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

Group News

APPGSTA Annual Report 2016/17 September 2017

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

APPGSTA Income and Expenditure Statement
July 2017

Promotion of Innovation

House of Commons, BEIS Questions
September 2016

APPGSTA Annual Report 2015/16
July 2016

APPGSTA Income & Expenditure Statement
July 2016

APPGSTA Annual Report 2014/15
July 2015

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

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

APPGSTA Annual Report 2012/13
January 2014

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

VIDEO: MP hails agri-tech project

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

UK Agri-Tech Strategy published

22 July 2013


APPGSTA Annual Report 2011/12

December 2012


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


George Freeman MP hails £250m bio-economy boost

24 May 2012


House of Lords Debate -

Innovation in EU Agriculture

February 2012


APPGSTA Annual Report 2010/11

December 2011



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


2016 Archive


2015 Archive


2014 Archive


2013 Archive


2012 Archive


2011 Archive

2010 Archive

2009 Archive

2008 Archive

Science & Technology News



'Milestone' reached in fighting deadly wheat disease

Scientists say they have made a step forward in the fight against a wheat disease that threatens food security. Wheat is a staple food crop, making up a fifth of the calories on our plates. But in many parts of the world, the crop is being attacked by stem rust (black rust), a fungus that can ravage a farmer's fields.

Researchers from the UK, US and Australia identified genetic clues that give insights into whether a crop will succumb to stem rust. They discovered a gene in the fungus that triggers a wheat plant's natural defences. A second pathway has been discovered which switches on a wheat plant's immune response. The research, reported in the journal Science, gives new tools for protecting crops from the deadly pathogen. more

BBC News, 22 December 2017 

Trials show biopesticide potential

Initial trials on two spring milling wheat varieties at three sites in northern England have indicated use of a biological based programme for disease control could deliver yields ‘not that dissimilar’ to a conventional programme.

The trials, initiated by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society’s Farmer Scientist Network, which secured European Innovation Partnership grant funding for the two-year project, are being carried out by Eurofins.

Prof Rob Edwards, head of Newcastle University’s School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and chair of the Farmer Scientist Network is scientific coordinator of the project. more

Farmers Guardian, 19 December 2017 

Agriculture needs a champion

Research investment in the life sciences has focused too much on medicine and biomedicine at the expense of agriculture and biotechnology more generally, according to Sir Paul Nurse, Chief executive of the Francis Crick Institute.

“One has only to take a short trip in this country to see how important agriculture is,” said Nurse, speaking at Rothamsted Research. “They don’t realise how much science is contributing to that, and how much science will contribute in the future. There is a real need to get that message across…What’s required is a champion for agricultural bioscience to get it on the agenda.”

Nurse sees the government’s new Industrial Strategy, announced last month by Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industry Strategy, as a boon for science and a route to greater appreciation of agriculture’s role. Clark has “only just become aware of the issue, because the life sciences have been dominated by biomedicine,” said Nurse. “I think one is now pushing at a door that is opening.” more

Farm Business, 19 December 2017 

Pregnancy test science could protect important UK crops

The science behind the home-pregnancy test is now being trialled to detect the presence of diseases, which can devastate fields of vegetable crops, including the Christmas sprout.

Current trials are underway to help protect crops of Brassicas – sprouts, broccoli, cabbage – and onions, which generated more than £356 million for UK agriculture last year. Diseases including ring spot, light leaf spot and downy mildew are being monitored.

The test, known as a lateral flow device (LFD), picks up the presence of infective spores carried in the air around crops in the field. Used alongside weather data, test results could indicate how likely a disease is to develop, allowing growers to decide if crop protection methods are needed or not. more

Farming UK, 16 December 2017 

SRUC invest £2m in Centre of Excellence for digital agriculture and animal health

Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) has announced plans for a £2million investment to expand its existing research and commercial operations.

The money will go towards a ‘ground-breaking’ Centre of Excellence for Digital Agriculture and Animal Health to help improve scientific and education services and secure improvements in animal and human health.

As part of the approach, it will for the first time combine multidisciplinary strengths in veterinary disease surveillance, research, education and rural business consultancy. more

Farmers Guardian, 13 December 2017 

UK-based wheat scientist awarded prestigious research medal

A world-leading UK-based wheat scientist has been awarded the prestigious Research Medal by The Royal Agricultural Society of England (RASE).

The RASE award recognises a string of benefits delivered by the work of Dr Cristobal Uauy in developing genomic techniques – and sharing them with national and international community of wheat researchers and breeders.

Dr Uauy, a project leader in crop genetics at the John Innes Centre, Norwich, uses modern molecular genetic approaches to identify genes which deliver yield and quality improvements to wheat. more

Farming UK, 13 December 2017

Industry warns against full neonics ban as vote looms

A blanket ban on a class of pesticides linked to harming bees could make growing sugar beet in the UK unviable, the NFU has warned.

Representatives from EU member states are due to meet in Brussels on 12-13 December to discuss the future of three neonicotinoids that are currently banned for use on flowering crops such as oilseed rape and sunflowers.

Member states may be asked to vote on the commission’s proposal for an outright ban. Last month, in a reversal on the government’s previous position, Defra secretary Michael Gove said he would support a commission proposal to extend the ban to non-flowering crops. more

Farmers Weekly, 11 December 2017 

UK ranks 10th in world for sustainable food production

The UK has been ranked 10th for sustainable food production and consumption in a list of the world’s key agricultural countries.

France topped the list, which is drawn up by The Economist magazine’s Intelligence Unit, and measures sustainable agriculture, nutrition and food waste to create a Food Sustainability Index (FSI).

In all, 34 countries, producing 85% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product, are assessed in the study, which was commissioned by food use think-tank the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition Foundation. more

Farmers Weekly, 9 December 2017 

Wild crops listed as threatened

Wild relatives of modern crops deemed crucial for food security are being pushed to the brink of extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

More than 20 rice, wheat and yam plants have been listed as threatened on the latest version of the IUCN's Red list.

The wild plants are being squeezed out by intensive farming, deforestation and urban sprawl, say scientists. more


Defra figures show UK farming suffers efficiency fall

The efficiency and competitiveness of UK agriculture fell by 2.2% in 2016, according to estimates released by Defra.

The figures are based on how well inputs are converted into outputs on farms to arrive at a measure known as Total Factor Productivity (TFP).

In 2016 the volume of inputs used remained relatively static, falling by 0.3% on average across all farming sectors compared with the previous 12 months. more

Farmers Weekly, 3 December 2017 

Government Industrial Strategy White Paper broadly welcomed by farming industry

The Government’s ambitions for the agriculture sector set out in the Industrial Strategy White Paper have been broadly welcomed by the industry. Highlights contained in the paper include:

- To put the UK at the forefront of the global move to high-efficiency agriculture.

- To grow the markets for innovative farming technologies and techniques such as the use of drones.

- Food and Drink Sector Council – a new partnership between Government and the whole food chain, working with industry leaders from agriculture, food and drink manufacturing, retail, hospitality and logistics.

The NFU said the Industrial Strategy White Paper contains positive recognition that the British food and farming industry can play an even greater role in the country’s economic prosperity. more

Farm Business, 28 November 2017 

EU settles dispute over major weedkiller glyphosate

EU countries have voted to renew the licence of glyphosate, a widely used weedkiller at the centre of environmental concerns. The proposal at the EU Commission's Appeal Committee got 18 votes in favour and nine against, with one abstention, ending months of deadlock.

The Commission says the new five-year licence will be ready before the current one expires on 15 December. However, France plans to ban the use of glyphosate within three years. more

BBC News, 27 November 2017 

Small Robot Company launches to transform arable farming

British agritech start-up Small Robot Company has been launched and seeks to harness the power and precision of robots and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to improve the way that food is produced and minimise chemical usage.

Designed by farmers for farmers, the robots will be offered through a Farming as a Service (FaaS) model, which uses robotics and AI to ‘digitise the field’ and deliver precision farming. Robust per-plant data creates a ‘profit map’ that shows which areas of field to use, which to leave fallow, and what to plant where and when.

Using robots has the potential to reduce chemical usage in arable farming by as much as 95%, and reduce cultivation energy and associated CO2 emissions by 90%. It can increase arable farming revenues by up to 40%, and reduce production costs by up to 60%. more

Farming UK, 27 November 2017 

Farmland bird numbers decline by 9 per cent over 5 years

Bird numbers have declined around British farmland by almost a tenth, according to new figures released by Defra.

The latest figures released on Thursday (23 November) by the government's environmental department reveal that wild bird numbers have dropped 9% from the years between 2010 and 2015, and by almost 70% by 1970.

The figures have led the RSPB to call for a shift in how the UK operates its farming policies after it leaves the EU, to a more environmentally and sustainable friendly system. more

Farming UK, 24 November 2017 

Dolly the sheep health fears 'unfounded'

Concerns that Dolly the cloned sheep suffered from early-onset arthritis were unfounded, a study suggests.

In fact, wear-and-tear in her joints was similar to that of other sheep of her age, regardless of how they were conceived, say researchers at the University of Nottingham.

Dolly, the first mammal cloned from an adult cell, made countless headlines during her lifetime. She came under close scrutiny, due to fears that cloned animals might develop health problems or age prematurely. more

BBC News, 23 November 2017 

Seeds hold hidden treasures for future food

More than 70,000 of the world's most precious seeds have been sent from the UK's Millennium Seed Bank to the Middle East, in its largest export to date.

The consignment contains more than 50 wild relatives of cultivated crops, such as wheat, barley and lentils. The seeds will be used for food security research at a seed bank in Lebanon, which is recreating collections destroyed in Syria.

The Millennium Seed Bank at Kew is the world's largest wild plant seed bank. more

BBC News, 22 November 2017          

Sprayer system will cut chemical use by 20% from 2020

A spraying system that detects the type of weeds present and automatically switches the herbicide product being applied could be available on farms as early as 2020.

German agrochemical giant Bayer has teamed up with fellow German engineering company Bosch to develop a smart spraying system which could reduce the total amount of pesticide used by only targeting areas of crop where the weeds are present. 

Johannes-Joerg Rueger, executive vice-president of Bosch, told Farmers Weekly the system will enable farmers to apply 20% less herbicide, depending on the field. more

Farmers Weekly, 20 November 2017 

Neonicotinoid ban could harm sugar beet yields for decades

Decades of improvements in sugar beet yield are under threat from the government’s support for a total ban on neonicotinoids, British Sugar has warned.

The group of chemicals could be withdrawn from use as soon as the middle of December, when EU member states could vote on a complete ban in a bid to halt declining bee populations (see panel below).

However, concerns have been raised that a blanket approach risks harming sugar beet production, and having a bigger effect on the environment. more

Farmers Weekly, 13 November 2017 

Scale of 'nitrate timebomb' revealed

Huge quantities of nitrate chemicals from farm fertilisers are polluting the rocks beneath our feet, a study says.

Researchers at the British Geological Survey say it could have severe global-scale consequences for rivers, water supplies, human health and the economy.

They say the nitrate will be released from the rocks into rivers via springs. That will cause toxic algal blooms and fish deaths, and will cost industry and consumers billions of pounds a year in extra water treatment. more

BBC News, 10 November 2017 

EU split over use of major weedkiller glyphosate

An EU vote has failed to resolve a controversy over the use of glyphosate, the world's biggest-selling weedkiller.

One UN study called the chemical "probably carcinogenic", but other scientists said it was safe to use.

The current glyphosate licence runs out in the EU on 15 December. Only half of the 28 member states backed a European Commission proposal to renew the licence for five years.

An EU appeal committee will now try to rule on the issue. The UK was among the 14 states backing the Commission position on glyphosate. Nine voted against - including France and Italy. Germany was among the five who abstained. more

BBC News, 9 November 2017 

Final pieces of the wheat genome puzzle identified

Following 10 years of large-scale, international research, a handful of scientists finally assemble the wheat genome to its most complete and contiguous state.

The wheat genome is both colossal and complex, over five times the size of the human genome, and has posed an immense puzzle to scientists for decades. A postdoc could spend their entire fellowship identifying a single gene of interest.

The immensity of the task saw the foundation of the International Wheat Germ Sequencing Consortium, consisting of 1,800 members across 62 countries. more

BBSRC, 9 November 2017 

UK 'will support' neonicotinoid pesticide ban

An extended ban on controversial neonicotinoid pesticides will be supported by the UK, Environment Secretary Michael Gove says.

The UK has previously resisted tighter restrictions on the pesticides, saying there was insufficient evidence. Mr Gove says that's no longer the case.

Environmentalists have long said neonicotinoids are harming pollinators. But the UK government has generally backed the farmers' view that the chemicals are safe. more

BBC News, 9 November 2017 

Early success for blight-resistant GM potato trial

A genetically modified potato variety designed to resist the devastating plant disease blight has successfully come through the first year of trials, say scientists.

Late blight is a global problem that can wipe out whole fields of potato plants if multiple treatments of fungicides are not applied to ensure a good harvest. Worldwide, crop losses because of blight are estimated to be in excess of £3.5bn.

However, scientists at The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL) on the Norwich Research Park are trialling a Maris Piper potato that has been modified with blight resistance genes from a wild potato relative. more

Farmers Weekly, 7 November 2017 

2017 to be in top three warmest years on record

The year 2017 is "very likely" to be in the top three warmest years on record, according to provisional figures from the World Meteorological Organization. The WMO says it will likely be the hottest year in the absence of the El Niño phenomenon.

The scientists argue that the long-term trend of warming driven by human activities continues unabated. They say many of the "extraordinary" weather events seen this year bear the hallmarks of climate change. more

BBC News, 6 November 2017

Water "essential" for future UK food production

Government must recognise that water is a vital ingredient of our food and is essential to the economic performance of the agri-food sector. That’s the key message in a new position statement drawn up by organisations representing the interests of farmers, growers, processors and manufacturers.

The statement, published by the Water for Food Group, says water is essential to grow and process high quality food and to sustain the UK’s largest manufacturing sector. It says increasing water demands from other sectors, and a greater risk of water scarcity caused by droughts and climate change, already threaten the industry’s ability to sustain and increase efficient, high quality food production at affordable prices. more

Farming Online, 1 November 2017 

Defra makes £40m available for farm productivity grants

The government is inviting grant applications from farmers in England looking to improve productivity, or add value to meat, milk and fruit, by investing in new technology.

Defra secretary Michael Gove has announced that a pot of £40m will be made available to fund the rollout of the next stage of the Country Productivity Scheme. However, the rules mean that applicants must be willing and able to invest sums of at least £50,000 themselves – which may rule out many smaller producers.

Eligible projects include the use of robotic equipment and systems to aid crop and livestock production or increasing the use of renewable energy produced on farm by improving energy storage and distribution. more

Farmers Weekly, 31 October 2017 

Award winning Scottish research could pave the way for 'low-emission cows'

A study that potentially paves the way for the breeding of low-emission livestock has won an internationally respected research prize.

The study is the result of a collaboration involving Scotland’s Rural College, The Roslin Institute and the University of Aberdeen. It identified a genetic link between host animals, the microbial community in their digestive tract and the methane that they produce.

The findings could ultimately help farmers respond to the growing global demand for meat, while minimising the associated environmental impact. The results were reported in the international research journal ‘PLOS Genetics’ and won the journal’s 2017 annual prize for outstanding research. more

BBSRC, 30 October 2017 

Major agricultural countries fear EU glyphosate ban could harm exports

Major agricultural countries across the world are becoming worried at the prospect of an EU ban on the popular herbicide glyphosate.

Countries such as Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, Canada and Argentina are trying to get answers out of the EU over the fate of the world's most common weedkiller.

If glyphosate ends up being banned in the EU, countries around the world that produce food with it may find their exports restricted. more

Farming UK, 30 October 2017

The advent of ”green” cattle

Implications of livestock farming on climate change should not be drawn from aggregate statistics, reveals a study based on a new method of carbon footprinting for pasture-based cattle production systems that can assess the impacts of individual animals.

The new method, developed by a team from Rothamsted Research and the University of Bristol, records the environmental impact of each animal separately before calculating the overall burden of a farm.

Existing methods of carbon footprinting are primarily designed to quantify total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of a particular farm. The ability to identify “green” cattle within a herd – cattle that produce lower emissions per kilogram of liveweight gain – promises more sustainable farming, they report in the study published today in the Journal of Cleaner Production. more

Rothamsted Research, 30 October 2017 

EU proposes five-year glyphosate renewal

The European Commission (EC) has proposed extending the licence for glyphosate for five years after its initial plan for a 10-year renewal failed to attract enough support.

EU member states failed to vote on the licence renewal during a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday (25 October) amid unproven concerns the chemical may be carcinogenic. The licence is due to run out on 15 December.

In a statement, the EC said it had submitted to the 28 member states a renewal of the approval of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller, for five years. The vote is scheduled to take place at the next EU standing committee meeting on plants, animals, food and feed, to be held in Brussels on 9 November. more 

Farmers Weekly, 27 October 2017 

New agricultural policy could include national recovery plan to improve soil health

Britain’s new agricultural policy could include a national recovery plan to reverse decades of soil decline and improve soil health.

MPs and stakeholders speaking at the launch of the Sustainable Soils Alliance (SSA) in the House of Commons, called on the Government to use the Common Agricultural Policy’s replacement to incentivise farmers and growers to help improve soils by means of ‘soil stewardship’ payments. The event heard how the UK lost 2.2 million tonnes of vitally important topsoil each year, at an estimated cost to the economy of £45m.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said farmers were the original ‘friends of the earth’ but had been ’incentivised by a type of farming which has damaged the earth’. “Farmers know that and want to change,” he said, adding there was an opportunity to address soil health in Defra’s 25 Year Food and Farming Plan and the upcoming Agriculture Bill. more

Farmers Guardian, 25 October 2017 

GM crops ‘not the answer’ to UK food security

Genetically modified (GM) crop technology is not the answer to helping UK farmers produce more food, according to the head of the country’s top crop research facility.

Achim Dobermann, chief executive of Rothamsted Research, said GM technology could be a useful tool in some areas, but growing commercial biotech crops in the UK would not bring huge benefits. Instead of the farming industry pinning its hopes on GM crops obtaining approval for use in the UK post Brexit, growers should focus on the way they farm to help them drive yields, he said.

Speaking at the Bayer Youth Ag Summit in Brussels earlier this month, Prof Doberman said there were too many barriers for GM to be accepted and adopted in the UK and across Europe. more

Farmers Weekly, 19 October 2017 

Scientists discover genetic pathway to improved barley quality

Scientists from the International Barley Hub have discovered a genetic pathway to improved barley grain size and uniformity, a finding which may help breeders develop future varieties suited to the needs of growers and distillers. 

In the latest issue of Nature Communications, cereal genetics researchers at the James Hutton Institute and the University of Dundee published work examining the genetic control of grain formation in barley, specifically the role of a gene called VRS3. Researchers found that a mutation in this gene improved grain uniformity in six-rowed barley.

Colin West, chairman of the International Barley Hub, said: “Uniformity is very important in the processing of the grain after harvest to produce higher quality malt. This discovery has huge potential to benefit both growers and industry.” more

Farmers Guardian, 17 October 2017 

Gene that turns fungi into disease-causing organisms discovered

Discovery of a gene that turns fungi into pathogens presents chemists with a target for fungicides that could bring relief to arable farmers and vegetable growers, according to scientists at Rothamsted.

A random mutation in a convenient host led to the discovery of a gene responsible for fungal disease that wrecks up to one fifth of the world’s cereal production, or hundreds of millions of tonnes of crops. Near identical genes are also present in the fungi that cause vegetables to rot, they said. more

Farmers Guardian, 13 October 2017 

Bayer to sell seed business to address competition concerns

Bayer has agreed to sell its Crop Science business to BASF for €5.9bn (£5.25) in an attempt to shrink its business assets and reduce concerns about competition.

It is hoped the sale will allay the EU Commission’s concerns about Bayer’s planned US$66bn (£49.7bn) acquisition of Monsanto, agreed last year, which would create the world’s biggest integrated pesticides and seeds company.

Bayer’s acquisition of Monsanto is under investigation by the commission, although this has been temporarily halted while the EU awaits for key information to be supplied. more  

Farmers Weekly, 13 October 2017 

Labour Party wants to phase out glyphosate use in the UK

Shadow Farming Minister David Drew has revealed the Labour Party would only support the re-licensing of glyphosate for a ‘restricted time period’. Mr Drew made the comments in an interview with EU news service Euractiv.

He said: “The view in Britain is [glyphosate] should be re-licensed, and Labour will support that, but probably for quite a restricted time period. With the levels of technological innovation we have today, we should be able to come up with some kind of alternative, but at the moment there are not really any. One problem with this debate is people obsess over the term ‘glyphosate’ instead of focusing on the quantities used. This is the area we should really focus on.” more

Farmers Guardian, 13 October 2017 

Agri-tech agenda gains momentum with high-profile events

A push forward has begun to showcase farming technology and its importance with two high-profile events in the European Parliament.

Contributors at the Future of Farming event, organised by Anthea McIntyre MEP, included Professor Simon Blackmore of Harper Adams University and Edwin Hecker of the Internet of Food and Farm 2020.

They spoke on the benefits of precision agriculture, while further panels and round-tables covered new plant-breeding techniques, societal challenges, and how new technology could improve farming systems. more

Farming UK, 12 October 2017 

GM crops ‘essential to avert future food shortages’

Genetic modification of plants will be essential to avert future food shortages, according to a group of agricultural scientists who have reviewed how biotechnology developments over the past 35 years have shaped the efficiency of crop production.

The team, from Rothamsted Research in the UK and Syngenta Crop Science and Symmetry Bioanalytics in the US, present their review as an online opinion article in ‘Trends in Plant Science’.

GM crops able to repel insect pests or to resist herbicides have transformed the farming of soybean, cotton, maize and canola, reducing costs and increasing productivity, but lack of knowledge hinders further improvements in yield, particularly in testing climatic conditions, says the group. more

Farmers Guardian, 9 October 2017 

£4.9 million to further increase resilience and sustainability of the UK food system

The UK’s Global Food Security programme is funding £4.9 million of interdisciplinary research to increase resilience and sustainability of the UK food system.

Five projects have been awarded funding to ensure greater resilience of the UK's food supply from global shocks, environmental and demographic changes, and threats posed by pests and diseases.

The projects bring together researchers and food producers, manufacturers and retailers working in several areas; from understanding the role of phosphorus as a key nutrient in crop and livestock production to better understanding of how different landscapes affect crop pollinating insects. more

Global Food Security Programme, 4 October 2017 

Grass-fed livestock farming not better for the planet, says study

Grass-fed livestock farming is not better for the planet as some groups have argued, a new report has claimed.

Previous research had suggested that feeding livestock on grass was the most environmentally sustainable way to produce meat and could even help cut climate emissions.

While grazing livestock can in some cases cause carbon to be sequestered in the soil, the overall contribution is small and outweighed by the greenhouse gas emissions they generate, according to a report by the Food Climate Research Network at Oxford University. more

Farmers Guardian, 3 October 2017

Green groups lobby Gove for total neonics ban

Wildlife and environment groups are ramping up their campaigning against pesticides by calling on Defra to back a total ban on neonicotinoids amid strong opposition from farming unions.

As Defra secretary Michael Gove prepares to address delegates at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, Friends of the Earth (FoE) released the results of a survey on public attitudes towards neonics.

More than three-quarters (76%) of people surveyed said they think the UK government should support EU proposals to extend current restrictions on bee-harming pesticides to all crops. But NFU vice-president Guy Smith said the survey asked people a “loaded” question. more

Farmers Weekly, 2 October 2017 

Industry calls on the Commission to ‘show leadership’ in plant breeding innovation

The biotech industry has urged the European Commission to “show leadership and positive commitment” to plant breeding innovation – which environmentalists and farmers largely oppose –  and to provide clarity on agricultural innovation in general.

The EU is often criticised for delaying the creation of a framework that will help biotechnologies flourish and take the continent a step forward in competition with the rest of the world.

The Commission is organising a conference on modern biotechnologies in agriculture on 28 September, with the aim of opening up the discussion about innovation-driven solutions in the field. more

Euractiv, 27 September 2017

New £1m partnership to address knowledge gaps in soil biology

The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) and the British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO) have announced an ambitious new research partnership to develop practical soil biology management guidance.

The five-year partnership looks to improve on-farm understanding of soil health by benchmarking current academic and industry knowledge, developing and validating indicators of soil biology and soil health in research trials and integrating a far-reaching knowledge exchange programme throughout the five-year programme.

This forms an important part of AHDB’s strategic commitment to accelerating innovation and productivity growth through coordinated research and development and knowledge exchange. more

Farming Online, 25 September 2017 


Scientist says SNP isn’t explaining GM benefits

Dame Anne Glover says that public opinion is still mainly hostile to GM crops but argues that this is because governments are reluctant to spell out the benefits The Scottish government is failing to inform the public about the potential benefits of GM crops, according to the newly elected president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Dame Anne Glover, who was chief scientific adviser to the Scottish government and to the president of the European Commission, says that there are strong arguments for introducing genetically modified potato crops in Scotland because they could prevent up to 15 annual sprayings of fungicide, currently needed to protect potatoes from blight. more

The Times, 23 September 2017 

Top scientist demands more checks on pesticides

A new regulatory system to assess the long-term effects of pesticides on the environment should be introduced, chief scientific adviser to Defra, Ian Boyd suggests. In a paper in the journal Science, Prof Boyd draws many parallels between the use of antibiotics in human medicine and pesticides in agriculture.

But there is a clear and potentially dangerous distinction when it comes to regulation. Pharmaceutical products and pesticides are rigorously tested for effectiveness, safety and any side effects before they are licensed, said Prof Boyd. But following approval, only pharmaceuticals are then subject to on-going, long-term monitoring to ensure there are no untoward effects when used on a large scale. There is no equivalent post-marketing mechanism [for pesticides]. more

Farmers Weekly, 23 September 2017 

UK strikes research deal with US in run-up to Brexit

The UK and US have reached a deal to develop a special relationship for science. An agreement between the two countries aims to make it easier for researchers to travel, collaborate and share facilities.

US science bodies are said to be "eager" to take advantage of research opportunities lost because of Brexit. The deal is part of government efforts to develop research collaborations outside the EU.

Possible strategic areas of collaboration include synthetic biology, information technology and GM research. more

BBC News, 21 September 2017  

Agri-Tech East strives to increase productivity, sustainability and profitability

Advances in technology have driven a 64% increase in agriculture since 1973, but this is deceptive as Dr Belinda Clarke, director of Agri-Tech East explained at a launch at the House of Lords of a new report “From grass roots to blue skies: a vision for agri-tech”.

She says: “Labour productivity has increased year on year but since the 1980s farm outputs have become static. Technology has enabled labour to be more efficient, producing the same amount but with far fewer people, thus reducing the input costs. Although there have been many successes it is increasingly realised that the current model is not sustainable  – economically or environmentally.”

“There is little incentive with the current model for farmers to increase outputs as often a bumper yield means that prices will fall.  In addition we have seen degradation of the soils, pressure on water and the increasing need for more resilience in the face of climate change.” more

Farm Business, 20 September 2017 

GMOs: EU court says states can’t ban them unless risks are proven

The European Court of Justice (ECJ)  ruled on Wednesday (13 September) that member states may not adopt emergency measures regarding GMOs unless “it is evident that there is a serious risk to health or the environment”.

The precautionary principle, which presupposes scientific uncertainty regarding the existence of a particular risk, is not applicable in this case because “genetically modified foods […] have already gone through a full scientific assessment before being placed on the market”.

The judgment closes a three-year long case brought by Italy. In 2013, Italy asked the European Commission to adopt emergency measures to prohibit the cultivation of genetically modified maize “MON 810” produced by seed company Monsanto. more

Euractiv, 14 September 2017 

Adam Henson calls for introduction of GCSE in agriculture

Adam Henson, one of Britain’s best-known farmers, has called for the introduction of a GCSE in agriculture.

The presenter of BBC's Countryfile told The Times: “You can get a GCSE in religious studies and business, so why not in agriculture?”

Henson said he hoped to “do for farms what Rick Stein has done for fish”, and make farming a permanent subject on the school curriculum. more

Farming UK, 13 September 2017 

Glyphosate not an endocrine health threat, EFSA concludes

The EU’s food safety watchdog has concluded that glyphosate, the active ingredient of the Monsanto herbicide Roundup, is not an endocrine disruptor. The European Food Safety Authority’s assessment, based on industry data and published on 7 September, found there is no evidence that glyphosate is having a harmful effect on human endocrine (hormone) systems.

Sarah Mukherjee, chief executive of the UK Crop Protection Agency, said: “This latest conclusion from Efsa is consistent with the findings of other expert regulators around the world – glyphosate is not an endocrine disruptor or carcinogenic. We urge member states to support the science and vote in favour of a full, 15-year renewal.” more

Farmers Weekly, 11 September 2017 

£3 million exhibition will showcase the science behind the future of farming

A new exhibition set to open at the London Science Museum centers on how science and technology will shape the future of farming and food production.

In a bid to reflect agriculture in today’s society, a new gallery provisionally named, “Feeding Tomorrow”, is currently in construction at the London Science Museum.

The idea is to highlight the science and technology behind food production and will replace the existing original agricultural gallery which was established in 1951. more

Farmers Guardian, 10 September 2017 

Agriculture - leader in robotics? Report says farm tech becoming 'increasingly intelligent'

A new report by market research company IDTechEx says agriculture is being "quietly reformed" by new robotics.

The report considers the evolution and the long-term impact of autonomous mobility in farm vehicles, and provides detail on how progress and innovation in robotics is changing agriculture.

According to IDTechEx, agriculture is the leading adopter of autonomous driving technology, despite public hype around driverless cars. more

Farming UK, 7 September 2017 

Research grants 'boost jobs and growth'

A national study shows that R&D grants to firms significantly boost growth and create jobs. Grants totalling £8bn led to growth worth £43bn and created around 150,000 jobs.

The findings back the government's policy of subsidising promising industrial research - the so-called practice of "picking winners". The analysis is the first to suggest that the policy might work at a national level.

Prof Stephen Roper, from the Warwick Business School and director of the Enterprise Research Centre, led the research. He said it was the first time that such a detailed analysis had been undertaken. more

BBC News, 7 September 2017 

Ministers want 'ambitious' post-Brexit research deal

Ministers will aim to negotiate a special status for the UK's membership of the European Union's science funding bodies after exiting the EU. They say they want a "more ambitious agreement" on research collaboration than other non-EU countries.

Details of the government's negotiating stance on science have been published in a position paper. The news has been welcomed by the scientific community as a positive first step. more

BBC News, 6 September 2017 

‘Hands Free’ combine harvests robotically grown crop

An autonomous combine harvester has started harvesting the world’s first hectare of grain grown from start to finish by robots. The combine, which is guided by the mapping system used in drones, will take five hours to harvest the Hands Free Hectare in total, but is so far being hampered by rain.

The £200,000 Innovation UK-funded project by Harper Adams University with Precision Decisions has modified existing machinery to drill, sow, spray and harvest the crop without any human control.

As no human is allowed to set foot in the fenced-off crop, the team used a drone adapted with a robotic grabber fitted with metal teeth to collect a sample before combining could begin. The team is hoping to send the barley for malting in order to produce a Hands Free Hectare beer. more

Farmers Weekly, 6 September 2017

Robotics in horticulture survey to help address labour concerns

A research survey that will establish the current level of use of automation and robotics in horticulture could help address concerns about labour availability and costs. The work could also identify where future investment lies in such technologies, according to AHDB Horticulture.

Labour accounts for up to 70% of variable production costs in some areas of horticulture. With the National Living Wage driving up labour costs and the uncertainty of the future availability of migrant workers after Brexit, identifying technologies that can help reduce labour costs and pressures for businesses will become "more critical", according to AHDB. more

Farming UK, 4 September 2017 

France to defy EU and vote against glyphosate renewal

The future of glyphosate, the active ingredient in the Monsanto weedkiller Roundup, remains uncertain after health studies have raised concerns about its safety.

The European Commission has proposed to renew glyphosate’s licence for a 10-year period. EU member states are set to vote on the future of glyphosate on 4 October, but French opposition could block the qualified majority needed for a renewal. A source in France’s environment ministry told news agency Reuters that the country plans to vote against a renewal. more

Farmers Weekly, 1 September 2017 

Call for unified approach to plant and animal breeding

Unifying the approaches to plant and animal breeding through the use of genomic selection is crucial to achieving global food security, according to a team of world leading scientists.

In a paper published this week in the international journal Nature Genetics, scientists from NIAB, The University of Edinburgh’s The Roslin Institute and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) assert that global collaboration and investment across the two disciplines is central to increasing agricultural productivity and resilience.

Exploiting scientific critical mass and the high volume of available genomic data about plant and animal species that is now available would help to address questions that are common to both disciplines. This would lead to ‘game changing’ advances in breeding while simultaneously creating a platform for new scientific discoveries and ‘products’ - such as plants that can grow with less water or lower levels of nutrients - that may be of particular benefit to the developing world. more

BBSRC, 31 August 2017 

Satellite data reveals reduction in oilseed rape area

Figures published last week by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) reveal that the area of oilseed rape grown across Britain has declined by 15% in the past three years, a reduction of 97,000 ha.

The land cover data, gained from satellite imaging, revealed a marked reduction in oilseed rape grown in East Anglia in particular since 2015, though declines in the area were seen across the regions.

The CEH figures were produced in conjunction with Anglian Water, as part of a scheme aimed at helping water companies better understand agricultural activity in their catchments, and better provide safe drinking water. more

Farming Online, 30 August 2017 

New regulation can be more effective for farmers after Brexit, NFU says

The Government should take advantage of the opportunity Brexit presents to create a regulatory environment for farming that is "streamlined, grounded in science and respects realistic farm practices", a new report released today urges.

As MPs return to Westminster and continue work on the EU Withdrawal Bill, the NFU has laid out its vision for a regulatory environment that supports farmers, the public and the environment in the final report of its 'Vision for the Future of Farming' series.

The NFU said it strongly believes that new rules can work better while maintaining the same high standards that the public expect. more

Farming UK, 29 August 2017 

Crop protection research secured at Rothamsted

Rothamsted Research has secured government funding to kick-start its new five-year strategic programme, Smart Crop Protection, to control sustainably the pests, pathogens and weeds that destroy nearly a third of crops grown worldwide. The investment of circa £6.3 million covers the programme’s first three years.

The announcement of the investment from the government’s flagship Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) comes from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.  

Rothamsted’s SCP strategy will improve crop productivity by using the latest technology to detect, monitor, predict and control insect pests, plant pathogens and weeds. The programme integrates chemical, genetic, biological, ecological, mathematical and agronomic approaches to deliver more targeted control strategies. more 

Rothamsted Research, 18 August 2017 

Ray of hope for more abundant wheat crops

Crops such as wheat could be up to 21% more efficient at turning the sun's energy into food, according to new research by Lancaster University.

The food chain relies on plants using sunlight to turn carbon dioxide from the air into food. This process, known as photosynthesis, is essential for plants to grow, including crops like wheat.

However, when a leaf returns to full sunlight after a period in the shade, it takes some time for photosynthesis to regain peak efficiency, meaning valuable energy from the sun is wasted. This clearly reduces crop productivity, but until now, the scale of the issue had not been experimentally quantified. more

Seedquest, 17 August 2017 

UK Government reveals support for neonics ban as new research released

A Defra Minister has admitted the UK Government now supports the EU ban on neonicotinoids. Lord Gardiner, Minister for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity, made the new position clear in answer to two written parliamentary questions on whether Britain would lift the restrictions after Brexit.

He said: “The Government keeps the developing evidence on neonicotinoids under review, advised by the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides. On the basis of current evidence, we support the existing restrictions.”

Lord Gardiner’s answer marks a firm change from his previous statements, which made clear the UK was upholding the ban as it was legally obliged to given its EU membership. more

Farmers Guardian, 15 August 2017 

Plants 'hijacked' to make polio vaccine

Plants have been "hijacked" to make polio vaccine in a breakthrough with the potential to transform vaccine manufacture, say scientists.

The team at the John Innes Centre, in Norfolk, says the process is cheap, easy and quick.

As well as helping eliminate polio, the scientists believe their approach could help the world react to unexpected threats such as Zika virus or Ebola. more

BBC News, 15 August 2017 

UK's bioscience base receives £16.6 million Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund investment

BBSRC has received an additional £16.6 million from the government’s flagship Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) to develop new agricultural technologies and industrial bioprocesses to underpin a more successful bioeconomy.

Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson said: “This significant investment will support pioneering bioscience research and development projects that will reduce our reliance on carbon, boost the productivity of our nation’s crops and develop new world-leading agricultural technologies.”

The funded projects will de-risk innovative ideas arising from academia and industry for the development of transformative new technologies, processes and practices to advance the production of food, chemicals, materials and energy. more

BBSRC, 11 August 2017 

Scotland demands right to remain GM-free after Brexit

Scotland must retain the right to opt out in the cultivation of GM crops following Brexit, according to rural affairs secretary Fergus Ewing.

In a letter to Defra sectary Michael Gove, Mr Ewing has sought assurances that the UK government will not seek to impose the cultivation of GM crops against Scotland’s will.

Mr Ewing said the EU law that currently allowed member states to opt out of growing EU-authorised GMs was “extremely important” to Scotland. more

Farmers Weekly, 7 August 2017 

Bayer and Rothamsted Research sign working agreement

Bayer and Rothamsted Research have entered into a strategic framework agreement, which they say will support the development of more sustainable means of tackling pests, pathogens and weeds.

The German chemical company and Hertfordshire research centre have collaborated in the past. They promise that their co-ordinated activities in the lab and field will generate “the data, know-how, tools and technologies that help to support a transition to smarter crop protection.”

The partners will work together in a number of research areas: from real-time detection of pests in the environment to understanding the evolution of resistance; and from the identification of new modes of action of insecticides to novel approaches to controlling pests. more

Farming Online, 2 August 2017 

Pollination threatened by artificial light

Researchers have discovered a new global threat to pollination - artificial light at night, which was found to reduce visits of nocturnal pollinators to flowers by 62%.

The impact of this is a significant reduction in fruit production.

Pollinator numbers are declining worldwide so this is not good news for wild plants and crop production. more

BBC News, 2 August 2017 

SRUC Principal calls for ‘open science’ crop research network

A group of world-leading crop scientists, including Professor Wayne Powell, Principal & Chief Executive of SRUC, has called for a global crop network to systematically tackle threats to global food security.

Writing in the journal Science this month, the group recommend founding a Global Crop Improvement Network (GCIN) to take a worldwide approach to crop research.

They envision the Network encompassing most staple crops, and claim it would “revolutionise” research, as stakeholders would gain an insight into crop performance in different environments, speeding up breakthroughs and implementation of research findings. more

Farming Online, 31 July 2017 

New study shows importance of soil for food production across Europe

Soil scientists at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) have set out a Europe-wide framework for developing a natural capital accounting structure for soil which considers the impact of land use change, climate change and pollution.

Scientists suggest monitoring soil cycles, that impact on the economies, societies and ecosystems of European countries, is vital to help protect soil quality and condition in future.

Soil is crucial to the production of food for millions across Europe. However, the scientists highlight that integrating information on soil resources with other measures of natural capital and economic activity remains one of the least developed areas of the United Nations System of Environmental and Economic Accounts (SEEA). more

Farming UK, 28 July 2017 

GM crop trial promises huge capacity for fish oil production

The latest trial of genetically modified oilseed has revealed the huge potential for producing omega-3 oils from crops which, if approved, would allow farmers to supply the market for fish oils in the future.

Scientists said a field trial in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, has shown that GM camelina seed consistently produces highly sought after omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in real-world conditions.

But the trial also revealed the seeds’ capacity to accumulate far more oil than previously thought, adding weight to the commercial potential of the crop as an alternative source to traditional supplies. more

Farmers Weekly, 26 July 2017 

Report warns inferior food imports could put British farmers at disadvantage

A new report has warned of the potential increase in cheaper, lower standard food imports to the UK which could put British farmers at a competitive disadvantage. The House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee has today (25 July) published its report Brexit: farm animal welfare.

The Committee heard evidence that the greatest threat to farm animal welfare standards post-Brexit would come from UK farmers competing against cheap, imported food from countries that produce to lower standards than the UK.

The Government’s wish for the UK to become a global leader in free trade is not necessarily compatible with its desire to maintain high animal welfare standards, the report warned. more

Farming UK, 25 July 2017 

Farm subsidies 'must be earned' - Michael Gove

Farm subsidies will have to be earned rather than just handed out in future, the Environment Secretary Michael Gove has said in a speech.

Farmers will only get payouts if they agree to protect the environment and enhance rural life.  The move is part of what he calls his vision for a "green Brexit".

Farmers’ leaders want the current £3bn total to be spent on the environment, more infrastructure to develop farm businesses, and promoting British food. more

BBC News, 21 July 2017 

Approve glyphosate or lose it, EU Commissioner tells member states

European Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis has challenged EU member states to back glyphosate in a thinly-veiled ‘approve it or lose it’ threat. Mr Andriukaitis, who is responsible for food safety, told reporters this week the Commission would not approve glyphosate for the next ten years without sufficient support from nation states.

The Commission has the power to approve the herbicide for use if there is no qualified majority – 55 per cent of countries representing 65 per cent of the EU’s population – as long as there is not a qualified majority against it.

Mr Andriukaitis said: “While I have no reason to doubt this substance is safe, I want to make it clear the Commission has no intention to reapprove this substance without the support of a qualified majority of member states. This is and will remain a shared responsibility.” more

Farmers Guardian, 19 Jul 2017

Government 'sleepwalking' into post-Brexit future of insecure food supply, report says

A new report released today describes how Brexit will pose 'real risks' to the cost and availability of the UK’s food supplies, accusing the Government of 'sleepwalking' into insecurity.

The report on food security, from three leading experts from three different universities, says food could be "seriously undermined" by leaving the EU. It says the Government has shown little sign of addressing the issues, accusing ministers of "an astonishing act of political irresponsibility".

The report, A Food Brexit: time to get real, argues that there has been an almost complete lack of action so far with farming issues, including subsidies, migrant farm labour and safety standards. more

Farming UK, 17 July 2017 

Waste products, not crops, key to boosting UK biofuels

The UK should focus on using waste products like chip fat if it wants to double production of biofuels according a new study.

The report from the Royal Academy of Engineering says that making fuel from crops like wheat should be restricted.

Incentives should be given to farmers to increase production of fuel crops like Miscanthus on marginal land. more

BBC News, 14 July 2017 

Major funding for new crop sciences research centre at NIAB in Cambridge

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has announced funding for the creation of a new Cambridge Centre for Crop Science (3CS), developed by the University of Cambridge in collaboration with NIAB. 3CS will focus on linking with farming and food industries to translate research into real world impact.

The new centre will provide a major boost to the University and NIAB’s existing research initiatives around global food security. With £16.9m from the HEFCE-managed UK Research Partnership Investment Fund and additional funding from the National Institute of Agricultural Botany Trust, the 3CS will focus on impact: working with industrial partners to translate the University’s strong fundamental plant research into outputs for the farmer, processor and consumer. more

Farm Business, 12 July 2017 

EU poised to ban crop protection products on human health grounds

A range of crop protection products used by farmers are set to be withdrawn from sale because of new EU rules on endocrine disruptors.

Endocrine disruptors are chemicals found in crop protection products, plastics and cosmetics. Environmental groups claim they pose a risk to human health and there has been a long-running battle to regulate their use.

On Tuesday, a majority of experts from the 28 member states approved the European Commission’s proposed definition of the chemicals, which will allow the EU to ban a number of crop protection products without taking into account potency – how much of a chemical is required to generate a negative effect. The UK voted against the proposal. more

Farmers Guardian, 5 July 2017

Professor Sir Mark Walport outlines the vision for UK Research and Innovation

Professor Sir Mark Walport, Chief Executive Designate of UK Research and Innovation, has given a speech outlining the vision, objectives and next steps in development for the organisation.

UK Research and Innovation will be formed in April 2018, bringing together the research councils, Innovate UK and a new body, Research England. The organisation’s ambition is to be the best research and innovation agency in the world.

Speaking in Westminster to a broad audience of research and innovation stakeholders, Sir Mark highlighted the strengths of the UK’s current research and innovation system and bodies. He also detailed the challenges and opportunities arising from disruptive change in society, technology, research and business that mean the UK needs to develop new approaches and structures. more

BBSRC, 4 July 2017 

NIAB issues warning over Brexit impact on UK agri-science

UK crop research organisation NIAB has warned that the EU Commission's hardline negotiating stance on Brexit is already damaging prospects for UK agri-science, and has called on Ministers to safeguard the UK science base.

NIAB chairman Jim Godfrey said NIAB had recently been notified that future EU variety testing contracts commissioned directly by the Community Plant Variety Office (CPVO), and which might last beyond the envisaged Brexit date of 30 March 2019, would no longer be awarded to the UK. He explained that this ‘shock’ decision would affect work carried out by NIAB on DUS testing of ornamental crop species - valued at around £600k per year.

"The timing of this notification – without any prior consultation - came as a shock, not only because the UK is and remains a full EU member until the confirmed date of Brexit, but perhaps more significantly because NIAB is the only entrusted examination centre within the EU for 678 of the 864 ornamental species involved," he said. more

Horticulture Week, 1 July 2017

Total ban on neonics would devastate crop production, warns Copa

EU farm leaders have warned that a total ban on neonicotinoid seed treatments would have a “devastating impact” on crop production.

After a three-year moratorium on three types of neonicotinoid pesticides for use on flowering crops, the European Commission (EC) is considering an extension of the ban to cover all crops.

Environmentalists are lobbying the commission to introduce a complete ban on neonics to protect bees and other pollinators. more

Farmers Weekly, 28 June 2017 

Africa agriculture pioneer wins 2017 World Food Prize

African Development Bank president Akinwumi Adesina has won the prestigious World Food Prize for his work to boost yields and farm incomes.

Dr Adesina said providing millions of farmers with seeds and fertilisers was vital to boost development. He added that 98% of the world's 800 million undernourished people live in Africa.

Since 1986, the World Food Prize aims to recognise efforts to increase the quality and quantity of available food. more

BBC News, 27 June 2017 

Labour presses Defra for clarity on neonics policy

Shadow Defra secretary Sue Hayman has written to Michael Gove to urge Defra to clarify its position on neonicotinoid pesticides, which have been linked to a decline in bee health.

In an open letter, Ms Hayman, the Labour MP for Workington, voices her party’s objection to neonicotinoids, as stated in their general election manifesto.

She says Mr Gove “remains silent” on this matter, and calls on the newly appointed Defra secretary and the Conservatives to “set out clear policy on neonicotinoids in detail”. more

Farmers Weekly, 26 June 2017 

Farm industry should push fresh and natural message on food

Farmers should be talking more about the freshness of the food they produce and the health benefits eating it can offer, according to a report.

AHDB has published a consumer insight report which suggests shoppers are increasingly looking for food which is “fresh” or “natural” – a trend which could offer the UK agricultural industry opportunities.

The report, Health through the eyes of the consumer, found although “enjoyment” and “practicality” remain the key drivers for the majority of meal choices, health as a reason for choosing food is up 14% on five years ago. more

Farmers Weekly, 20 June 2017  

Agriculture needs 'serious but sensitive' application of new technology, report says

A far-reaching report which details how developing technology can advance farming was launched at the Royal Three Counties Show in Malvern, Worcestershire.

The report follows extensive consultation with a range of experts from the fields of science, academia, horticulture, arable and livestock farming, land management, ecology and politics. MEP Anthea McIntyre, a member of the European Parliament's Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, is publishing the report.

Technological Solutions for Sustainable Agriculture sets out a range of recommendations for putting technology the heart of agriculture in the UK and Europe to boost productivity and protect the environment. more

Farming UK, 18 June 2017 

Glyphosate ban would cost British farmers almost £1billion a year

The Impact of a Glyphosate Ban on the UK Economy report reveals the potential £940 million burden the proposed ban would be put on UK farmers and the impact on end consumers, with the price of the average shopping trolley expected to rise.

The report, conducted by Oxford Economics and the Anderson Centre and commissioned by the Crop Protection Association, shows the potentially devastating impact on the British economy and agricultural sector, should the active ingredient be abolished. more

Farmers Guardian, 13 June 2017 

Growers have a lack of knowledge about 'low-risk' biopesticides

A lack of knowledge about biopesticides is leading to inefficient application by growers and reducing the success rates of integrated pest and disease management programmes (IPDM). Within the next 20 years, the number of biopesticide products available is likely to exceed the number of conventional chemical pesticides.

Observation trials conducted throughout 2016 highlighted several opportunities to improve biopesticide performance through changes to application practices, based on improved understanding of the optimum conditions required for good performance of each biopesticide.

The trials were conducted as part of AMBER, a five-year project funded by AHDB with the aim of identifying management practices that growers could use to improve the performance of biopesticide products within IPDM. more

Farming UK, 13 June 2017 

Therapy could stop superbugs on farms

Researchers at Leicester University have shown that it might be possible to develop an alternative to antibiotics for treating diseases in pigs.

They have identified a range of viruses, called bacteriophages, that can be used to kill common pig infections.

The aim is to reduce the risk of antibiotic resistant bacteria emerging on farms that could also infect humans. more

BBC News, 8 June 2017 

20 years of economic and environmental benefits of GM crops

A new report released today by PG Economics has found that over the last 20 years, crop biotechnology has significantly reduced agriculture’s environmental impact and stimulated economic growth in the 26 countries where the technology is used.

The innovative agricultural technology has contributed to preserving the earth’s natural resources while allowing farmers to grow more, high quality crops. It has also helped alleviate poverty for 16.5 million, mostly smallholder farmers, in developing countries.

“Over the last 20 years, where farmers have been given access to, and the choice of growing biotech/GM crops, they have consistently adopted the technology, contributing to a more sustainable food supply and a better environment where they live,” said Graham Brookes, director of PG Economics, co-author of the report. more

PG Economics, 5 June 2017 

UK to be ‘global centre of excellence’ for animal medicines post-Brexit

The National Office for Animal Health (NOAH) has said the UK could become a ‘global centre of excellence’ for animal medicines if the sector’s needs are properly considered during the Brexit talks.

NOAH made the claim in its newly-released election manifesto, which suggests Brexit provides an opportunity for the UK to create a regulatory climate which encourages innovation and allows companies to develop new and improved medicines for health and animal welfare. more

Farmers Guardian, 31 May 2017

Brexit barriers 'would harm science', say universities

Barriers to research collaboration in Europe as a result of Brexit would harm scientific progress, says a group of leading UK universities.

Science and research should be a priority in the talks between the UK and the EU, says the Russell Group of research intensive universities.

Any barriers "would be bad for the UK and bad for Europe", said the group's acting director, Tim Bradshaw. more

BBC News, 22 May 2017 

Norway to boost protection of Arctic seed vault from climate change

Norway is boosting the flood defences of its Global Seed Vault on the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard after water entered the entrance tunnel last year. The storage facility, deep inside a mountain, is designed to preserve the world's crops from future disasters.

Unseasonably high temperatures last year caused the permafrost to melt, sending water into the access tunnel.No seeds were damaged but the facility is to have new waterproof walls in the tunnel and drainage ditches outside.

The vault stores seeds from 5,000 crop species from around the world. Dried and frozen, it is believed they can be preserved for hundreds of years. more

BBC News, 20 May 2017 

Treasure trove of new plant discoveries revealed

Almost 2,000 new species of plant have been discovered in the past year, according to a report by The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Many have potential as food crops, medicines or sources of timber.

However, scientists say some of the newly-discovered plants are already at risk of extinction.

They are developing new ways to speed up the discovery and classification of plants to help safeguard them for future generations. more

BBC News, 18 May 2017 

Climate change will cut cereal yields, model predicts

Climate change will likely cause wheat and barley yields to decline by 17 to 33 percent by the end of the century, predicts a new statistical model developed by researchers at the University of California, Davis, and Cornell University.

The study, based on 65 years of weather records and wheat and barley yield data from France, provides some of the first evidence of the negative effects of warming on wheat and barley yields in Western Europe. The findings are reported in the journal Environmental Research Letters

The study is of particular importance because wheat is the most widely grown crop in the world and, along with rice, one of the top two sources of calories for human consumption. more

Seedquest, 15 May 2017 

Ban on common weed killer could create £228 million council tax bombshell

New economic figures reveal the cost to the local taxpayer of banning common weed killers to keep pavements, parks and public places weed free.

The figures come at a time when no less than 30 local authorities are being lobbied by some in their communities to ban the same weed killers that are used in amenity areas and gardens throughout the UK.

The research, commissioned by the Crop Protection Association and conducted by Oxford Economics, shows that a ban on weed killers containing glyphosate would add £228 million to the UK’s council tax bill each year. more

Farming UK, 11 May 2017 

Extended neonics ban threatens crop production, scientists warn

Maintaining the production of many UK crops would be at risk if neonicotinoids, the pesticides linked with harming bees, was more widely restricted or banned completely, scientists at Rothamsted Research have warned.

The institute’s concern follows the release of draft proposals by the EU Commission in March to replace its temporary restriction on the use of three neonicotinoids on flowering crops – principally oilseed rape – with a widespread ban across Europe, covering cereals and sugar beet too. more

Farmers Weekly, 10 May 2017

Grub-based diet good for agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions

Eating insects instead of beef could help to tackle climate change by reducing harmful emissions, according to a new study from am agri-food research hub made up of a number of UK universities.

Replacing half of the meat eaten worldwide with crickets and mealworms would cut farmland use by a third (freeing up 1680 million hectares of land – an area 70 times the size of the UK), researchers said. more

Farming Online, 9 May 2017 

Scientists find positive correlation between bee health and presence of agriculture

Scientists have found that the overall health of bees improves in the presence of agricultural production. The study, "Agricultural Landscape and Pesticide Effects on Honey Bee Biological Traits" published in the Journal of Economic Entomology and by the University of Tennessee, evaluated the impacts of row-crop agriculture, including the traditional use of pesticides, on honey bee health.

Results indicated that hive health was positively correlated to the presence of agriculture. According to the study, colonies in a non-agricultural area struggled to find adequate food resources and produced fewer offspring. more

Farming UK, 8 May 2017 

GM crops sow seeds of global growth

Genetically modified crops resumed their march across the world’s farmland last year, with GM plants covering a record 185m hectares — 3 per cent more than 2015. By far the largest increase was in Brazil, the engine of global GM growth, where the area expanded by 11 per cent to 44m hectares.

The figures come from the most authoritative annual survey of GM crops worldwide, carried out by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, a global network of non-profit centres that promote agricultural biotechnology. The equivalent ISAAA study a year ago had shown a small decrease in planting, the first since GM crops were commercialised 20 years ago. more

Financial Times, 4 May 2017 

Apple-picking robot to solve shortage of farm labour

A new machine that vacuums ripe fruit off the tree will prove to be god-send as apple orchard owners say they need robotics because seasonal farm labour is getting harder to come by.

California-based startup Abundant Robotics aims to solve the shortage of farm labour with its prototype apple-picking robot, and has announced a securement of $10 million (£7.7m) in a funding round led by Google Ventures.

Dan Steere, cofounder and CEO of Abundant, says recent tests in Australia, where apple season is under way, proved that the company’s prototype can spot apples roughly as accurately as a human and pull them down just as gently. more

Farming UK, 4 May 2017 

Artificial fertiliser biggest contributor to bread’s carbon footprint

University of Sheffield researchers have calculated that ammonium nitrate fertiliser accounts for 43% of the greenhouse gas emissions produced during the manufacture of a supermarket loaf ‘dwarfing all other processes in the supply chain.’

Looking at the emissions associated with the wheat-to-bread supply chain and reporting their findings in the journal Nature, Sheffield researchers assessed “primary data for all the processes involved in the farming, production and transport systems that lead to the manufacture of a particular brand of 800g loaf.”

They found that more than half of the emissions associated with industrial bread production occur at the wheat growing stage, highlighting the “Dependency of bread production on the unsustainable use of fertiliser.” more

Farming Online, 4 May 2017 

Critical Brexit challenges await UK agriculture says Lords EU report

The UK’s agriculture sector faces challenges and opportunities as a result of Brexit. It will need to overcome challenges posed by leaving the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), not least as CAP funding currently supports many farms across the UK.

Repatriating agricultural policy-making to the UK will also require careful consideration of the needs of the industry, future trade agreements and the devolution settlements. These changes will affect an industry which by its very nature must make long-term business decisions. A transitional period is needed to allow farmers to survive and prosper post-Brexit.

These are among the findings and recommendations of a report, Brexit: agriculture, by the House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee. more

Farm Business, 3 May 2017 

Household food waste level 'unacceptable'

The level of household food waste in England is "unacceptable" and householders have a key role to play in reducing it, MPs have said.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee said 7.3m tonnes of food was wasted in UK households in 2015.

The committee said shops should relax standards that prevent the sale of "wonky vegetables" to help cut waste. And the next government should consider whether "best before" dates were needed, it said. more

BBC News, 30 April 2017 

‘Million hectares’ at risk from neonicotinoid ban extension

Industry leaders are ramping up efforts to prevent a ban on neonicotinoid seed treatments from being extended across all crops.

The NFU has warned that more than 1 million hectares of UK cereals, sugar beet and other crops could be put at risk if Brussels pushes ahead with proposals to widen the ban, which currently only applies to oilseed rape.

Less than three weeks remain before the issue is due to be discussed at a meeting of the European Commission’s Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed on 17-18 May. more

Farmers Weekly, 26 April 2017 

Brexit: Future of UK food security at risk, scientists and farmers say

The future of UK food security is at risk unless the Government changes its approach to food and farming policies post-Brexit, according to a group of leading animal scientists and farmers.

The British Society of Animal Science (BSAS) says policy makers need to engage in a different kind of conversation about what will happen to UK farming and food production once the country leaves the European Union.

The scientists and farmers say that without embracing a fresh approach to food and farm policies, not only will food security be challenged, but the country’s rural landscapes and communities could be forced to change beyond recognition. more

Farming UK, 26 April 2017 

Animal scientists join global science march to call for better livestock research support

UK animal scientists are set to take to streets this weekend to call for better support for livestock research as part of a global march for scientists. Thousands of scientists, science advocates and science-friendly citizens are expected to flood the streets in the 'March for Science'.

The British Society of Animal Science (BSAS) will join thousands around the country to call on government to recognise the need for policies which are based on sound science and fact.

The society will also urge policy makers to understand the risks Brexit poses to UK livestock research, and identify ways it can ensure the country remains a world leader in animal science. more

Farming UK, 21 April 2017 

Scientists create most accurate navigation system for wheat genome

Scientists have created the most accurate navigation system for the bread wheat genome to date – allowing academics and breeders to analyse its genes more easily than ever before.

Wheat is one of the world’s most important staple cereals but is also the most complex. Three sub-genomes together contain around five times more DNA than the human genome. Nearly 80% of this genetic material is repetitive, making it even harder to sequence and analyse.

Now, harnessing advanced sequencing technology and computational approaches, scientists from the Earlham Institute, with colleagues at the John Innes Centre, have published the world’s most complete picture of the wheat genome. It includes the location and detailed annotation of over 100,000 wheat genes. more

Farming UK, 18 April 2017 

EU farming chief wants 10-year re-approval for glyphosate

In a move which will be cheered by many, but is sure to be controversial, EU farming chief Phil Hogan has said he would like to re-authorise glyphosate for ‘at least the next 10 years’.

Mr Hogan gave his first clue about the European Commission’s line of thinking on the issue this week at the European Economic and Social Committee, Agra Europe confirmed.

He said he wanted glyphosate to have a lengthy re-approval period to ‘give legal certainty to the sector’. more

Farmers Guardian, 15 April 2017 

European farmers lose access to plant protection without UK

New figures show the UK is outperforming most other EU member states when it comes to authorising plant protection products, leading to concerns European farmers will lose access to them when the UK leaves the EU.  

Farmers Guardian has seen a secret presentation given by European Commission officials last month which revealed the UK was much quicker at processing registrations than other countries such as France or Germany.

For the year 2013-14, the UK received 285 applications for evaluation of new products – more than any other member state. It went on to make decisions on 69 per cent of those applications. France received the second largest number of applications, 248, but only made decisions on 14 per cent. Germany performed even worse, making decisions on just 2 per cent of the 140 applications it received. more

Farmers Guardian, 13 April 2017  

BBSRC invests £50.9m in Rothamsted science strategy

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is to invest £50.9 million in support of agricultural science at Rothamsted Research.

This is to address challenges faced by farmers and society for the sustainability of food production and the environment.

Every five years, Rothamsted Research develops a revised science strategy. Its 2017-2022 version comprises five multidisciplinary, interdependent programmes that are collaborative within the institute, funded from multiple sources and in some cases, across institutes and other organisational research programmes. more

Farmers Guardian, 11 April 2017 

European project to combat animal disease

This week saw the launch of VetBioNet, an EU-funded international project to combat infectious animal disease.

The network, which has been funded under the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme, will establish a comprehensive network of research facilities, academic institutes, international organizations and industry partners to study diseases that can spread between animals (zoonotic diseases) and promote new technological developments.

The network will be coordinated by France’s national agricultural research institute, INRA, and features 30 partners from 14 different countries (only 9 of which are EU member states - France, Netherlands, Germany, UK, Spain, Poland, Denmark, Ireland and Italy) with 10 million Euros in funding from the European Commission over the next 5 years. more

Farming Online, 6 April 2017 

Antibiotic free farming has 'very little benefits' for human health, says study

Reducing antibiotic consumption in livestock has very little benefits for human health, according to a new study.

The paper, published by the Royal Society, said a drive for 'antibiotic-free' farm produce is not necessarily beneficial for human health. It is often suggested that resistance arising in food animals contributes to resistance levels in humans.

The study said: "Although it is widely regarded as intuitively obvious that reducing antibiotic consumption in animals would decrease levels of antibiotic resistance in humans this is, in fact, not the case for a wide range of scenarios. A better strategy is an integrated approach that tackles resistance in humans and food animals at the same time." more

Farming UK, 5 April 2017 

ChemChina acquisition of Syngenta approved by EC

The European Commission has approved the proposed acquisition of Syngenta by ChemChina.

The approval is on the condition of ChemChina divesting of its European pesticide and plant growth regulator business.

The deal has also received approval from the US. It follows the announcement last week (March 27) that the EC had approved the Dow and DuPont merger. more

Farmers Guardian, 5 April 2017 

£10m deal to boost impact of animal science innovations

Innovations that improve the health of farmed animals and raise agricultural productivity will be brought to market with the support of a £10 million investment, secured by the University of Edinburgh.

Investment in the new company Roslin Technologies will develop business opportunities arising from the University of Edinburgh’s animal science research. more

Farming Online, 4 April 2017 

Scientists use drones to tackle fruit fly threat to crops

Scientists are putting an eye in the sky as they investigate a potential new method to prevent catastrophic damage to soft fruit crops in the UK.

The researchers, at the University of Aberdeen, are using drone technology in a bid to create a new monitoring system for the fruit fly Drosophila suzukii.

Also known as Spotted Wing Drosophila, the pest has become a serious threat to growers since it arrived in the UK from mainland Europe, affecting many commercial fruit crops including strawberries, raspberries and grapes. more

Farming UK, 4 April 2017 

New Zealand grower sets new official wheat yield record

A New Zealand farmer has set a new official world record yield for wheat of nearly 16.8t/ha, reclaiming the prestigious title from the UK.

Eric Watson, who farms near Ashburton in the Canterbury region on the country’s south island, harvested the 11ha field of UK-bred Oakley winter wheat with an average yield of 16.79t/ha.

This breaks the previous record of 16.52t/ha held by Northumberland grower Rod Smith since the harvest of 2015. more

Farmers Weekly, 3 April 2017 

Cows centre of 'vicious cycle' of methane and climate change

Scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Scotland's Rural College (SRUC) and the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre, Frankfurt have warned of a “vicious cycle” of climate change, cattle diet and rising methane levels.

In a new paper, published this week, researchers from the three institutions detailed a discovery surrounding plants used to feed livestock; essentially, plants growing in warmer conditions are tougher and have lower nutritional value to grazing livestock, which is potentially inhibiting milk and meat yields and raising the amount of methane released by the animals. more

Farming Online, 30 March 2017 

Food trade drains global water sources at 'alarming' rates

The global market for foodstuffs is depleting water sources in many parts of the world quicker than they can naturally be refilled.

The complex trade is increasing pressure on non-renewable groundwater, mainly used for irrigating crops such as rice, wheat and cotton.

Pakistan, the US and India are the countries exporting the most food grown with unsustainable water. Researchers say that without action, food supplies will be threatened. more

BBC News, 30 March 2017 

Majority of EU nations block two new GM crops to be grown in Europe

A majority of EU countries voted on Monday against allowing two new genetically modified (GM) crops to be grown in Europe. The new licences, for two new GM maize varieties to be grown in the European Union, means the applications will now be passed to farm ministers.

EU Member States were asked to vote on the future of Pioneer's 1507 and Syngenta's Bt11, which kill insects by producing their own pesticide and are also resistant to a particular herbicide.

The governments were also asked to determine whether to extend authorisation for Monsanto's MON810, an insect-resistant maize that is grown mainly in Spain, but banned in a number of other counties. more

Farming UK, 28 March 2017 

Europe poised for total ban on bee-harming pesticides

The world’s most widely used insecticides would be banned from all fields across Europe under draft regulations from the European Commission, seen by the Guardian.

The documents are the first indication that the powerful commission wants a complete ban and cite “high acute risks to bees”. A ban could be in place this year if the proposals are approved by a majority of EU member states.

Bees and other pollinators are vital for many food crops but have been declining for decades due to habitat loss, disease and pesticide use. The insecticides, called neonicotinoids, have been in use for over 20 years and have been linked to serious harm in bees. more

The Guardian, 23 March 2017 

Genetically-modified crops have benefits - Princess Anne

Princess Anne has said genetically-modified crops have important benefits for providing food and she would be open to growing them on her own land. She told BBC Radio 4's Farming Today "we have to accept" the process could help production and livestock health.

Her brother, the Prince of Wales, has previously warned GM crops could cause an environmental disaster. But Princess Anne said: "To say we mustn't go there 'just in case' is probably not a practical argument."

In an interview with the rural affairs programme to be broadcast on Thursday, the 66-year-old Princess Royal said she saw no problem with modifying crops if it improved their ability to grow. "Gene technology has got real benefits to offer," said Princess Anne, who is a working farmer and patron of nearly 50 countryside organisations. more

BBC News, 22 March 2017 

Flower-rich habitats do benefit bumblebees

Major new research led by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) has shown that flower-rich habitats are key to enhancing the survival of bumblebee families between years.

According to CEH, the study was the largest ever of its kind on wild bumblebee populations.

Researchers said their results will help farmers and political leaders manage the countryside more effectively to provide for wild bees, which are vital pollinators, but have suffered worrying population declines across the northern hemisphere. more

Farming Online, 21 March 2017  

European Chemicals Agency rules glyphosate is non-carcinogenic

In a major boost for farming groups, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has declared glyphosate to be non-carcinogenic. The ECHA’s findings support the conclusion of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which said glyphosate was ‘unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans’ in November 2015.

The European Commission had asked the EFSA to examine claims made by the International Agency for Research on Cancer that glyphosate posed a cancer risk.

Crop Protection Association chief executive Sarah Mukherjee said the ruling clearly showed the Commission should now re-authorise the chemical for the standard 15-year period. more

Farmers Guardian, 15 March 2017

New Brexit coalition unites voices on agricultural supply, trade, technology and advice

The Agri-Brexit Coalition is a new grouping of eight organisations and trade associations involved in agribusiness, which aims to bring together the expertise of this particular sector of UK agriculture plc as negotiations on Brexit progress.

The Agri-Brexit Coalition has been founded by: Agricultural Engineers Association (AEA), Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC), British Society of Plant Breeders (BSPB), Central Association of Agricultural Valuers (CAAV), Crop Protection Association (CPA), Grain and Feed Trade Association (GAFTA), National Association of Agricultural Contractors (NAAC), and National Office of Animal Health (NOAH), explained Coalition Coordinator David Caffall, who is Chief Executive of AIC.

The new group will focus on those key issues in Brexit negotiations which are pertinent to the UK trading and supplying of goods, services, technology and advice to UK farmers. Its stated purpose is to inform and influence UK Governments in order to achieve a positive outcome to negotiations for UK Agriculture as well as the EU and the wider world. more

Farm Business, 14 March 2017 

Global precision agriculture market expected to reach £35.7bn by 2025

The global precision agriculture market is expected to reach $43.4 billion (£35.7bn) by 2025, according to new analysis.

According to the report by Research & Markets, precision agriculture is gaining traction in the market, owing to the increasing awareness for enhanced production and less wastage.

Variable rate technology is anticipated to witness significant growth over the forecast period, owing to the increased adoption of technology across the industry. more

Farming UK, 13 March 2017 

Scientists grow potatoes in Martian conditions

Peru’s International Potato Centre (CIP) and NASA have managed to grow potatoes in an extreme environment that replicates conditions on Mars.

The breakthrough, announced last week, brings the sci-fi theme explored in the 2015 blockbuster The Martian a step closer.

In the film, Matt Damon plays a botanist-cum-astronaut who is stranded on Mars and manages to grow potatoes to keep him alive until his erstwhile colleagues can attempt a rescue mission. more

Farming Online, 12 March 2017 

AHDB Horticulture stresses the need for crop protection measures

AHDB Horticulture has stressed the need for crop protection measures to adapt to ensure the UK’s horticultural crops are effectively protected in the long term. AHDB Horticulture's Strategy Director Steve Tones noted that while crop protection still accounted for 70% of AHDB Horticulture’s spend, changing environmental and political conditions means that the nature of crop protection is evolving.

“One of the industry’s major challenges is pesticide availability,” Mr Tones said. “While making effective use of the chemicals we can use we also need to develop crop protection methods which use plant biology to fight pests and diseases. New advances in precision farming techniques will also benefit the industry and should allow growers to rely less on chemical interventions.” more

Farming UK, 5 March 2017 

Electric tractors ‘on UK farms as early as 2020’

Electric tractors may be coming to UK farms at least 10 years sooner than anticipated, according to the NFU. A NFU paper, Electric tractors by 2020? – a review of advanced vehicle technology in the agricultural sector, describes the possible technology options of electric tractors.

Jonathan Scurlock, NFU renewables expert, said: “Imagine a farm where electric agricultural vehicles, some autonomous, some conventional, are connected to charging points in large solar PV equipped ‘carport-style’ machinery sheds, earning additional income from so-called ‘vehice-to-grid’ network balancing services while they are on charge. This may no longer be science fiction, but instead the technology of the near future.” more

Farmers Weekly, 1 March 2017 

FAO: World’s future food security in jeopardy

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has admitted that its food security goals won’t be met by 2030 in a new report that outlines challenges facing food production. Humanity's future ability to feed itself is in jeopardy due to intensifying pressures on natural resources, mounting inequality, and the fallout from a changing climate, according to an FAO report released last week.

The Future of Food and Agriculture: Trends and Challenges paper points out that, although some progress has been made towards reducing the number of people who are hungry worldwide, since the 1980s, "expanding food production and economic growth have often come at a heavy cost to the natural environment.” more

Farming Online, 28 February 2017 

Bread's environmental costs are counted

The environmental impact of producing a loaf of bread has been analysed in depth from the farm to the shop shelf.

The biggest single factor is the use of fertiliser to grow wheat, which accounts for 43% of greenhouse gas emissions, say experts. Emissions arise from energy needed to make ammonium nitrate fertiliser and from nitrous oxide released when it is broken down in the soil.

Around 12 million loaves are sold each day in the UK. Consumers need to be more aware of the environmental costs of their food, say researchers at the University of Sheffield. more

BBC News, 27 February 2017 

Scientists produce pigs that may be protected from killer virus which costs industry billions

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute have produced pigs that may be protected from an infection that costs the swine industry billions each year.

The team have used advanced gene editing techniques to produce pigs that are potentially resilient to Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS). Early tests have revealed that cells from the pigs are completely resistant to infection with both major subtypes of the virus that causes the disease. more

Farming UK, 24 February 2017 

Technology poised to answer farming labour shortage

Technological advances in agricultural production can help mitigate a potential shortage in EU migrant workers on UK farms after Brexit, the NFU conference was told.

The UK’s decision to leave the European Union, a weak pound and “societal animosity” towards migrants were making it hard for farm businesses to attract seasonal and permanent foreign workers.

During a session entitled “Competitiveness: Keeping ahead of the game”, farmers were urged to embrace modern technologies, including robotics and drones, to improve crop production and increase efficiency. more

Farmers Weekly, 22 February 2017 

JIC scientists remove reliance on seasonality in new lines of broccoli - potentially doubling crop production

The BBSRC strategically funded John Innes Centre has announced a potential breakthrough in broccoli production that will aid in UK food resilience and global food security.

Scientists at the John Innes Centre are developing a new line of fast-growing sprouting broccoli that goes from seed to harvest in 8-10 weeks.

It has the potential to deliver two full crops a season in-field or it can be grown all year round in protected conditions, which could help with continuity of supply, as growers would no longer be reliant on seasonal weather conditions. more

BBSRC, 21 February 2017 

GM hens to boost bid to set up ‘frozen aviary’

Genetically modified hens that can lay eggs from different poultry breeds are helping Scottish scientists set up a “frozen aviary” to conserve rare and exotic birds.

Like a seed bank for poultry, the aviary will store primordial stem cells that give rise to eggs destined to hatch male or female offspring.

So far, the team from the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute have collected more than 500 samples from 25 different breeds. Held in a freezer at minus 150C, the cells will remain viable for decades. The researchers want to preserve rare chicken breeds that may be resistant to infections such as bird flu or have desirable traits such as high meat quality. more

The Scotsman, 19 February 2017

Report underlines importance of UK food production

A new report is calling for the UK to be more self-sufficient in food production, in the wake of continued global uncertainty and reliance on food produced elsewhere in the world.

The report, British Food: What role should UK producers have in feeding the UK? reveals the rapid increase of global goods’ trading over the past three decades, meaning we now export £18bn of food whilst importing £39bn. Food consumed in the UK is produced in 168 different countries.

Professor Tim Benton, lead author of the report and an expert on global food security, said: “It makes absolute sense to build up a stronger local food sector here in the UK and increase our resilience, meaning we could maintain access to a range of quality, locally produced goods.” more

Farm Business, 17 February 2017 

Sir John Beddington warns 'anti-science' leads to poor policy decisions on climate change, GM crops

A former UK chief scientist has warned that politicians around the globe are ignoring science for the sake of short-term political opportunism.

This comes, Sir John Beddington argues, as growing urban populations are demanding more energy, water and food at a time when climate change is creating more natural weather disasters.

"If a politician completely ignores scientific advice, then they're in danger of making policy decisions which will prove to be unutterably wrong," Sir John told ABC Rural during a visit to Australia. more

ABC Rural, 15 February 2017 

U.S. scientists develop new way to measure crop yields from space

U.S. researchers have come up with a new method of estimating crop yields from small farms in Africa using high-resolution images from the latest generation of satellites - a development which could help cut hunger in poor parts of the world.

Improving agricultural productivity is one of the main ways to lift people out of poverty but without accurate data it's difficult to identify the farmers who need help, scientists from Stanford University said.

Images from new, inexpensive satellites could be used to estimate yields and test interventions in poor regions where data is scarce, they said in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday. more

Reuters, 13 February 2017 

Quinoa genome could see 'super-food' prices tumble

Scientists have successfully decoded the genome of quinoa, one of the world's most nutritious but underutilised crops.

The South American grain is a hugely popular "super-food" because it is well balanced and gluten-free. However, prices for quinoa have rocketed in recent years as demand exceeded supply.

Researchers believe the genetic code will rapidly lead to more productive varieties that will push down costs. more

BBC News, 9 February 2017 

Fake pesticides costing economy millions

The production of fake pesticides costs EU businesses €1.3 billion each year, including 76m euros and 200 jobs in the UK.

A new report from the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) shows that 13.8% of legitimate revenues are lost each year due to counterfeiting of pesticides in the EU-28.

Those lost sales translate into 2,600 jobs directly lost across the pesticides sector in the EU, as legitimate manufacturers employ fewer people than they would have done in the absence of counterfeiting. more

Horticulture Week, 8 February 2017  

Scottish Conservatives ‘absolutely support’ GM crops

Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, signalled her strong support for genetically modified crops at NFU Scotland’s conference, saying her party would ‘absolutely support’ their use.

In 2015, the Scottish Government banned the growth of GM crops and requested Scotland be excluded from any EU consents for their cultivation.

The move was panned by NFU Scotland’s chief executive Scott Walker, who said the crops could have a role in shaping sustainable agriculture and protecting the environment. more

Farmers Guardian, 8 February 2017 

Veg shortage highlights vital role of horticulture R&D

Headline news that UK supermarkets are rationing sales of fresh produce after bad weather hit supplies from southern Europe highlights the critical role of applied horticulture research focused on improving home-grown production, according to Professor Mario Caccamo, the newly appointed MD of Kent-based NIAB EMR.

“As the UK prepares for a future outside the EU Single Market, these short-term concerns over availability provide a timely reminder that the UK is only 50 per cent self-sufficient in fresh produce,” he said.

“There is a major opportunity for UK growers to increase market share through import substitution, and there has never been a greater need for innovative, industry-facing R&D in the horticulture sector to drive improved yields, quality, seasonality and production efficiency.” more

Farming Futures, 6 February 2017 

Iceberg lettuces and broccoli rationed as vegetable crisis hits supermarkets

Some supermarkets are rationing the number of iceberg lettuce and broccoli customers can buy - blaming poor growing conditions in southern Europe for a shortage in UK stores.

Tesco is limiting shoppers to three iceberg lettuces, as bad weather in Spain caused "availability issues".

Morrisons has a limit of two icebergs to stop "bulk buying", and is limiting broccoli to three heads per visit. more

BBC News, 3 February 2017 

Field scale GM wheat trials get the green light

Genetically modified wheat will be planted in the UK this spring after approval was given by Defra for Rothamsted Research to carry out a field trial.

The move had been widely anticipated after successful trial work carried out in glasshouses in 2016 using genes from stiff brome grass incorporated into the spring wheat variety Cadenza.

The GM wheat showed an improved ability to photosynthesise compared with conventional wheat and led to yield increases of up to 40%, although experts say double digit yield increases are unlikely to be replicated in field conditions. more

Farmers Weekly, 1 February 2017 

Opportunity to drive R&D through producer organisations says Minister

Producer organisations could provide an opportunity to drive forward research and development activity in the fresh produce sector according to Defra Minister George Eustice, who spoke at the Brassica and Leafy Salad Conference in Peterborough.

The remarks were welcomed by Jack Ward, chief executive of the British Growers Association. “There has never been a time when there has been a greater need for more R&D in the sector. At the present time the UK fresh produce industry only has a 50 per cent share of the home market. With the advent of Brexit there is a huge opportunity for UK producers to increase market share through a process of import substitution. Increased R&D will play an important part in achieving this and producer organisations could provide an ideal focus for greater near market research,” Mr Ward said. more

Farmers Guardian, 1 February 2017 

'Tuberculosis-resistant' cattle developed in China

Scientists in China say they have produced cloned cattle with increased resistance to bovine tuberculosis. Twenty calves were born, of which 11 survived for more than three months.

Bovine TB is a risk to cattle in many countries, including parts of the UK, Africa and Asia.

Researchers from the College of Veterinary Medicine, Northwest A&F University in Shaanxi, China used a genome editing tool to change the genetic code of cattle. They say the technology could have widespread uses in agriculture. more

BBC News, 1 February 2017 

Australian scientists use soybean oil to create graphene

Australian scientists have turned ordinary cooking oil into graphene, in a discovery they say lowers its cost to produce.

Graphene, a strong carbon material, is just one atom wide and conducts electricity better than copper. It was discovered at the University of Manchester in 2004, winning its inventors a Nobel Prize in 2010.

Now researchers say they can make graphene with soybean oil, potentially making it more commercially viable. more

BBC News, 1 February 2017

GM cultivation looks more likely as Defra voices support

UK officials have shown their continued support for GM technology, suggesting the controversial crops may well be cultivated on these shores after Brexit.

Defra’s pro-GM stance was made clear in a vote in Brussels on Friday (27 January), when the UK was one of eight member states in favour of licensing two new varieties of GM maize for cultivation in the EU, and reapproving an existing one.

A further 13 member states voted against the new authorisations, with seven countries abstaining. Given the usual split opinion, a final decision on whether to allow the two new varieties to be grown now rests with the EU Commission – which will likely happen in the spring. more

Farmers Weekly, 30 January 2017 

Seeds offer clue to domesticated plants' larger size

The seeds of domesticated plants could offer clues as to why cultivated crops are larger than their wild cousins, researchers have suggested.

Increased size is common among domesticated plants but the reason for increased growth is little understood.

The increase in the biomass is of interest to plant breeders as it could affect productivity, such as reducing grain yields, they added. The findings have been published in the journal Plant Biology. more

BBC News, 28 January 2017 

Casino experts help combat UK arable diseases

Data-crunching techniques employed by Las Vegas casinos are helping some of the UK’s biggest farming companies combat diseases such as septoria in winter wheat.

Analytics company Hummingbird Technologies says advanced data capture and machine learning algorithms can provide early warning of yield-robbing diseases.

Hummingbird chief executive Will Wells said the goal of the business was to emulate some of the advances seen in other sectors and apply them to agriculture. more

Farmers Weekly, 26 January 2017 

Understanding the challenge of resistance in agriculture

BBSRC is launching a call for applications to understand how agricultural pests and diseases become resistant to the agents currently used to control them.

The problem of resistance to antibiotics is well documented. Less well documented is the situation in agriculture. The majority of agricultural production (including cereals, vegetables and meat) in the developed world relies on a variety of chemical agents to control weeds, fungi, insect pests and parasites. Without these agents, crop yields would be lower (and in some cases, crops would be impossible to harvest) and livestock grow more slowly, and in some cases would die prematurely.

BBSRC is keen to address these problems, and has launched a ‘Highlight’ call for research grant applications which aim to understand how resistance develops and how it spreads through populations. more

BBSRC, 25 January 2017 

JIC spin-off Leaf Systems opened by Science Minister Jo Johnson

Leaf Systems International Ltd, a spin out company built on the world-leading UK bioscience research that takes place at the John Innes Centre, was today officially opened by Jo Johnson, Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation.

Leaf Systems use a novel efficient, safe and simple system – Hypertrans® – to quickly produce proteins in plants such as vaccines, antibodies or enzymes. The proteins can then be extracted through crushing the leaves and purifying the product. The speed of the system means that it can rapidly produce large amounts of protein and so it is well suited to rapidly responding to emergencies like pandemics. more

John Innes Centre, 23 January 2017 

UK food supply at risk from climate change – Defra

Climate change poses “significant risks” to the UK food supply chain, says a government report.

Published by Defra, the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment report looks at the risks and challenges associated with global warming.

“The government recognises that climate change will present significant risks to the availability and supply of food in the UK,” it says. more

Farmers Weekly, 23 January 2017 

Growers desert oilseed rape amid neonicotinoids ban

The ban on neonicotinoid seed treatments is costing EU farmers more than £500m in lost revenue each year, a report has found.

The study, published by the EU’s Humboldt Forum for Food and Agriculture research consultancy, shows the ban has also shortened EU agricultural supply of OSR by 912,000t (-4%).

This production has been taken up in other parts of the world, such as the Americas, Ukraine and Australia where neonicotinoids banned in the UK and the EU remain widely used. more

Farmers Weekly, 18 January 2017 

Scientists uncover hidden wheat treasures

A team of scientists in the UK and USA have generated a new ground-breaking resource of ten million mutations in bread and pasta wheat varieties.

Researchers and breeders can search the public wheat database online to identify changes in their genes of interest and request seeds to improve the nutrition and production of wheat worldwide. They anticipate this will speed up the development of the wheat crop with highly sought-after traits, including disease resistance and increased yield.

Scientists from the Earlham Institute (EI, UK), the John Innes Centre (JIC, UK), Rothamsted Research (RRes, UK) and the University of California, Davis (UC Davis, USA), funded by BBSRC, USDA and HHMI, have catalogued ten million mutations by sequencing 400 billion bases of DNA from 2735 mutant wheat lines. These hidden mutations are likely to disrupt more than 90% of the pasta and bread wheat genes. more

BBSRC, 16 January 2017 

BBSRC BRAVO: optimising the performance of Brassica crops

January 2017 sees the launch of a new 5-year project BBSRC Brassica, Rapeseed and Vegetable Optimisation (BRAVO), funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Oilseed rape and Brassica vegetable crops have a combined UK market value in excess of £1Bn, but suffer yearly losses of up to £230M, primarily due to increasingly unfavourable and unpredictable weather patterns. BBSRC BRAVO aims to combat these crop losses by unravelling the processes that control key aspects of plant development.

This knowledge will then be applied to help develop new, more resilient varieties of Brassica crops that can achieve superior field performance whilst reducing yield loss and industry wastage. more

BBSRC, 13 January 2017 

Neonics unlikely to return, warns top Rothamsted scientist

A ban against neonicotinoids to control cabbage stem flea beetle in oilseed rape is likely to stay, a leading agricultural scientist has warned.

Lin Field, of Rothamsted Research, was speaking to agronomists at an annual conference organised by the Association of Independent Crop Consultants.

Her comments come days after it emerged the EU has delayed a review of its moratorium on neonicotinoids, including to control flea beetle in rape. more

Farmers Weekly, 11 January 2017

Neonics ban costs industry £500 million

The anticipated review of three neonicotinoid pesticides has been delayed by the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa) until autumn this year. It came as an EU report found the ban on the pesticides had cost farmers almost £500 million.

The EU food watchdog had been due to publish a re-evaluation of the scientific evidence of the safety of each pesticide – currently under EU restrictions – to bees this month. Efsa said it needed more time to consider the ’very large amount of information received during the call for data’. more

Farmers Guardian, 11 January 2017 

7.3 million tonnes of food wasted in UK in 2015

Consumers are being encouraged to waste less food, after new figures from WRAP show that £13 billion of edible food was needlessly thrown away from homes in 2015.

The latest results show that 7.3 million tonnes of food is wasted, which if prevented, would have the environmental benefit of taking one in four cars off the road. more

Farm Business, 10 January 2017 

Weed control by robot

A research project part-funded by AHDB Horticulture is driving innovation in weed control and aims to reduce herbicide inputs for field vegetables by up to 95%.

Experts at University of Reading, Precision Farming Robotics Ltd, Concurrent Solutions llc and Knight Farm Machinery are developing the use of a cutting-edge automated spot herbicide ejector, ‘eyeSpot’, which will "point and shoot" metered droplets at individual leaves of unwanted plants in row crops.

The ejector will use an imaging system to distinguish weeds in field vegetable crops and will evaluate the dose of droplets required to kill those weeds at different growth stages. Herbicide droplets will then be accurately targeted to the leaves of the unwanted plants. more

Scottish Farmer, 7 January 2017 

Adjusting LED lights can improve crop quality, says research

Adjusting the light wavelengths and intensity of LED lighting can improve crop yields and quality, latest research findings show.

Research at the Stockbridge Technology Centre (STC), funded by AHDB Horticulture, has shown that by adjusting the quantity and quality of LED lighting, improvements in both the yields and the quality of ornamentals and other crops can be achieved, demonstrating that the benefits of growing with LEDs goes beyond simple energy savings.

The research at STC aims to gain a greater understanding about the underlying biology of plant responses to various lighting mixes and what this means in terms of plant morphology and speed of growth. more

Farming UK, 5 January 2017 

Brexit a ‘unique opportunity’ to rewrite crop protection rules

Brexit provides a “unique opportunity” for the UK government to base regulatory approaches to crop protection chemicals on robust risk assessment, the head of the British Crop Production Council (BCPC) has said.

Speaking at a fringe event at the Oxford Farming Conference, BCPC chairman Dr Colin Ruscoe said the sustainability of important plant protection products (PPPs) was under threat by the EU’s hazard-based approach to agrochemical approvals. more

Farmers Weekly, 4 January 2017 

Farm subsidies must refocus on environment, say MPs

Farm subsidies should be refocused after the UK leaves the EU to provide a better balance between support to agriculture and environmental protection, a report by an influential group of MPs has concluded.

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) said any new farm subsidies the government introduces to replace the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) “should have clearly defined objectives linked the delivery of public goods”.

These include the promotion of biodiversity, preventing flooding and storing carbon “rather than simply providing income to support farmers”, said the report, The Future of the Natural Environment after the EU Referendum. more

Farmers Weekly, 4 January 2017 

New method to capture plant disease-resistant DNA

Scientists have developed an improved method for capturing DNA, allowing better differentiation between similar resistance (R) genes which provide plants with immunity to disease.

Dr Matt Clark, head of technology development at the Norwich-based Earlham Institute and lead author of the study, said: “Wild relatives of crops contain a huge repertoire of novel genes that could be used to breed more resistant varieties that need less pesticide treatments.

“When it comes to identifying key genes it can be very difficult for researchers to find the exact resistance gene due to the sheer similarity of their DNA sequences. Typical sequencing methods use short reads but these are often too short to prise similar genes apart. In this study, we can identify the exact gene that confers resistance to a certain infection, and use it in breeding programmes.” more

Farmers Guardian, 26 December 2016 

Brexit uncertainty 'corrosive' for science

Uncertainty over the nature of the UK's future relationship with the EU is having a "corrosive" effect on science, a House of Lords report says.

The report highlights what it says is a "delay in solid reassurances" on Brexit and "mixed messages" from ministers.

The report welcomes the increase to science funding announced in the 2016 Autumn Statement. But it says bold steps are needed to ensure the UK continues to attract the best scientific talent. more

BBC News, 20 December 2016 

© 2010 Front Foot Communications Design Martin Phillips Associates Ltd