat to the world’s entire food system, but the UK is among the most vulnerable countries, according to a new study from the University of Exeter. It forecasts that food-growing nations, including the UK, will be “overwhelmed” by pests within the next 30 years as climate change, inadequate biosecurity measures and new variants help them spread.

“The UK has significantly underestimated the scale of the threat. This is a huge problem that is lacking in public and political awareness. People are absolutely paralysed with fear of diseases like Ebola, but while they are extremely dangerous, the need to tackle crop diseases is just as pressing,” said Professor Sarah Gurr, of the University of Exeter and Rothamsted Research. more

The Independent, 28 August 2014 

OSR genome reveals evolutionary 'love triangle'

An international team of scientists who have successfully mapped the genome of Brassica Napus – better known as oilseed rape – have said their discovery of the sequence has laid bare an "evolutionary love triangle."

The scientists, who published their findings in the journal Science, said their breakthrough paves the way for improving the key field crop, which is widely grown around the world. Oilseed rape is the third most commonly used vegetable oil worldwide, and the second most common source of protein for animal feed.  

"This genome sequence opens new doors to accelerating the improvement of canola," said professor Andrew Paterson from the University of Georgia, at Athens. "We can use this knowledge to tailor the plant's flowering time, make it more resistant to disease and improve a myriad of other traits that will make it more profitable for production." more

Farming Online, 26 August 2014 

Computers to protect crop harvests

Computer scientists are devising new and more efficient ways to spot diseased crops to help boost harvest yields. Researchers are developing image processing and machine learning programs to discover disease on pictures of crop leaves and assess the severity of infection.

A new detection system could dramatically speed up diagnosis compared to the current time-consuming method of walking among crops, using visual observation and estimation to calculate the disease’s damage. Novel diagnostic software could give growers more accurate information on which to base their disease control strategies and stop crop yields from being reduced by infection.

Dr Liangxiu Han, from the School of Computing, Maths and Digital Technology, is working with the Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) on the six-month pilot study.

Farming UK, 20 August 2014 

Web and Twitter keep farmers up to date in the field, survey shows

British farmers are ahead of their Continental counterparts on mobile computing and also increasingly use social media in their work, a survey by supplier Syngenta has found.

A full 64 per cent of UK farmers now have an internet-enabled smartphone, compared to an EU average of 53 per cent.

"There has clearly been a general increase of internet usage by farmers over the last five years, but we have experienced a very sharp rise in the past year, especially through mobile phones," said Syngenta's digital marketing manager Edwina Mullins. more

Horticulture Week, 19 August 2014  

Genetically engineered fruit flies could save crops

Releasing genetically engineered fruit flies into the wild could prove to be a cheap, effective and environmentally friendly way of pest control according to scientists at the University of East Anglia and Oxford Insect Technologies (Oxitec).

New research published today reveals how the release of genetically engineered male flies could be used as an effective population suppression method – saving crops around the world.

The Mediterranean fruit fly is a serious agricultural pest which causes extensive damage to crops. It is currently controlled by a combination of insecticides, baited traps, biological control and releasing sterilised insects to produce non-viable matings, known as the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT). more

Farm Business, 13 August 2014

Spud disease resistance sacrificed for perfect skin

Supermarket demand for perfect skin finish on potatoes is hampering efforts to produce disease- and virus-resistant varieties, according to one of the UK’s top breeders.

Speaking at the Potatoes in Practice event in Scotland, Finlay Dale, principal potato breeder at the James Hutton Institute, said the emphasis placed on skin finish was affecting how quickly breeders could meet some of the targets the industry “really needed’.

“The number of varieties that we and others have had rejected - even if they’re the most blight- and potato cyst nematode-resistant thing we have,” he said. “Just because the skin finish isn’t 100% right. more

Farmers Weekly, 10 August 2014 

First GM crops enriched with nutrients ready for harvest

The first genetically modified crops, enriched with nutrients to improve health, will be harvested within weeks following a landmark field trial in Britain.

In a major step towards GM food, a crop of camelina (false flax) has been spliced with genes which make Omega-3 so that its seeds will produce an oil rich in fatty acid normally only found in fish.

It is the first example of a new generation of so-called ‘nutraceuticals’ – plants whose genetic structure has been altered to introduce health-boosting properties. If future trials are successful, the plant oil will initially be fed to farmed fish, such as salmon, to boost their Omega-3 content and make food healthier for shoppers. more

The Telegraph, 6 August 2014 

£2m of grants awarded for food resilience research

Grants worth nearly £2 million have been awarded to examine the risks posed to the global food system by problems like food fraud. The recipients include Professor Chris Elliott, of Queens University Belfast, who has carried out a review of the ‘integrity and assurance’ of the UK’s food supply chain in the wake of the horsemeat scandal.

Prof Elliott will lead a project exploring the politics, sociology and psychology behind food fraud and how other countries deal with the problem.

The grants are provided by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which say they have areas of mutual interest around the challenges to the UK agri-food system, food safety, food fraud/crime and consumer trust. more

Farmers Guardian, 5 August 2014 

Organic farming on the rise in Europe, says EU

The amount of land in organic production across Europe has grown by about 5m ha over the past decade, according to latest figures from the European Union.

A study which looked at organic production across the EU over the past decade found that the it’s organic sector grew by about 500,000ha a year, with 9.6m ha of land - or 5.4% of the total farmed area - in organic production by 2011.

The report, The rapid growth of EU organic farming, found that organic agriculture grew by about 13% a year between 2002 and 2011. And while organic farms only account for 1.6% of the total number of farms in the EU, the number increased by tenfold between 2003 and 2010. more

Farmers Weekly, 4 August 2014 

Research into pesticides and bees must be transparent, urge MPs

MPs have warned that “critical” research on the impact of pesticides linked to damaging bee health must be transparent and open to independent scrutiny.

The government’s draft National Pollinator Strategy, which aims to protect bees and other pollinators worth an estimated £400m a year to the UK economy, sets out that part of the research into the effects of neonicotinoids on bees would be carried out by pesticide manufacturers.

In response to the draft plans, MPs on the parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), have called for the research to be “transparent and subject to independent controls” or it will “not inspire public confidence”. more

Farmers Weekly, 28 July 2014 

War of letters over call to abolish EC scientific adviser role

Battle lines are being drawn in scientific communities across Europe after an open letter from NGOs earlier this week called into question the need for a chief scientific adviser working for the president of the European Commission.

On Friday their call for the role's abolition provoked two further open letters supporting the post from major scientific organisations, including the Wellcome Trust and Royal Institution. more

The Guardian, 25 July 2014 

Sub-Saharan Africa's agricultural sector needs to harvest the fruits of biotechnology in order to establish sustainable development, says a report.

A key challenge is to attract funding for biotechnology projects on staple crops, such as cassava, it added. These crops were often ignored by commercial funders because they had a limited market, the authors suggested.

The report, On Trial: GM Crops in Africa, published by think tank Chatham House, said: "Increasing agricultural productivity and adapting farming to climate change are central to Africa's development prospects." more


Calls for proportionate approach to new crop science

Scientists are urging EU policymakers to adopt a proportionate approach to a potentially revolutionary new plant breeding technology in the wake of the effective block on GM crops in Europe.

Advances in sequencing the genome of the wheat plant has brought the science of ‘genome editing’ a big step nearer to producing ground-breaking new traits which could benefit farmers and consumers.

Last week, the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC) published a draft sequence of the wheat genome. IWGSC described the development as a ‘major landmark towards’ obtaining a complete reference sequence of the wheat genome. It estimates that the full genome sequence will be available within three years. more

Farmers Guardian, 24 July 2014  

Breakthrough in fight against deadly chicken disease

BBSRC-funded researchers at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) are a step closer to finding a new cost-effective vaccine for the intestinal disease, coccidiosis, which can have devastating effects on poultry production.

Chickens are the world's most popular food animal and global poultry production has tripled in the past 20 years. The world's chicken flock is now estimated to be around 21 billion, producing 1.1 trillion eggs and 60 billion broilers (90 million tonnes of meat) every year.

Coccidiosis is caused by protozoan parasites of the genus Eimeria, closely related to the parasites that cause malaria in humans. The infection affects chickens' intestines and if not controlled has extremely high morbidity and mortality rates. more

Royal Veterinary College, 23 July 2014 

Defra unveils 15 Agri-Tech projects

Projects to improve the taste of lamb and to develop an organic pesticide are among 15 innovative pieces of research to benefit from funding under the Government’s Agri-Tech strategy.

Defra has revealed 15 agri-tech projects that will receive a share of £18 million from Government and industry to help accelerate agricultural innovation and their commercial viability.

These are the first industrial research awards to be funded by the £70m Agri-Tech Catalyst, which is aiming to make the UK a world leader in agricultural science, innovation and sustainability. more

Farmers Guardian, 22 July 2014  

Beef environment cost 10 times that of other livestock

A new study suggests that the production of beef is around 10 times more damaging to the environment than any other form of livestock.

Scientists measured the environment inputs required to produce the main US sources of protein. Beef cattle need 28 times more land and 11 times more irrigation water than pork, poultry, eggs or dairy.

The research has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. While it has long been known that beef has a greater environmental impact than other meats, the authors of this paper say theirs is is the first to quantify the scale in a comparative way. more

BBC News, 21 July 2014 

Norfolk MP becomes Minister for Life Sciences

The Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman has been given his first ministerial job as Minister for Life Sciences jointly in the Department for Health and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Mr Freeman worked in the biomedical field before becoming an MP in 2010. In 2011 he was appointed Government Adviser on Life Sciences to the then Universities & Science Minister David Willetts. more

ITV News,  15 July 2014 

Science database could prevent and tackle disease outbreaks

Researchers at the University of Liverpool are building the world’s most comprehensive database describing human and animal pathogens, which they believe could be used to prevent and tackle disease outbreaks around the globe.

By effectively mapping the relationships between human and animal diseases and their hosts, disease-causing pathogens and the ways in which pathogens are transmitted, scientists can use the information to see what disease risks are in a population or geographical area, and how best to manage and eliminate them. more

Farmers Guardian, 15 July 2014

New Centre of Excellence for Plant and Microbial Science

Scientific partnerships between the UK and China are being strengthened with the establishment of a £12M centre for plant science and microbiology spanning the two countries.

The joint John Innes Centre/Chinese Academy of Sciences Centre of Excellence in Plant and Microbial Science will enhance research to support the agricultural technology and microbial genetics agendas of both countries.

This new agreement is the most advanced partnership between the UK and China of its kind and was developed with support from BBSRC, from which the John Innes Centre receives strategic funding. more

John Innes Centre, 14 July 2014 

Farming policy needs overhaul to tackle future problems, report says

Major changes are needed to the UK's food and farming policy if it is to combat food poverty, obesity and environmental problems of the future, according to a new report.

'Square Meal: why we need a new recipe for farming, wildlife, food and public health' is a new report published today by The Food Research Collaboration, the RSPB, Friends of the Earth, the National Trust, the Food Ethics Council, Sustain, the Wildlife Trusts, the Soil Association, Eating Better and Compassion in World Farming.

This new discussion document urges major changes to national food and farming policy. It calls for stronger government leadership in planning the future use of land, food policy, farming and conservation in England and for wider public engagement on issues that affect the whole of society. more

Farming UK, 14 July 2014 

Japanese plant experts produce 10,000 lettuce heads a day in LED-lit indoor farm

Could this be the future of agriculture? A physiologist has turned a former semiconductor factory into one of the world’s largest indoor farm, cultivating lettuces with LED lights. At almost half the size of a football pitch, the farm, which opened in Japan in July, is already churning out 10,000 lettuce heads a day, the brains behind it say.

Plant physiologist Shigeharu Shimamura wanted to explore ways that man could keep up with the ever-increasing food demand while bypassing the risks brought on by drought, crop disease and natural disasters. “I knew how to grow good vegetables biologically and I wanted to integrate that knowledge with hardware to make things happen,” Mr Shimamura said.

The climate controlled room is powered by LED fixtures that emit light at wavelengths – the most ideal for plant growth – while also giving the ‘farmers’ power to control the night and day cycles. more

The Independent, 12 July 2014 

Morrisons launches cattle farming app

Morrisons has become the first supermarket to launch a free app for cattle farmers aimed at simplifying livestock management.

The Morrisons Farming App is aimed primarily at beef producers and is available on all Android devices. It will also be available on Apple devices soon.

The app includes a live link to the British Cattle Movement Service so cattle data from multiple holdings can be viewed. It also enables the registering of cattle births, deaths and movements. more

Farmers Guardian, 9 July 2014  

Mustard growers face neonics challenge

One of Britain’s iconic niche crops could be hit harder than most by a European decision to ban neonicotinoid seed treatments.

Fewer than 20 farmers grow English mustard for Norwich-based Colman’s, which is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year. But the neonicotinoid ban means they face an additional challenge when establishing the crop this coming season.

The potential impact of the ban for oilseed rape growers has been well-documented. But the handful of English mustard growers could face even bigger consequences – partly because there are fewer alternatives to neonicotinoids when it comes to controlling pests in mustard. more

Farmers Weekly, 8 July 2014 

MPs push for reduction in antibiotics on farm

Ministers must step up action to stop the unnecessary use of antibiotics in farm animals, say MPs. They say the use of antibiotics in healthy animals to promote growth has sky-rocketed during the past 40 years.

And if the government doesn’t take steps to curb their routine use, there is danger that antibiotics-resistant bacteria in the food supply will endanger human health.

The warning is contained in a report published on Monday (7 July) by MPs on the House of Commons’ Science and Technology Committee, entitled Ensuring Access to Working Antimicrobials. more

Farmers Weekly, 7 July 2014

Radical plan needed to stop spread of cattle TB – study

New research suggests that the spread of TB in cattle can only be controlled if more radical measures are adopted. Culling of entire herds, more testing and cattle vaccination are needed to reverse the spread of the disease.

The lead researcher has told BBC News that the study also confirms research that shows culling badgers will at best slightly slow down rather than stop the epidemic.The results have been published in the journal Nature.

Prof Matt Keeling of Warwick University, who led the research, told BBC News that computer projections showed that the current measures adopted by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) are unlikely to reverse the spread of TB in cattle. more

BBC News, 2 July 2014 

UK future food security threatened by complacency, MPs warn

The UK’s ability to feed itself is threatened by “complacency” over the extreme weather driven by climate change and increasing competition for food as the world’s population grows, MPs warned on Tuesday.

The environment, food and rural affairs (Efra) select committee said ministers must put plans in place to secure supplies of fruit and vegetables and the soya needed to feed the nation’s dairy herds, noting that the UK’s self-sufficiency for food that can be grown domestically has fallen from 87% to 68% in 20 years. The MPs also urged the embracing of technology, including genetically modified crops and robots that weed fields. more

The Guardian, 1 July 2014 

UK faces ‘significant’ shortage of farmland by 2030   

Britain is running out of land for food and faces a potential shortfall of two million hectares by 2030 according to new research.

The report, from the University of Cambridge, says the growing population plus the use of land for energy crops are contributing to the gap.

It criticises the government's lack of a coherent vision on how to make the most of UK farm land. The authors warn that tough choices may need to be made on future land use. more

BBC News, 25 June 2014 

EU azole review threatens fungicides' future

The European Commission has published a roadmap for identifying chemicals with endocrine-disrupting properties, which threatens the future of one of the most popular group of cereal fungicides.

The report, published this week, sets out the timetable the commission is working towards to define endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), which have been linked to a range of serious illnesses.

But any decision to classify endocrine-disrupting chemicals could have a massive effect on international trade and the marketing of some widely used pesticides, such as azole fungicides, and farmers’ ability to use them, the NFU has warned. more

Farmers Weekly, 24 June 2014 

The aim of the Innovation for Agriculture (IfA) scheme will be to use agricultural societies around the country as hubs for knowledge and technology transfer.

It follows the roll out of the Government’s £160 million Agri Tech strategy, which aims to make the UK a world leader in agricultural technology and innovation. more

Farmers Guardian, 24 June 2014

Researchers in twin breakthrough against blight

Scientists from international consortia including the James Hutton Institute are making headway in the fight against blight, a plant disease responsible for major famine and loss of life throughout history. They have managed to track down the origins of Phytophthora infestans, the pathogen responsible for blight of potato, tomato and other related hosts, as well as to spatially map its distribution and diversity across Europe.

In a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, an international research group has pinned down the origins of potato late blight to a scenic highland valley in central Mexico. The findings are relevant not just in terms of agricultural history, but also because they may aid researchers in their quest for food security through disease resistance. This is quite topical as there’s no respite from blight: so far in 2014 there have been 60 outbreaks in the UK. more

James Hutton Institute, 19 June 2014 

GM banana designed to slash African infant mortality enters human trials

A genetically modified banana which has the potential to dramatically reduce infant mortality and blindness in children across Africa is to undergo its first human trials in a major step towards becoming a staple for millions of people.

The GM banana developed by Australian scientists is enriched with vitamin A to combat a nutritional deficiency which leads to hundreds of thousands of deaths, and children losing their sight across the world every year.

Researchers hope that the bioengineered crop, which increases the level of beta-carotene in a particular type of cooking banana grown in East Africa, will go into commercial production in Uganda by 2020 if proven to be effective at producing increased levels of vitamin A. The banana is one of a series of GM organisms - from a vitamin A-enhanced rice variety to a mosquito that could help combat malaria - which scientists and their backers say could have a massive effect on problems of malnutrition and disease in the developing world. more

The Independent, 16 June 2014

Plants send out new roots towards water

Scientists have discovered how the presence of even small amounts of water can influence the structure of plant roots in soil, a finding that opens up new possibilities to improve water and nutrient foraging for important food crops.

The degree of root branching determines the efficiency of water uptake and acquisition of nutrients in crops. Understanding the regulation of root branching is therefore of vital importance, and the researchers, from the University of Nottingham, believe the added knowledge could lead to development of higher yielding crop plants. more

Farming Online, 16 June 2014 

EU to limit production of biofuels from food crops

EU energy ministers agreed to limit production of biofuels made from food crops on Friday, in response to criticism these stoke inflation and do more environmental harm than good.

The ministers' endorsement of a new compromise overcomes last year's stalemate when EU governments failed to agree on a proposed 5% cap on the use of biofuels based on crops such as maize or rapeseed.

Friday's deal would set a 7% limit on the use of food-based biofuels in transport fuel. It must now be considered by the newly-elected European parliament. more

The Guardian, 13 June 2014 

EU ministers back deal with option to ban or approve GM crops

A compromise deal to give European Union states the option of banning genetically modified crops won approval from EU environment ministers on Thursday, bringing the EU closer to ending years of deadlock over GM cultivation.

Widely grown in the Americas and Asia, GM crops in Europe have divided opinion, with strong opposition in many countries, including France and Germany, while Britain favors them.

Thursday's compromise deal drew criticism from both opponents and supporters of growing GM food in Europe. Monsanto, maker of the only GM crop grown in the EU, said if the law were enacted as drafted, the company would continue to focus its investment in other parts of the world. The European Green Party, meanwhile, described the deal as "a Trojan horse" that would open the door to GM crops across Europe. more

Reuters, 12 June 2014 

Pesticide 'zealots' threaten food production

Overzealous restrictions on pesticides mean farmers face a growing challenge to produce enough food, industry leaders have warned at the Cereals Event.

The crop protection toolbox is becoming worryingly depleted at a time when British farmers need to produce more crops, said the NFU.

Crop production – which is already flatlining – would be sent into decline if British farmers continued to lose access to key crop protection materials, it added. Statistics show that half of pesticides have been lost since 2001, claimed the union. more

Farmers Weekly, 11 June 2014 

Economic benefit of research at IBERS highlighted

An independent report on the BBSRC-funded Institute of Biological Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University has shown that every £1 of public funding invested there in 2012/13 generated £12.18 of benefit for the UK economy.

IBERS is strategically funded by BBSRC and generated a total economic benefit of £365M Gross Value Added (GVA) for the UK economy and supported almost 2,450 jobs.

The report, by independent economic consultancy BIGGAR Economics, analysed the impact of the internationally recognised research and teaching centre. It highlights how fundamental and applied research has already made an impact and how it will continue to do so. more

BBSRC, 10 June 2014 

Climate change could slash wheat yields

The changing climate and likelihood of more frequent adverse weather conditions could have a detrimental impact on wheat yields in Europe by 2060, scientists have warned.

A group of international researchers, including scientists from Rothamsted Research, Harpenden, used climate scenarios based on the most up-to-date climate projections to predict the frequency and severity of weather extremes affecting wheat production across Europe in the next 50 years.

The team found the probability of more than one of these extreme events occurring during a wheat cultivation season was likely to increase. The severity of their effect on wheat yield depends on the type of the cultivar, said the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change. more

Farmers Guardian, 8 June 2014 

Root growth regulation could help boost crop performance

Scientists have uncovered a new mechanism by which plants can regulate root architecture, a discovery that could lead to better ways of growing crops.

Adaptable roots are critical for plants to survive in changing environmental conditions, to anchor the plant to the ground and take up water and nutrients. One important aspect of root architecture is root branching, or lateral root development, a complex process involving plant hormones, environmental signals, and many genes and proteins.

Working on the plant species Arabidopsis, BBSRC-funded researchers from the universities of Birmingham and Nottingham discovered that a gene called AtMYB93 plays an important role in the regulation of root branching. They found that plants where AtMYB93 was switched off had faster growing lateral roots and more of them, whereas the opposite was the case in plants where the gene was expressed at a higher level than usual. more

BBSRC, 6 June 2014 

UK self-sufficiency drops for third consecutive year

The UK’s self-sufficiency in food has dropped for the third successive year, prompting fresh calls for action to help reverse the trend and increase home production.

The country’s self-sufficiency in food types that can be grown in this country fell from 77% in 2012 to 73% in 2013, according to provisional figures released in the past few days by Defra.

Overall this means that last year the UK only produced 60% of the food consumed by its inhabitants, compared with a high of 75% in the late 1980s and early 1990s and 62% in 2012.

Latest statistics released by the government in its Agriculture in the United Kingdom document show the biggest rise in imports was in grain. more

Farmers Weekly, 4 June 2014 

New neonicotinoid report sparks evidence-led calls

Scientists are calling for an evidence-led debate into the impact of neonicotinoid pesticides in pollinators. An EU ban on certain neonicotinoids was introduced in December 2013 because of fears they are harming pollinating insects. 

A restatement of the scientific evidence on neonicotinoids has been published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The restatement, from a group of nine scientists led by Prof Charles Godfray and Prof Angela McLean of the Oxford Martin School, Oxford University, clarifies the scientific evidence available on neonicotinoids.

Prof Godfray said: “Pollinators are clearly exposed to neonicotinoid insecticides, but seldom to lethal doses, and we need a better understanding of the consequences of realistic sub-lethal doses to the insect individual, bee colony and pollinator population.”

Prof McLean added; “A major question to be addressed is what farmers will do now that they face restrictions on the use of neonicotinoids. Will they switch to crops which need less insecticide treatment or might they apply older but more dangerous chemicals?” more

Farmers Guardian, 28 May 2014 

GM crops: organic farmer loses court case over alleged contamination                       

An organic farmer has lost a landmark court case against a neighbour who grew genetically modified food. Steve Marsh was suing his neighbour and former friend Michael Baxter for $85,000 after claiming that GM canola drifted onto his oats, rye and sheep farm at Kojonup, 260km south-east of Perth.

As well as financial compensation, Marsh wanted Western Australia’s supreme court to issue a permanent injunction banning Baxter from planting GM crops.

But Justice Kenneth Martin came down on the side of Baxter when he delivered his judgment on Wednesday. more

The Guardian, 28 May 2014

EU pesticide clampdown threatens viability of UK crop industry

The viability of the UK crop sector is under threat from moves to tighten EU pesticide regulations, which could remove up to half the currently available crop protection products, industry leaders have warned.

UK politicians have this week been urged to ensure they make the scientific case at EU level against unjustified restrictions which could render the UK uncompetitive in the global crop market.

Last year’s suspension of vital neonicotinoid seed dressing products could be just the start of a wider EU clampdown on crop protection products. more

Farmers Guardian, 23 May 2014 

EU boasts high pesticide compliance rate

The European Food Safety Authority's (EFSA) latest annual report on pesticide residues has found that 97.5 per of some 79,000 food product samples tested were within the maximum residue levels (MRLs) of pesticides permitted in the EU. According to the EFSA, the report contains findings from a record number of tests carried out in 2011.

More pesticide residues exceeding the MRLs were found in food imported from countries outside the European Union (6.3 per cent) than in samples originating from EU and European Free Trade Associations (1.5 per cent).

The EFSA report concludes that there is no long-term risk to consumer health from dietary exposure from 99 per cent of 171 pesticides assessed. more

EuroFruit, 21 May 2014 

Innovation centres will help farmers access 'big data'

The first UK innovation centre to launch under the Government’s Agri-Tech Strategy should enable farmers to access world class research and data which at one time may have only benefited larger enterprises.

The new facility will be the Centre for Agricultural Informatics and Sustainability Metrics and is expected to be based inside a research facility already in operation. Defra envisages it will be set up and operated by a single consortium of publicly and privately-funded organisations, with small and medium-sized businesses playing an ‘influential role’.

Ian Meikle who is head of agriculture and food for the Government’s Technology Strategy Board said the challenge would be to help all farmers benefit from data. more

Farmers Guardian, 20 May 2014 

GM crops benefit farmers and environment. study claims

Farmers who grow biotech crops benefit from increased yields and deliver more environmentally friendly farming practices, a new global impacts study of GMs claims.

Biotech crops contributed to significantly reducing the release of greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural practices, according to the report.

GM Crops: Global Socio-Economic and Environmental Impacts 1996-2012 was published this week by UK-based consultancy PG Economics. more

Farmers Weekly, 17 May 2014

Action needed to address 'stagnation' in science and innovation

The UK farming industry is under threat due to a major ‘slowdown’ in technology and innovation, experts have claimed. Ten months on from the launch of the Government’s £160 million Agri Tech strategy, leaders in science and research said little had been done to bridge the gap between ‘basic science and applied science’.

The UK has some of the best research scientists and institutes in the world, but where it was once comparable to other western European countries, it now lags significantly behind major competitors in productivity growth, which has stalled.

Royal Agricultural Society of England (RASE) chief executive David Gardner said unless there was a sea change in how knowledge was transferred into the field, the UK would continue to fall behind countries such as the USA, Netherlands and Spain. more

Farmers Guardian, 16 May 2014 


El Nino events can have a significant impact on the yields of certain major food crops, a study has shown. Researchers say the climatic phenomenon, which triggers changes in temperature and rainfall, can reduce maize yields by more than 4%.

El Nino episodes are caused by changes in the sea surface temperature in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean.

Writing in Nature Communications, the team said the data could be used by governments to manage food supplies. more


Up to 70 jobs axed at James Hutton Institute amid cuts

Dozens of jobs are to be axed at a leading Scottish farming and environmental research centre. The James Hutton Institute, based in Invergowrie and Aberdeen, is to cut up to 70 jobs as part of a voluntary redundancy scheme aimed at reducing costs.

Chief executive Prof Iain Gordon said the institute needed to adapt to an "ever-changing funding environment". The voluntary redundancy scheme will be opened to staff in May.

The institute, which operates a number of farms leading research into crops including barley and potatoes, has about 600 staff split between its two sites. more

BBC News, 14 May 2014 

Farmer-led research crucial for food security

A sustainable food supply hinges on agricultural innovation, but current investments neglect a key area for improving crop yields, according to new research.

The study, published in scientific journal Nature, highlights the need for more research designed by and for farmers as crucial to the chances of meeting the global demand for food.

Agriculture: Engage farmers in research, was written jointly by the Soil Association’s director of innovation, Tom MacMillan, and Professor Tim Benton of the UK’s Global Food Security Programme. The paper suggests that investing more research into smaller farming businesses could help small-scale farmers boost yields to help sustainable farming. more

Farmers Weekly, 8 May 2014 

Climate change reduces nutrients in food crops

New research, published in the scientific journal Nature this week, has revealed that higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will have serious effects on the nutrients in a range of crop plants – bad news for farmers, and consumers.

Based on predicted atmospheric CO2 levels for 2050, crops that provide a large share of the global population with most of their dietary zinc and iron will have lost a significant amount of these nutrients within the next thirty years. more

Farming Online, 8 May 2014 

Joint action needed to tackle massive global food losses

Tackling the world’s massive food loss problem is a key to reducing hunger and poverty, but governments and companies must step up their collaboration on the issue, an international congress on food losses and waste has heard.

Speaking at the 2nd SAVE FOOD International Congress in Düsseldorf, FAO Assistant Director-General Ren Wang underlined that effective coordination across all sectors could make “a real difference” to one of the world’s major food security challenges.

While 842 million people suffer from chronic hunger, around 1.3 billion tonnes of food is lost or wasted every year. FAO estimates that the food produced but never eaten would be sufficient to feed two billion people.Even just halving the current level of losses would have a dramatic impact on the projected 60 percent increase in food availability required to feed a global population of 9 billion by 2050. more

Farm Business, 8 May 2014 

DEFRA plans to privatise part of science agency

Private sector companies are being invited to invest in the government’s Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA). DEFRA has launched a procurement exercise to seek a private sector business to work as a partner for the organisation, a leader in environmental science.

FERA currently provides a range of scientific services across food and farming industries. It runs more than 600 research projects each year. This includes plant and bee health, sustainable crop production, a badger vaccination project for bovine TB, and tackling ash dieback, the fungus that decimated European ash trees.

Under the proposals, up to three-quarters of FERA’s research would be undertaken by a joint venture involving a private sector investor. more

Farmers Weekly, 7 May 2014 

Agri-Food businesses call for an EU policy shift towards innovation

A broad coalition of groups representing Europe’s agricultural and food business interests is calling for better and smarter policy-making that fosters innovation and creates jobs, ensuring that the EU agri-food chain becomes more productive and resource-efficient.

The group of 11 EU-level associations presented their joint "Vision for unlocking the potential of agriculture and food industries in the EU" during the meeting of EU Ministers for Agriculture in Athens on 6 May.

The coalition includes numerous agricultural input industries such as suppliers of machinery, seed, fertilisers, crop protection, animal health, feed and biotechnology-based products, as well as the agricultural trade and of course EU farmers and the European food and drink sector. Together, these industries account for about 30 million jobs and 3.5% of the EU’s gross value added. more

Fresh Plaza, 6 May 2014 

Insects could replace soya as animal feed protein

Insects could replace soya as a cheap and secure source of pig and poultry feed on farms across Europe. Researchers think insects such as the common house fly could be the way to end Europe’s dependency on imported protein crops for animal feed.

As well as being cheaper than conventional protein sources, they say animals actually prefer insects to soya, and that insects help produce better-tasting meat.

Speaking at the British Society of Animal Science at the University of Nottingham, Dr Adrian Charlton of the Food and Environment Research Agency said insects could eventually be a viable alternative to conventional feed. more

Farmers Weekly, 1 May 2014 

Climate change increases threat of wheat rust epidemics

Climate change is increasing the threat of emerging wheat rusts that could have devastating effects on wheat production in the UK, scientists have warned.

In recent years, aggressive new strains of wheat rusts, such as yellow (stripe) rust and leaf stem rust, caused by particular rust fungus, have wiped out up to 40% of harvests in countries in Africa, the Middle East and central Asia.

And the threat of different rusts hitting UK wheat crops is being intensified by climate change, according to scientists. who are using wild grasses and barley to combat the problem. more


Interested parties sought for 'world-class' agri-data centre

The Government is inviting proposals from businesses and research institutions interested in coming together to form a ‘world class’ centre to promote agricultural innovation.

The Government’s Agri-tech strategy, published last July, committed £90 million to establish centres for agricultural innovation.

The overarching aim of the strategy is to encourage businesses to develop, adapt and exploit new technologies and the first centre would be a single point of access for data on the agricultural industry. more

Farmers Guardian, 23 April 2014 

Government must step in over land based skills gap

Education authorities are being urged to offer more agricultural and land based courses to help plug the widening skills gap in the agricultural sector.

It comes after an updated report by sector skills council Lantra highlighted the need for 600,000 new recruits by 2020.

The report calls on education leaders to bring ‘relevant subject matter’ to courses and focus on the skills needed by the industry, as well as promoting the right qualifications, training and career paths to young people and adults. more

Farmers Guardian, 22 April 2014

Trial of GM plants to help fight heart disease given go-ahead

Scientists have been given permission to grow genetically modified plants that could help protect against heart disease.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has given the go-ahead for the field trial of a crop of GM camelina plants, the seeds of which are modified to produce fish oils. The oils could provide feed for farmed fish, meaning that fewer fish need to be caught from the sea, and ultimately could be used in health supplements or as an additive in foods such as margarine.

Scientists at Rothamsted Research Centre in Hertfordshire who will run the trial hailed the decision as a significant milestone for research into genetically modified plants. more

The Guardian, 17 April 2014 

Agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions on the rise

New FAO estimates of greenhouse gas data show that emissions from agriculture, forestry and fisheries have nearly doubled over the past fifty years and could increase an additional 30 percent by 2050, without greater efforts to reduce them.

This is the first time that FAO has released its own global estimates of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU), contributing to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Agricultural emissions from crop and livestock production grew from 4.7 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents* (CO2 eq) in 2001 to over 5.3 billion tonnes in 2011, a 14 percent increase.  The increase occurred mainly in developing countries, due to an expansion of total agricultural outputs. more

Farm Business, 13 April 2014 

DEFRA slammed for stance on UK self-sufficiency

Farming leaders have criticised the government’s attitude towards agriculture after farm minister George Eustice said he was happy with the level of UK self-sufficiency in food.

NFU vice-president Guy Smith said he was disappointed that Mr Eustice told a parliamentary committee the government was content with current levels of self-sufficiency – even though the UK produces just 62% of its own food, down from 75% in 1991.

Giving evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Mr Eustice said: “Food security is not just about self-sufficiency at a national level. Actually having open markets and free trade globally has got a very important role to play in making sure we have food security.” more

Farmers Weekly, 11 April 2014 

Peter Kendall named as new AHDB chairman

Former NFU president Peter Kendall has been appointed chairman of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board.

Mr Kendall takes up the role for a three-year term with immediate effect. He replaces John Godfrey, who stepped down after his term in office at the end of March.

Funded by farmers and others in the supply chain, the AHDB works to improve the competitiveness and sustainability of agriculture and horticulture through advice, information and promotional activity. more

Farmers Weekly, 7 April 2014 

Urgent action on food waste needed

The House of Lords EU Committee has today called for urgent action on food waste in Europe highlighting that at least 90 million tonnes of food is wasted across the EU each year.

In a report published today, the Committee urges action on the basis that food waste represents a financial and environmental loss of resources. The 15 million tonnes of food wasted in the UK each year equates to a financial loss to business of at least £5 billion per year.

Environmentally, the carbon footprint of worldwide food waste is equivalent to twice the global greenhouse gas emission of all road transportation in the USA. more

House of Lords European Union Committee, 6 April 2014 

Princess Anne: Gassing badgers is most humane way to cull

Gassing is the most humane way to cull badgers, the Princess Royal has said.

Princess Anne, who has lost 15 of her rare breed cattle to bovine TB in the past two years, was speaking to BBC One's Countryfile programme at her Gatcombe Park estate.

Her comments come after the government said it would not expand badger culling from two pilot culls aimed at reducing TB in cattle. Defra said "initial investigations" into the use of gas were taking place. more

BBC News, 4 April 2014

Badger cull expansion abandoned after trial failure

The government has abandoned its planned expansion of badger culling to reduce TB in cattle. The environment department's original plan was to announce up to 10 new cull areas in South West England each year.

Defra's own independent assessment shows that culls in two pilot areas were not effective, and raised questions about their humaneness.

These pilot culls will continue, though there will be no independent oversight to assess their future performance. more

BBC News, 3 April 2014           

Animal lab cuts ‘pose threat to human health’

Cuts to animal health surveillance mean Britain is at a much greater risk of outbreaks of devastating diseases such as "mad cow disease", experts say.

The Royal College of Pathologists (RCP) says human health could be at risk. The RCP is calling for an urgent review of plans to cut the number of animal health surveillance laboratories in England and Wales from 14 to seven.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) says the cuts are part of an "improved approach". more

BBC News, 1 April 2014 

Climate impacts 'overwhelming' - UN

The impacts of global warming are likely to be "severe, pervasive and irreversible", a major report by the UN has warned. Scientists and officials meeting in Japan say the document is the most comprehensive assessment to date of the impacts of climate change on the world.

Members of the UN's climate panel say it provides overwhelming evidence of the scale of these effects.

Natural systems now bear the brunt, but a growing impact on humans is feared. Our health, homes, food and safety are all likely to be threatened by rising temperatures, the summary says. more

BBC News, 31 March 2014 

£4 million for agricultural innovation

Businesses including an urban farm and spin-outs from universities across the UK have received a share of £4 million of funding from government and industry to develop their innovative business ideas.

The government funding comes from the £70 million Agri-Tech Catalyst announced as part of the UK Industrial Strategy for Agricultural Technologies. It is designed to support businesses and universities to bridge the difficult gap between lab research and the marketplace.

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said: “The pioneering projects announced today are the businesses of the future and this funding will make a real difference in bringing innovative ideas from the lab to the marketplace. This work is critical in supporting the UK’s Agri-tech Strategy and our commitment to establish the UK as a world leader in agriculture technology, innovation and sustainability.”

Agriculture and Science Minister Lord De Mauley said: “Farmers are the backbone of the £97 billion agri-food sector. The 11 projects announced today will be invaluable in helping them take advantage of the latest science and innovation, supporting our world-class agricultural technology sector.” more

BIS/Defra/DfID, 28 March 2014 

Climate change could prolong world hunger for decades, says Oxfam

World hunger could be prolonged for decades because our global food system is “woefully” unprepared for the impacts of climate change, an Oxfam report has warned.

The paper, titled Hot and Hungry: How to stop climate change derailing the fight against hunger, says that rising temperatures, extreme weather and changing rainfall patterns caused by climate change are already affecting crop yields across the world.

Oxfam lists examples such as the devastating typhoon that hit the Philippines in 2013, the flooding of the Somerset Levels and droughts in Brazil and California as recent disasters that have threatened food production. Climate scientists have already predicted that climate change will increase the chances of similar weather events occurring around the planet. more

Blue & Green Tomorrow, 26 March 2014 

British food too cheap warns supply chain expert

The continual drive to produce the cheap food that fuels supermarket competition is having a damaging effect on the environment and agricultural biodiversity, as well as the capacity of the land to continue to produce food sustainably.

Speaking about food poverty and the constant push to make food cheaper, Ralph Early, who is head of the food science and agri-food supply chain management at Harper Adams, warned the days of cheap food must draw to a close.

He said: “Some people believe that the simple solution to food poverty is to make food cheaper, which often means producing cheaper raw materials. But, if we are at all concerned with agricultural sustainability and the capacity of the land to feed us long into the future, we must ask ourselves whether food in Britain is actually too cheap.” more

Farmers Guardian, 24 March 2014 

Heatwaves could threaten frood crops, study warns

Future heatwaves could threaten key global food crops if climate change is not addressed, according to a British study. Researchers came to the conclusion after estimating the effects of extreme temperatures and raised carbon dioxide levels on maize, wheat and soybean production. 

While more C02 in the atmosphere may boost plant growth, this effect is likely to be counteracted by extreme heat, they warn. Crops are especially vulnerable to heat around anthesis, the flowering period of the plant.

“At this stage, extreme temperatures can lead to reduced pollen sterility and reduced seed set, greatly reducing the crop yield,” said lead scientist Delphine Deryng, from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia. more

The Guardian, 20 March 2014 

PAC says agriculture research body failed to deliver ‘value for money’

A body doing crucial work for the agri-food industry has failed to deliver good value for money on £253m of spending, a report has found.

The report by the Public Accounts Committee (Pac) at Stormont stated management of the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) had been "unacceptably poor".

The institute was set-up in 2006 and is run by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. It carries out scientific research. more

BBC News, 19 March 2014  

Researchers aim to develop portable TB testing device

Scientists say they are in the process of developing a portable testing device capable of detecting bovine TB (bTB) in cattle in just a matter of minutes

In a three-year study, at Nottingham Trent University (NTU), co-funded by the Technology Strategy Board, scientists are identifying ‘biological markers’ – or molecules – in the blood, which indicate the presence of bovine TB.

The next stage of this, the subject of a £1.1 million collaborative study, is to develop a rapid ‘point of care’ device, about the size of a smartphone, that could be used by vets to give ‘an almost instant diagnosis from a simple blood test at farm sites’. more

Farmers Guardian, 19 March 2014 

Climate change to hit crop yields sooner than thought

New research, led by scientists at the University of Leeds, has shown that global warming of only 2°C will be detrimental to crops in temperate and tropical regions alike, and that changes will begin to have marked effects on yields sooner than had been anticipated.

According to the scientists, yields could begin falling from the 2030s onwards.

Professor Andy Challinor, from the University's School of Earth and Environment led the study. Prof Challinor said, "Our research shows that crop yields will be negatively affected by climate change much earlier than expected… The impact of climate change on crops will vary both from year-to-year and from place-to-place – with the variability becoming greater as the weather becomes increasingly erratic.” more

Farming Online, 17 March 2014 

David Cameron's science advisers call for expansion of GM crops

David Cameron's official science advisers have called for GM crops to be rolled out across the UK by scrapping "dysfunctional" EU regulations that risk curtailing future food supplies.

"We take it for granted that because our supermarket shelves are groaning with food, there are no problems with the food supply, but there are," said government's chief scientific adviser, Professor Sir Mark Walport, citing rising global population, limited farmland and climate change. "If we don't use GM the risk is people going unfed."

In a report published on Friday, the scientists say GM crops should face the same regulation as conventional crops and that the UK government should take back powers from Brussels to be able to unilaterally approve the growing of GM crops across the UK. more

The Guardian, 14 March 2014

Environment groups condemn GM crop plan

Environment groups have written to the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister to condemn Environment Secretary Owen Paterson’s support for growing GM crops in Britain. Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, GeneWatch UK, GM Freeze and the Soil Association expressed concerns that controversial Roundup Ready GM crops might be planted in England as early as Spring 2015.

At the EU’s March Environment Council meeting Paterson supported a proposal that would fast-track GM crops for commercial cultivation in pro-GM countries, while allowing anti-GM countries to opt out. 

Farming UK, 11 March 2014 

‘Embrace technology to maintain food security’, says CLA 

The CLA has told the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) Select Committee that the UK must invest in technology to protect food security. Giving evidence, CLA President Henry Robinson told the Committee that a massive rise in the global demand for food needs to be tackled by utilising new technology.

CLA President Henry Robinson said: “The UK has been slow to recognise the full range of techniques available to improve farming methods. China’s changing diet and the expected rise of Asian middle classes from 500 million people to three billion in just 15 years will considerably impact meat and dairy availability.

“The arable sector has a greater capacity to invest in these precision technologies and reap the rewards of the huge opportunities that are available. However, livestock farmers need help if they are to facilitate the new technology.”

Farm Business, 6 March 2014 

Virtual honey bee colony could measure effects of pesticides

Scientists have created a computer model which simulates a honey bee colony in order to see how bees are affected by environmental changes such as pesticide use. The BEEHAVE model, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, was created to investigate the losses of honey bee colonies and to identify the best course of action for improving bee health.

It simulates the life of a colony including the queen’s egg laying, brood care by nurse bees and foragers collecting nectar and pollen in a realistic landscape.

The project, which was funded by an Industrial Partnership Award from BBSRC with co-funding from Syngenta, will also investigate the use of pesticides on bee populations. more

Farmers Guardian, 4 March 2014 

Crop diversity decline ‘threatens food security’

Fewer crop species are feeding the world than 50 years ago - raising concerns about the resilience of the global food system, a study has shown.

The authors warned a loss of diversity meant more people were dependent on key crops, leaving them more exposed to harvest failures.

Higher consumption of energy-dense crops could also contribute to a global rise in heart disease and diabetes, they added. The study appears in the journal PNAS. more

BBC News, 3 March 2014 

MEPs call on EU to support a competitive plant breeding sector

The European Parliament is urging the European Commission to boost investment in EU plant breeding research to help Europe’s farmers meet future food needs and cope with climate change.

This week, MEPs adopted a report from the Agriculture Committee highlighting the critical importance of having an effective and competitive European plant breeding industry, and calling on the Commission to step up its efforts to create a coherent and long-term framework for plant breeding research in the EU.

In particular, the report highlights the need for higher-yielding varieties to meet increased demands for food and feed, and for plant breeding research to focus on developing crops with improved resilience to more extreme weather conditions and new disease challenges. more

Farm Business, 28 February 2014 

More than 20,000 crops from more than 100 nations have arrived at a "Doomsday vault" in the Arctic Circle.

The latest delivery coincides with the sixth anniversary of the frozen depository in Svalbard, which now houses more than 800,000 samples. The shipment includes the first offering from Japan, where collections were threatened by the devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

The facility is designed to withstand all natural and human disasters. more


Biodiesel by-product could be used to protect soil quality

Scientists at the BBSRC strategically-funded institute Rothamsted Research have shown that a waste product from biodiesel manufacture could be used to protect soil quality for agriculture.

An important goal in agricultural sustainability is to establish better management of nitrogen (N) to prevent "leaching" of nitrate (NO3) out of the soil into water. more

BBSRC, 24 February 2014 

East Anglian researchers in race to develop new higher-yielding wheats

Arable farmers have been struggling for the past two decades to boost average production as national yields have been on a plateau. The opportunity to smash through this yield barrier has long been a goal of plant breeders and scientists but a team of researchers at Cambridge has achieved some dramatic progress with a potential “superwheat.”

Even a yield improvement of about 15pc on the country’s farms could be worth an estimated £416m, said Prof Andy Greenland, who is NIAB’s director of genetics and breeding. He leads the six-strong team at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany, which was established in 1919 at Cambridge, and has been shortlisted for an Innovator of the Year award. more

Eastern Daily Press, 22 February 2014 

Flood-proofing farming: a grass roots approach

Scientists at two BBSRC-funded institutes – Aberystwyth University's Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) and Rothamsted Research North Wyke in Devon – are developing new grasses that enable soils to capture increased volumes of rainfall, thereby reducing the risk of flooding downstream.

The 5 year £2.5M LINK project named SUREROOT is funded by BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council), and match-funded by a range of industrial partners from across the food production spectrum, including a seed company, a major retailer and the meat, poultry and dairy industry. more

BBSRC, 20 February 2014 

Genetically modified potatoes ‘resist late blight’

British scientists have developed genetically modified potatoes that are resistant to the vegetable's biggest threat - blight. A three-year trial has shown that these potatoes can thrive despite being exposed to late onset blight. That disease has plagued farmers for generations and it triggered the Irish potato famine in the 1840s.

EU approval is needed before commercial cultivation of this GM crop can take place. The research is published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. more

BBC News, 17 February 2014 

Scientists identify TB-resistant genes

Scientists have identified genetic traits in cattle that could allow farmers to breed livestock with increased resistance to bovine tuberculosis (bTB).The research, led by the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute, compared the genes of TB-infected and disease-free Holstein Friesian cows.

They were able to identify a number of genetic signatures associated with TB resistance in the cows that remained unaffected.

Researchers at the institute said the latest finding is significant as it sheds further light on whether it might be possible to improve TB control through selective breeding. more

Farmers Weekly, 13 February 2014 

EU set to grow more GM maize despite strong opposition

The EU is set to approve a new type of genetically modified maize for cultivation despite huge opposition. The European Commission says the US-developed maize variety, called Pioneer 1507, is safe and the decision is now in the Commission's hands.

Most EU governments objected to it in a vote, but the vote tally was still not enough to block it. Under EU rules, the Commission can now authorise it. Only one GM crop - another maize variety - is grown in the EU currently. more

BBC News, 11 February 2014 

High-oleic hemp may be low-input OSR alternative

Hemp crops producing oil with similar qualities to olive oil could become an alternative to oilseed rape in UK rotations, but without many of the disease and pest problems seen with rape.

Scientists at the University of York have successfully developed hemp plants with a dramatically increased content of oleic acid, the fatty acid more often associated with olive and rapeseed oils. more

Farmers Weekly, 10 February 2014 

Organic farming 'boosts biodiversity and bees'

Organic farms support 34% more plant, insect and animal species on average compared with conventional farms, according to Oxford academics.

Researchers from the University of Oxford reviewed farm data going back 30 years and they concluded that organic farms yielded greater biodiversity benefits than intensively-farmed land. The study, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, also found that on average, non-organic farms have about 50% fewer species of pollinators, such as bees, than organic farms.

“Our study has shown that organic farming, as an alternative to conventional farming, can yield significant long-term benefits for biodiversity,” said Sean Tuck, study lead author, of Oxford University’s department of plant sciences. more

Farmers Weekly, 4 February 2014 

New funding to create healthier and safer food

A low calorie chocolate that tastes just as good as the real thing and a white bread with high fibre are just two of the projects being funded that could make a difference to your diet and health in the future.

£8.5M is being invested in almost 40 research projects by BBSRC, the Technology Strategy Board and other partners to tackle issues around nutritional values, food safety, specific dietary requirements and food waste.

Other innovations being developed include a project to identify foods that could treat osteoporosis, and studies assessing the potential for using pumpkin and mulberry extracts to help treat diabetes and obesity. more

Technology Strategy Board, 3 February 2014 

Finnish study finds neonicotinoids do not harm bees

Initial findings from a Finnish study on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on field crops suggest they may not cause acute harm to bees.

The Neomehi Project in Finland is studying how neonicotinoid-based insecticides used in the cultivation of spring oilseed rape and spring turnip rape plants affects honeybees.

Based on the first set of test results, researchers said they suggested neonicotinoids do not cause immediate harm to honeybees. more

Farmers Weekly, 2 February 2014

Environment Minister launches Agricultural Engineering Innovation Centre

A £2.9 million centre to support advanced agricultural engineering teaching and research was today (30 January) launched at Shropshire’s Harper Adams University.

Lord de Mauley, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for natural environment and science, conducted the official opening of The Agricultural Engineering Innovation Centre (AEIC). The Environment Minister said: “Harper Adams’s new £2.9m Agricultural Engineering Innovation Centre for precision agriculture is a world class example of the innovation and agri-engineering expertise we have in the UK.

“We need to do all we can to translate research into new products, processes and technologies if we are to increase the competitiveness of the agricultural sector, address the challenge of food security and enhance the environment.” more

Farming Monthly, 30 January 2014 

UK could fall behind without investment in plant science

A funding shortfall is threatening the UK’s position as a world leader in plant science, a new report has claimed.

Researchers from the UK Plant Sciences Federation said the industry played a vital role in guaranteeing food security, coping with the threats from climate change, protecting biodiversity, and improving human health.

However, they claim a lack of investment in the industry coupled with a skills shortage could be detrimental to the industry if the gloomy trend is not addressed soon.

The report calls for a doubling of investment in UK plant science, which currently receives less than 4 per cent of public research funding. more

Farmers Guardian, 28 January 2014 

Chair of APPG appointed UK trade envoy

George Freeman, MP for Mid-Norfolk and Chair of the APPG on Science and Technology in Agriculture, has been appointed a UK Trade Envoy by the Prime Minister.

The announcement was made at the close of the Davos World Economic Forum, as part of an expansion of the UK's global trade and inward investment mission spearheaded by UKTI.

George Freeman, elected to Parliament in 2010 for the new constituency of Mid Norfolk after a career in the Eastern Region founding high growth start-up technology businesses, was appointed Government Adviser on Life Sciences in 2011 and has been closely involved in the launch of the UK's Industrial Strategies for Agri-Tech and Life Sciences.

Farming UK, 27 January 2014 

Genetically-modified purple tomatoes heading for shops

The prospect of genetically modified purple tomatoes reaching the shelves has come a step closer.

Their dark pigment is intended to give tomatoes the same potential health benefits as fruit such as blueberries.Developed in Britain, large-scale production is now under way in Canada with the first 1,200 litres of purple tomato juice ready for shipping.

The pigment, known as anthocyanin, is an antioxidant which studies on animals show could help fight cancer. Scientists say the new tomatoes could improve the nutritional value of everything from ketchup to pizza topping. more

BBC News, 24 January 2014 

‘Fish oil’ GM plant trial application submitted

An application to conduct field trials of a genetically modified crop containing Omega-3 fatty acids normally found in oily fish has been submitted. If approved by the government, the trials could begin at Rothamsted Research agricultural institute in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, this year.

The initial aim of the crop is to benefit the fish farming industry, the researchers said. But in a decade it could end up in food products, such as margarine.

The scientists at Rothamsted Research - who have been working on the project for 15 years - modified seeds from Camelina sativa (false flax) plants using genes from marine algae - the primary organisms that produce the fatty acids.

By substituting synthetic versions of up to seven genes from marine algae, the researchers have engineered Camelina plants to produce two key Omega-3 fatty acids normally obtained from oily fish, EPA and DHA. more

BBC News, 24 January 2014 

Summit to discuss threat of 'over cautious' pesticide rules

 Over-precautionary regulations on pesticides are hampering UK farmers’ ability to produce food, the NFU has warned.

Ahead of a summit on Wednesday (January 22) to discuss concerns over crop protection, NFU president Peter Kendall said the ever increasing regulatory pressure meant farmers were facing a growing challenge to produce the high quality British food consumers want.

Leading industry figures from farming, agricultural chemical manufacturing and crop protection distribution will meet at the union’s Stoneleigh headquarters. more

Farmers Guardian, 20 January 2014   

Campaign launched to warn farmers of illegal pesticides

A national campaign warning farmers of the risks of buying illegal pesticides has been launched.

Watch Out! for illegal pesticides is the message of the 12-month industry campaign launched to raise public awareness of illegal pesticides.

The Voluntary Initiative (VI) and Red Tractor Assurance is supporting the drive, with funding from the Crop Protection Association, NFU and Agricultural Industries Confederation. more

Farmers Weekly, 17 January 2014 

New research funding to combat yellow rust

A major £1.4m international research project aimed at combating a key disease in wheat is set to take place in the east of England.

The John Innes Centre in Norwich and NIAB in Cambridge will provide the base for one year of a project developing genetically resistant wheat varieties.

Four PhD students appointed in India, Kenya and Ethiopia will spend one year abroad in one of the UK partner institutions, which also includes The Sainsbury’s Laboratory in Norwich. The move comes as part of a major international effort to improve crop production in developing countries and combat disease. more

Farmers Weekly, 14 January 2014 

Hostility to GM putting EU in 'global slow lane' - report

The growing influence of green lobbyists and anti-capitalists on European policymaking is condemning the EU the ‘global slow lane’ when it comes to biotechnology, an MP has warned.

George Freeman, chairman of the All Party Group on Science and Technology in Agriculture, said ‘growing hostility’ to technologies like GM is already forcing some of the biggest biotechnology companies to abandon Europe as a market.

The UK and the rest of the EU are in danger of missing out on the ‘major opportunity’ presented by the revolution in the field of genomics to support farmers in boosting food production while also creating ‘huge new inward investment and export opportunities’, according to the Norfolk MP. more

Farmers Guardian, 14 January 2014 

Norfolk MP says EU’s hostility towards science is hampering investment

The rise of an “increasingly science hostile” European Union is undermining our attractiveness as a place to invest, MP George Freeman has said while calling for reform or the UK would try to “take back” science regulation from Brussels.

The Norfolk MP will today publish a report for the European reform project, Fresh Start, in which he highlights an increasing tide of “anti-biotech” legislation.

He said the EU’s hostility to Genetically Modified crops had already seen German based BASF and US major Monsanto announcing its withdrawal from Europe in agricultural research and development, adding that EU policymaking machine was being driven by “increasingly strident and politically active biotech-hostile lobbying groups, and minority political parties exercising influence through the coalition politics of member states.” more

Eastern Daily Press, 10 January 2014

Technology revolution presents opportunities for farming

A technological revolution in British agriculture presents huge opportunities for UK farming, according to Tory MP George Freeman.

Mr Freeman was speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference on the potential impact of the government’s £160m agri-tech strategy.

Mr Freeman, the Tory MP for mid-Norfolk, said that the pace of economic development in industrialising countries was “utterly breathtaking” and would lead to more pressures, but also opportunities, which the strategy could make use of. more

Farmers Weekly, 9 January 2014 

New GM plants could help to feed world — if Luddites don’t interfere, say farmers

A new, less intrusive way of genetically engineering plants would help to feed the world’s growing population but is at risk from the same “Luddite attitudes” blocking GM crops, according to a farming industry report.

The technology, known as cisgenics, involves transferring genes from closely related plant species rather than genetically modifying crops by importing “foreign” genes. It more closely resembles conventional breeding but uses similar technology to GM methods.

The report, being debated today at the Oxford Farming Conference, says: “New technology, post GM, is emerging but must not be allowed to fall victim to the same Luddite attitudes which have left Europe isolated from transgenic technology. The cost of doing so would be catastrophic in terms of food production failing to increase to feed the world’s growing population.” more

The Times, 7 January 2014 

Wheat promiscuity holds key to yields

Wheat will have sex with anything. That observation from Keith Woodward, professor of cereal genomics at Bristol University, holds the key to breaking the yield plateau, he said at a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council fringe meeting at the Oxford Farming Conference.

Wheat’s “promiscuity”’ to cross with plants outside its genus, such as grasses with significantly better photosynthetic efficiency, offers breeders great scope to increase yields.

Prof Woodward explained that a six-year collaboration between John Innes, NIAB, Rothamsted and Nottingham and Bristol universities called WISP (Wheat Improvement Strategic Programme) to identify new genetics is going “remarkably well”. Now halfway through the programme the partnership have identified 80,000 gene markers and are on course to have 820,000 by the end of this month. more

Farmers Weekly, 7 January 2014 


Designer plants have vital fish oils in their seeds


Move over, cod liver oil. A biofuel crop related to cabbages, called camelina, has been genetically modified to produce components of fish oils beneficial for cardiovascular health. The approach could relieve some of the pressure on the oceans.


The flesh of oily fish such as mackerel and salmon, plus the livers of white fish such as cod, are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids. The most important ones are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) – known to reduce the risk of heart disease – and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – a lack of which has been linked to visual and cognitive problems. more

New Scientist, 2 January 2014 

Step forward in quest for second generation biofuels

Researchers from the Department of Chemistry at York have discovered a family of enzymes that can degrade hard-to-digest biomass into its constituent sugars.

The scientists said their research could unlock the potential for 'second generation' biofuels – those which are not produced from agricultural crops. Within the EU, debate is raging over support for first generation biofuels, which do come from agricultural feed-stocks. more

Farming Online, 30 December 2013 

Britain advised to ignore EU and reap GM benefits

Britain is missing out on the benefits of genetically modified crops because of Europe’s “medieval” attitude towards the technology, the Environment Minister has said.

Owen Paterson told a parliamentary meeting this week that Europe was becoming “the museum of world farming” because Austria and France were blocking the cultivation of GM crops on European soil.

Despite GM products being consistently ruled as safe by the European regulator, “product after product goes through this rigorous process and then gets stuck at the political level where witchcraft is re-imposed,” he told the All-Party Group on Science and Technology in Agriculture this week. “Decisions are made on pure emotion and the science is ignored.” more

The Times, 21 December 2013 

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