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

Group News

APPGSTA Annual Report 2017/18
October 2018

APPGSTA Income and Expenditure Statement
October 2018

Review of developments since 2010 APPGSTA report

- Professor David Leaver
February 2018

Westminster Hall Debate
Agriculture GCSE

(Julian Sturdy MP)
February 2018

APPGSTA Annual Report 2016/17 September 2017

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

APPGSTA Income and Expenditure Statement
July 2017

Promotion of Innovation

House of Commons, BEIS Questions
September 2016

APPGSTA Annual Report 2015/16
July 2016

APPGSTA Income & Expenditure Statement
July 2016

APPGSTA Annual Report 2014/15
July 2015

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

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

APPGSTA Annual Report 2012/13
January 2014

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

VIDEO: MP hails agri-tech project

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

UK Agri-Tech Strategy published

22 July 2013


APPGSTA Annual Report 2011/12

December 2012


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


George Freeman MP hails £250m bio-economy boost

24 May 2012


House of Lords Debate -

Innovation in EU Agriculture

February 2012


APPGSTA Annual Report 2010/11

December 2011



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


2017 Archive


2016 Archive


2015 Archive


2014 Archive


2013 Archive


2012 Archive


2011 Archive

2010 Archive

2009 Archive

2008 Archive

Science & Technology News



Research reveals how plants branch out to access water

New research has discovered how plant roots sense the availability of moisture in soil and then adapt their shape to optimise acquisition of water.

The discovery could enable crops to be bred which are more adaptive to changes in climate conditions, such as water scarcity, and help ensure food security in the future, according to researchers at the universities of Nottingham and Durham. more

Farmers Guardian, 28 December 2018 

Responsible innovation key to smart farming

Responsible innovation that considers the wider impacts on society is key to smart farming, according to academics at the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Agriculture is undergoing a technology revolution supported by policy-makers around the world. While smart technologies will play an important role in achieving improved productivity and greater eco-efficiency, critics have suggested that consideration of the social impacts is being side-lined.

In a new journal article Dr David Rose and Dr Jason Chilvers, from UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences, argue that the concept of responsible innovation should underpin the so-called fourth agricultural revolution, ensuring that innovations also provide social benefits and address potentially negative side-effects. more

Farm Business, 21 December 2018 

UK metaldehyde ban will have 'major impact' on British farmers

The banning of metaldehyde is “hugely disappointing” and will have a “major impact” on British farmers and growers, the NFU said today.

Defra has announced that a ban on the outdoor use of metaldehyde, a common pesticide used against slugs, is to be introduced across Britain from Spring 2020.

However, products containing the chemical will still be authorised for use in other countries that export food to the UK. more

Farming UK, 19 December 2018 

Gene edited food imports into EU will be almost impossible to spot

The scientist responsible for the only public trial of a gene edited crop in Europe has said the EU decision to reclassify the plants as GM will cause a regulatory nightmare for food standard agencies.

European law currently requires food packaging to be labelled GM if more than 0.9% of any one ingredient is genetically modified.

But Rothamsted’s Professor Johnathan Napier, who has pioneered the GM production of Omega-3 fish oils by camelina plants, said the nature of the changes brought about by the technology would make it almost impossible to identify food imports into the EU that had been gene edited. more

Rothamsted Research, 18 December 2018 

More flexible approach to regulations needed

A more supportive, flexible and incentives-led approach to farming regulation has been recommended as part of wide-ranging review into the sector published today.

The final report by Dame Glenys Stacey, concludes that the current regulation of the farming sector – with its one-size-fits-all rules-based approach – is far too inflexible. Leaving the EU provides the opportunity to do things differently.

The report recommends a new independent regulator that would be supportive of farmers’ individual circumstances, offering them practical advice, guidance and helping to incentivise good practice. more

Farm Business, 13 December 2018 

Farming Minister admits neonics ban has increased pesticide use

Farming Minister George Eustice has admitted the recent ban on neonicotinoids has actually increased overall pesticide use.

The UK Government’s decision to back planned EU restrictions on neonicotinoids was instrumental in getting the ban through in April this year. Ministers were repeatedly warned at the time that such restrictions would lead to greater use of other pesticides such as pyrethroids, and in August, a top insect specialist questioned the usefulness of the ban.  

Mr Eustice said: “There is something of a paradox on our pesticide use, which we do have to be aware of.  Sometimes you can get unintended consequences by withdrawing certain products. Pesticide use has gone up, but one of the reasons for that, if we are blunt, is that having lost neonicotinoids to use on things like oilseed rape, we are seeing an increased use of foliar sprays.” more

Farmers Guardian, 11 December 2018 

Trees can help mitigate ammonia emissions from farming

A new online calculator and guidance has been developed to help farmers and others to design woodlands to capture airborne ammonia and so reduce air pollution.

Scientists from the NERC Centre for Ecology & Hydrology worked with Forest Research to develop the free online tool and guidance for users as part of research funded by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.

Agriculture is the main source of ammonia emissions in the UK, with the majority coming from animal manure and fertilisers. more

Farm Business, 11 December 2018 

Robots solving labour and productivity issues for dairy and arable farmers

Dairy and arable farmers are looking to invest in robotics as they seek to tackle labour shortages and boost productivity.

Research from the latest Map of Ag research study, conducted by the National Farm Research Unit (NFRU), showed about 6 per cent of dairy farms have already invested in robots, with 13 per cent considering it over the next five years. On arable farms, about 5 per cent have already invested, with 11 per cent considering it. more

Farmers Guardian, 8 December 2018

British farmers 'could lead the way' on gene editing after Brexit

Michael Gove has said that British scientists and farmers could “lead the way” on gene editing after the UK leaves the EU. The Defra Secretary said that outside the EU, the UK could use gene editing technology to produce higher-yield crops that are resistant to diseases and resilient to climate change.

Mr Gove told the Country Land and Business Association's (CLA) conference last week: “Even if there are individual lobby groups that express their legitimate concerns we will ensure those scientific tools are there for those who can improve productivity in a genuinely sustainable way.

“Gene editing allows us to give mother nature a helping hand, to accelerate the process of evolution in a way which can significantly increase yield and also reduce our reliance on chemicals and other input. There is a potential there for Britain and our scientists and our farmers to lead the way.” more

Farming UK, 4 December 2018 

Call for 'radical rethink' of farming practices to help regenerate soil

Countryside campaigners are calling for a “radical rethink” of farming practices and development in order to help regenerate the “precious commodity” that is soil.

A combination of “industrial farming practices, poor land management and damage from development” has created a “perfect storm” that has resulted in soil erosion, compaction and a loss of soil’s fertility.

That's according to the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), who say this degradation of soil costs around £1.2 billion a year in England and Wales alone. more

Farming UK, 3 December 2018 

Satellites warn African farmers of pest infestations

UK researchers have developed an early warning system to prevent the crops of African farmers from being devastated. The Pest Risk Information Service (Prise) combines temperature data and weather forecasts with computer models. It then sends farmers a mobile phone alert so that they can take precautions. It is hoped that the system will boost yields and increase farm incomes by up to 20%.

Prise is being used in Kenya, Ghana and Zambia and will be rolled out soon in other parts of the world. Prise is an upgrade of a highly successful UK Aid scheme run by the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International development charity (CABI). more

BBC News, 30 November 2018 

£62m barley research hub to open in Scotland

Plans to develop a £62 million global centre for barley research in Scotland, which could have significant benefits for the Scotch whisky industry, have been given the go-ahead.

The International Barley Hub (IBH) and the Advanced Plant Growth Centre (APGC) will be developed within the James Hutton Institute’s (JHI) Invergowrie site near Dundee.

The two centres, which are due to open in 2022, will enable scientists to develop new barley varieties and work on areas such as flavour, yield, and sustainability. more, 29 November 2018 

Pesticide aquatic testing facility launched

A new testing facility for pesticides has been launched by Fera, in partnership with the Centre from Crop Health and Protection (CHAP).

Opening the facility, based near York and supported by Innovate UK, Kevin Hollinrake MP says: “Farming decisions going forward should be based on science and there is no better example than this of how we can get the best science and make the best decisions. Crucially we need to blend productivity, profitability and to improve the environment.”

The testing facility, known as an E-Flows mesocosm, is an outdoor experimental system that can simulate natural aquatic environments such as ponds, ditches and streams under controlled conditions. more

Farmers Guardian, 27 November 2018  

Climate change: UK summers could be over 5C warmer by 2070

In its first major update on climate change in almost 10 years, the Met Office has warned of significant temperature rises in the decades ahead.

The UK Climate Projections 2018 study is the most up to date assessment of how the UK may change over this century.

It says that under the highest emissions scenario, summer temperatures could be 5.4C hotter by 2070. The chances of a summer as warm as 2018 are around 50% by 2050. more

BBC News, 26 November 2018 

Research shows almost all farmers have taken environmental measures

98% of farmers in the UK have measures in place to drive environmental improvements, with two-thirds planning further investment, according to new research.

The latest Farm Forward Barometer – part of an ongoing research programme commissioned by McDonald’s UK and conducted by the National Farm Research Unit – found 62% of farmers also plan further green investments in 2019.

It found farmers’ current priorities are improving soil management (84%), preserving the countryside (84%) and better water management (70%). more

Farming UK, 21 November 2018 

Space-inspired speed breeding for crop improvement

Technology first used by NASA to grow plants extra-terrestrially is fast tracking improvements in a range of crops. Scientists at John Innes Centre and the University of Queensland have improved the technique, known as speed breeding, adapting it to work in vast glass houses and in scaled-down desktop growth chambers.

The ability to work at these scales gives scientists greater opportunities than ever before to breed disease resistant, climate resilient and nutritious crops to feed a growing global population. The research is published in the peer reviewed journal Nature Protocols.

Speed breeding uses enhanced LED lighting and day-long regimes of up to 22 hours to optimise photosynthesis and promote rapid growth of crops. By shortening breeding cycles, the method allows scientists and plant breeders to fast-track genetic improvements such as yield gain, disease resistance and climate resilience in a range of crops such as wheat, barley, oilseed rape and pea. more

UKRI, 18 November 2018 

Climate change: Report says 'cut lamb and beef'

The number of sheep and cattle in the UK should be reduced by between a fifth and a half to help combat climate change, a report says.

The shift is needed, the government’s advisory Committee on Climate Change (CCC) maintains, because beef and lamb produce most farm greenhouse gases. The report foresees an increase in the number of pigs and chickens because these produce less methane.

The farm union NFU said it supported more diverse land use. But environmentalists say the recommendations are too timid. more

BBC News, 15 November 2018 

New training resource to get teenagers excited about farming

A new initiative has been developed which will help inspire young people to discover and research careers in farming.

The learning resource, supported by Defra, will help teenagers get excited about agriculture and see there’s more to the industry than tractors and livestock.

'Future Farming' will be available for Young Farmers’ Clubs and in schools, as well as being accessible to teachers online. more

Farming UK, 15 November 2018 

Key gene could help create disease resistant crops

A gene which helps plants control their response to disease could aid farmers with the development of disease resistant crops.

Research findings could lead to ways to fine-tune the gene’s activity to boost disease resistance, pointing towards more resilient crop breeds or new treatments for infections.

It could help curb crop losses incurred by plant diseases. These are the leading cause of crop losses worldwide, accounting for 10 per cent of lost produce in key varieties. more

Farming UK, 13 November 2018 

British farmers angry over neonicotinoid use in EU, despite ban

British farmers have voiced anger today that neonicotinoid insecticides remain banned in the UK but not in other European countries. Despite a ban to cover all crops put forward by the European Union to protect local bee populations, governments in Hungary and Romania said their farmers are permitted to use it.

British farmers said the ban would see them lose their competitive edge. “As we leave the European Union, if we constrain our farmers through regulation from growing the crops they want to grow, all we will do is export that crop production to other parts of the world and become more reliant on imports” said Guy Smith, deputy president of the NFU. more

Farming UK, 12 November 2018 

EPO revokes controversial broccoli patent under new rules

The European Patent Office (EPO) has revoked a Bayer patent that covered traditionally bred broccoli adapted for the ease of harvesting.

No Patents on Seeds protested the patent by erecting the “largest broccoli in the world” outside of the EPO building in Munich. A petition with around 75,000 signatures supporting opposition to the patent was also handed over.

The EPO introduced new rules for examination in 2017, which mean that patents on animals and plants can no longer be granted if they are derived from conventional breeding using methods like crossing and selection. European law prohibits patents on plant varieties and animal varieties.  This is the first time the new rules have resulted in the revocation of a patent. more

IPProPatents, 8 November 2018  

Britain is ripe for agriculture innovation after Brexit

Matt Ridley

Agriculture is being transformed by innovation at a rapid pace. Genetically modified crops are being grown on 190 million hectares worldwide, with on average 20 per cent higher yields and 40 per cent fewer chemicals than their non-GM counterparts. Genome editing (which involves no cross-species DNA transfer) has produced fungus-resistant wheat and disease-resistant pigs.

Farmers in Ukraine and Brazil are using satellite and drone data to target fertiliser and pesticide where and when it is needed, reducing the costs and environmental impact of farming. Robots are starting to drive tractors, identify weeds and pick strawberries. New nitrogen-fixing bacteria derived from sugar cane by Nottingham University promises higher yields in maize and rice.

In a new report for the Institute of Economic Affairs, I argue that these changes will bring ecological as well as economic benefits to both producers and consumers, but that Britain risks missing out on these benefits if it fails to adopt new innovations. more

The Spectator, 6 November 2018 

WTO members support policy approaches to enable innovation in agriculture

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today announced that the United States has joined with 12 other nations to support policies that enable agricultural innovation, including genome editing.

“Precision biotechnologies such as genome editing hold great promise for both farmers and consumers around the world. These tools can play a critical role in helping farmers address many of the production challenges they face while improving the quality and nutritional value of foods available to consumers worldwide,” said Perdue. more

Seedquest, 2 November 2018 

UK farmers suffering due to ‘least collaborative’ agri-tech sector in the world

Farmers are suffering because the UK has the ‘least collaborative’ agri-tech sector in the world, according to a leading figure in the industry.

William Wells, founder and chief executive of Hummingbird Technologies, made the remarks at the East of England farming conference in Peterborough this week.

His business uses imagery from drones, robots, satellites and planes to help farmers detect invisible diseases, classify weeds at first emergence and provide early season yield predictions. more

Farmers Guardian, 2 November 2018 

Grass-fed cows produce superior milk, research shows

Milk from cows fed a pasture-based diet is higher in fat, protein and tastes better than milk from cows fed a total mixed ration, according to Irish research.

The latest trials from Teagasc (Ireland’s agriculture and food development authority) comparing the nutritional and processing characteristics of milk have supported earlier findings that grass-fed cows produce better milk.

Milk from grass-fed cows had increased concentrations of omega 3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid and vaccenic acid. Sensory evaluations revealed a preference for grass-fed milk. more

Farmers Weekly, 30 October 2018 

Keeping EU rules is vital for free trade, NFU says

Maintaining the same production standards as the EU for a time after Brexit is a price worth paying to avoid the “seismically bad” consequences of no deal, NFU president Minette Batters has said.

Speaking at an event in London that brought together EU farming union representatives, Ms Batters warned that it was vital to remain tightly aligned with EU rules, at least during the transition period, so that as frictionless trade as possible with EU consumers could continue.

This is also likely to mean an independent UK would be unable to roll back any of the EU’s crop spray bans, or have the freedom to introduce gene-editing or GM technology, and would not have a say on future decisions on standards but still have to comply by them. more

Farmers Weekly, 27 October 2018 

Nottingham University researchers to grow crops underground

University of Nottingham academics are exploring a new concept for subterranean farms as an alternative approach to large scale crop production.

The farms would be linked by a network of tunnels for intensive crop farming to feed rising urban populations. They could be established close to, or beneath, city centres to reduce transport costs and CO2 emissions, according to the researchers.

Cost-effective underground tunnels for crop planting could be constructed using new drilling techniques and these could be linked with existing coal mining and civil air defence tunnels, many of which are now abandoned, they suggest. more

Farmers Guardian, 25 October 2018 

European scientists unite to safeguard gene-editing for crops

Leading researchers representing more than 75 European plant and life sciences research centres and institutes have endorsed a position paper that urgently calls upon European policy makers to safeguard gene-editing technologies in plant science and agriculture. 

The scientists, including those from The Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich are deeply concerned about a recent European Court of Justice ruling concerning modern genome editing techniques that could lead to a de facto ban of innovative crop breeding.

The position paper argues the European farmers may be deprived of a new generation of more climate resilient and nutritious crop varieties that are urgently needed to respond to current ecological and societal challenges. more

Farmers Guardian, 24 October 2018 

Brexit could compromise farmers' biosecurity, Lords report says

The UK could lose access to EU alerts on animal and plant disease threats, which could in turn compromise farmers' biosecurity, a report has concluded.

Leaving the European Union could "significantly compromise" the UK’s ability to manage such threats, the House of Lords European Union committee said in their new report. The issue is a constant threat to the industry, with 300 different pests and diseases intercepted at the UK border last year.

Currently, most decisions on how to react to biosecurity threats are made at an EU level, due to an EU-wide intelligence notification system which traces plant and animal movement. But when the UK leaves the EU, it will no longer automatically be part of this framework. more

Farming UK, 24 October 2018 

Research finds climate warming could spell increase in pests but not their predators

Climate-warming affects farmlands by increasing pests but not their natural predators, resulting in reduced crop yields, according to new research carried out at Newcastle University.

The study, published in the journal, Molecular Ecology, provides the first experimental evidence of how the interactions between agricultural plants, greenflies and tiny parasitoid wasps are affected in a world where temperatures are increased by 1.4degC.

Scientists at Newcastle University and the University of Hull have also shown that a rise in temperature drives changes in the crop, altering the growing patterns of the wheat, which produced fewer, lighter seeds. more

Farmers Guardian, 23 October 2018 

Nobel winners plead for Brexit science deal

Some of the biggest names in science are pleading for a deal on Brexit to avoid damaging British and European research.

A letter to Theresa May and Jean-Claude-Juncker has been signed by 29 Nobel Laureates and six winners of the prestigious Fields medal.

Science needs "the flow of people and ideas across borders", it says. It comes as a survey found that many scientists are considering leaving the UK. more

BBC News, 22 October 2018 

Opening the doors to new crops technology

Indoor farming research has received a boost with the launch of two new centres in North Yorkshire. Crop Health and Protection (CHAP) has invested in two new state-of-the-art agri-tech facilities – the Vertical Farming Development Centre and Advanced Glasshouse Facility based at Stockbridge Technology Centre (STC) near Selby, North Yorkshire.

Officially opening the new facilities, which are supported by Innovate UK, Selby and Ainsty MP Nigel Adams said: “It is exciting to see all the research and development going on for this sector. We recently had the second reading of the Agriculture Bill and I would have liked to have seen a little more in this about producing food. more

Farmers Guardian, 18 October 2018 

Government rejects applications for emergency authorisations of use of neonics

The Government has rejected applications made by the British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO) for emergency authorisations of use of neonicotinoids as a seed treatment for sugar beet next year.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and UK Expert Committee on Pesticides (ECP) have recommended that BBRO’s emergency applications for the use of neonicotinoids should not be granted, on the grounds that the risks to bees and the wider environment contained in the proposals are too great. Ministers have accepted these recommendations and the applications have therefore been refused, according to a Defra statement. more

Farmers Guardian, 16 October 2018

'Flexitarian' diets key to feeding people in a warming world

If the world wants to limit climate change, water scarcity and pollution, then we all need to embrace "flexitarian" diets, say scientists.

This means eating mainly plant-based foods, and is one of three key steps towards a sustainable future for all in 2050, they say.

Food waste will need to be halved and farming practices will also have to improve, according to the study published in the journal Nature. more

BBC News, 11 October 2018  

Global agri-tech firms to help drive investment in British farming

Global agri-tech companies will meet with the Government to drive further investment into the British farming industry. The companies, which include the likes of BASF, Bayer Crop Science, Syngenta and Zoetis, will discuss opportunities for investment in the industry at a roundtable hosted by International Trade Secretary, Dr Liam Fox.

Agri-tech businesses are already revolutionising farming around the world, from hands-free harvesting to driverless vehicles, and drones to plant and tend to crops. Hosted at 10 Downing Street, the event is the fourth in a series of Government investment roundtables which aims to promote UK industry sector opportunities to a global audience. more

Farming UK, 11 October 2018 

Rely on science for new crop rules in clean Brexit break from EU regulations, Whitehall told

Failure to break away from big chunks of EU regulation would stop the UK from closing a research gap that scientists say is undermining the development of valuable crop innovations.

Private sector research and development spending in the sector has plummeted over the last 20 years, from about £50m per year in the late-1990s to about £1.25m today, according to a new report by the Agricultural Biotechnology Council.

The council blames the EU’s “mal-administered” crop biotechnology regulatory system for contributing to a “significant” loss of high value-added research scientist jobs. It says that the EU’s approvals system for crop innovations has seen authorisations take years and scientific opinion frequently ignored from the body specifically established to provide advice to policy makers. This, the council says, has caused business uncertainty, trade disruption and research and development investment to be driven away from the plant breeding sector. more

Yorkshire Post, 10 October 2018 

IPCC report recommends move away from meat eating to halt global warming

A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recommended people move away from eating meat to stop global warming reaching a dangerous level.

The Paris Agreement, signed by 195 countries across the world, tasked the IPCC with producing the report, which examined the impact global warming of 1.5°c would have.

One of the recommendations the document contained was to ‘limit demand for greenhouse-gas intensive foods through shifts to healthier and more sustainable diets’. It also suggested improved management of water, manure and herds could help to reduce emissions from farming. more

Farmers Guardian, 10 October 2018 

Eustice signals that UK would not adopt EU ban on gene edited crops

Current EU policy prohibiting the gene editing of crops would be an 'early candidate' for the UK to ditch as it writes its own post-Brexit rulebook, Defra minister George Eustice has said.

Provoking a furious response from organic farming bodies, Mr Eustice said that UK agriculture needed to accept an 'accelerated form of genetic breeding' if it was to reduce its reliance on chemical pesticides and tackle its agronomic challenges.

Last month, a group of scientists and industry leaders wrote to Defra Secretary Michael Gove to demand clarity on how the UK Government's 'Chequers' Brexit plan would affect gene editing research. The letter was sent following a ruling by the European Court of Justice which declared that the technology of gene editing (GE) should be governed by the same regulations as genetic modification (GM). In particular, the signatories were concerned that the 'common rule book' proposed in the Chequers agreement would oblige the UK to follow the EU’s laws on GE and GM. more

Scottish Farmer, 7 October 2018 

New Bovine TB Centre of Excellence to be established at Aberystwyth University

A new Centre of Excellence for Bovine Tuberculosis for Wales will open at Aberystwyth University later this year, bringing together international expertise with the aim of eradicating the cattle disease.

The announcement was made by Welsh Government Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, at Senedd in Cardiff Bay on Wednesday 3 October 2018.

She said: “Bovine TB is the most pressing animal health challenge for Wales today.  It’s had a devastating impact on the national cattle herd and the farming community, while being a significant burden on public finances. The Centre of Excellence could be a real ‘game changer’ in the fight against bovine TB and is part of our long-term aim of eradicating the disease for good.” more

Aberystwyth University, 4 October 2018 

Farming accounts for less than one percent of R&D Tax Credits claimants

New statistics have revealed that the UK agriculture industry benefited just £10m from the Government’s R&D Tax Credits in 2017.

The agriculture industry accounted for less than 1% of all claims submitted, highlighting that the industry hasn’t tapped into the potential of the initiative.

Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credits are a UK tax incentive designed to encourage companies to invest in R&D. Companies can reduce their tax bill or claim payable cash credits as a proportion of their R&D expenditure. more

Farming UK, 3 October 2018 

Ban on neonicotinoid wheat imports unlikely, suggests Gove

Defra secretary Michael Gove has conceded that ..imports of wheat produced using neonicotinoid treatments will continue to flow into the country – even after the UK leaves the European Union. Mr Gove was replying to an audience question during a fringe meeting hosted by the NFU and Food and Drink Federation at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham.

British cereal growers will be banned from using neonicotinoid-based seed treatments from this December, but farmers in North America will still be able to use the products.UK growers say the situation leaves them facing unfair competition, and will force British farmers to use more potent chemicals to protect crops from pests, killing beneficial insects in the process. more

Farmers Weekly, 2 October 2018 

Forward Look for UK Bioscience

The Forward Look for UK Bioscience is a roadmap setting the direction of travel for UK bioscience and is an opportunity to address some of the 21st century’s greatest challenges to provide food security, clean growth and healthy ageing. It has been developed by UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

“The Forward Look covers a period when the research landscape is changing rapidly. There are significant opportunities for UK bioscience to drive growth in the bioeconomy, acting as a focus for private sector investments and inspiring new companies around potentially disruptive bio-based solutions in exciting areas of agri-tech, industrial biotechnology and synthetic biology to name but a few,” said Professor Melanie Welham, Executive Chair of UKRI - BBSRC. more

UKRI, 28 September 2018 

'No deal' Brexit could cost food supply chain £9.3bn, report warns

Failing to reach a Brexit deal could cost food retailers and their supply chain a massive £9.3 billion, according to a new report by Barclays. As Brexit negotiations continue, the report by the bank shows retailers could face additional tariffs totalling £9.3bn per year for food and drink products imported from the EU if a settlement isn’t reached.

With grocery margins typically around 3–5%, additional cost is likely to end up being passed on to consumers. The report shows that in a no-deal Brexit, food retailers would be affected by a new average tariff of 27% on food and drink goods entering from the EU, significantly more than the 3-4% levy that would hit non-food products. more

Farming UK, 27 September 2018 

Gene editing wipes out mosquitoes in the lab

Researchers have used gene editing to completely eliminate populations of mosquitoes in the lab. The team tested their technique on the mosquito Anopheles gambiae, which transmits malaria.

They altered part of a gene called doublesex, which determines whether an individual mosquito develops as a male or as a female. This allowed the Imperial College London scientists to block reproduction in the female mosquitoes. They want to see if the technology could one day be used to control mosquito populations in the wild. more

BBC News, 24 September 2018 

Revealed: What the UK public really thinks about the future of science

The UK public is well-informed and positive about science and technology, but its hopes and fears are largely being ignored by politicians. That is the key finding of an exclusive New Scientist survey of public attitudes to science, technology, medicine and the environment.

The 2018 New Scientist Asks the Public survey reveals that…public opinion is surprisingly upbeat. A majority of respondents expect the benefits of genetic engineering and AI to outweigh the downsides and think cancer can be cured. The poll also reveals broad support for genetically modified foods, with 69 per cent of people in favour of such crops saying they could help feed the world. more

New Scientist, 18 September 2018 

Intensive farming 'least bad option' for food production and environment

Intensive agriculture might be the “least bad” option for feeding the UK while saving its species and environment, say researchers. High-yield farming systems don't damage the environment as much as previously thought and could even help spare habitats.

Agriculture that appears to be more eco-friendly but uses more land may actually have greater environmental costs per unit of food than intensive farming that uses less land, the study published in the Nature Sustainability explains. more

Farming UK, 15 September 2018 

Scientists seek clarity on gene-editing after Brexit

Plant science researchers are calling on the government to provide clarity on the future of gene-edited crops following the EU ruling that effectively prohibits their use.

An open letter signed by 33 industry figures including plant breeders, universities and biotech companies, requested a round-table meeting with Michael Gove’s Defra to seek a new direction on gene-editing.

The government has already indicated it will incorporate EU laws on GM crops into British legislation, but plant scientists are hoping one silver lining of Brexit is the chance to break with EU policy on this matter. more

FruitNet, 14 September 2018 

Farm leaders slam failure to put food at heart of Agriculture Bill

Farm leaders have slammed the Government for failing to put food production at the heart of the Agriculture Bill, despite repeated pleas from industry.

In April this year, Mr Gove admitted to Farmers Guardian that he had neglected food production in the development of post-Brexit policy, but little seems to have been done to rectify the problem.

The NFU and TFA warned a lack of measures to improve competitiveness, tackle volatility and fix serious problems in the supply chain meant the legislation had ‘fallen well short’ of what was required. more

Farmers Guardian, 12 September 2018 

Landmark Agriculture Bill to deliver a Green Brexit

Legislation to deliver a cleaner and healthier environment for future generations after nearly half a century under EU rules is being introduced into Parliament today (12 September). 

The Agriculture Bill sets out how farmers and land managers will in future be paid for “public goods”, such as better air and water quality, improved soil health, higher animal welfare standards, public access to the countryside and measures to reduce flooding. This will replace the current subsidy system of Direct Payments, which pays farmers based on the total amount of land farmed.

The Bill will also be underpinned by measures to increase productivity and invest in R&D. more

Farming Online, 12 September 2018 

UK-wide school competition to see children engage with farming

Schools can now submit their applications for the chance to become a farm for the day as a UK-wide competition for children commences.

The NFU’s ‘Farmvention’ competition aims to get primary school children engaging with key topics such as science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) by designing and creating their own food and farming products.

Fifty school children and their teachers who took part in the pilot project will attend the launch of the competition at Birmingham’s ThinkTank Museum. more

Farming UK, 6 September 2018 

EU farmers ‘hostages’ of unstable politics and technology gap, report claims

The lack of access to modern technologies combined with the fragile political landscape has put agriculture production in the EU under enormous pressure, at a time when other major farm markets in the world are growing, a new report has found.

The report, published on 4 September by market analysts AgbioInvestor, paints a dark picture for the future of EU agriculture. It was commissioned by CropLife International.

It says that the EU agricultural productivity has stagnated while other major players in the farm sector have increased their productivity thanks to modern farming technologies. more

Euractiv, 4 September 2018 

UK agri-scientists win funding to cultivate grass pea in drought-prone Africa

A ground-breaking British project to cultivate grass pea in drought-prone areas has been awarded £1.2m funding.

The bid to unlock the potential of the resilient and highly nutritious legume is one of nine important projects which receive a total of £10m under the Sustainable Agriculture for Sub-Saharan Africa (SASSA) fund.

Professor Cathie Martin a project leader in metabolic biology at the John Innes Centre and the UK lead of the grass pea project said grass pea is "especially beneficial" to smallholder farmers as an insurance crop. more

Farming UK, 3 September 2018

Invest more in lab-grown meat to solve pressing crises, report suggests

The UK could solve the housing crisis, re-wild the country and help fight climate change if it invested more in lab-grown meat, a new report has claimed.

According to research by the think-tank Adam Smith Institute, the coming availability of lab grown meat could mean a cut in agricultural greenhouse gas emissions of 78-96% while using 99% less land.

Implications for the fight against climate change could be immense, the report argues, with some 14.5% of human caused greenhouse gases and 60% of biodiversity loss attributed to current intensive farming practices. more

Farming UK, 31 August 2018 

Farmers & growers asked for views on AHDB as part of new agricultural policy

Farmers, growers, processors and industry representatives are being asked for their views from today (31 August) on the role of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB).

The AHDB is a UK statutory levy board, funded by farmers, growers and others in the supply chain. As we leave the EU, there is an opportunity to ensure that the sectors that the AHDB covers are as competitive as possible. 

This review will look at the AHDB’s purpose and priorities, its strengths and where improvements need to be made. more 

Farming Online, 31 August 2018 

Pests to eat more crops in warmer world

Insects will be at the heart of worldwide crop losses as the climate warms up, predicts a US study. Scientists estimate the pests will be eating 10-25% more wheat, rice and maize across the globe for each one degree rise in climate temperature.

Warming drives insect energy use and prompts them to eat more. Their populations can also increase.This is bound to put pressure on the world's leading cereal crops, says study co-author Curtis Deutsch. more

BBC News, 30 August 2018

Food prices 'to rise 5%' because of extreme weather

Meat, vegetable and dairy prices are set to rise "at least" 5% in the coming months because of the UK's extreme weather this year, research suggests.

Consultancy CEBR said 2018's big freeze and heatwave would end up costing consumers about £7 extra per month.

It follows price warnings from farmers' representatives about peas, lettuces and potatoes. Wholesale prices of other vegetables have already soared by up to 80% since the start of the year. more

BBC News, 27 August 2018 

No-deal Brexit 'worse than thought' for science

The impact of a no-deal Brexit on British science could be worse than previously thought, according to a new analysis. UK researchers risk losing access to much of the EU funding that's currently available to them, it says.

The campaign group Scientists for EU has studied the Brexit technical notes released by the government on Thursday. One of the documents states the UK would no longer be eligible for three of the EU's major funding programmes.

The analysis estimates that those streams of research cash provide up to 45% of the total of EU science funding coming Britain's way. more

BBC News, 25 August 2018 

Agri supply chain gears up for hard Brexit

Animal and crop health companies are stockpiling supplies of chemicals and medicines in the UK to avoid running short in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Seed and spray giants Bayer CropScience and Syngenta confirmed to Farmers Weekly that they are bringing forward deliveries of chemicals from Europe, which should see farmers through their crop protection programmes next spring. 

Animal health companies Boehringer Ingelheim and Zoetis have said they are increasing storage space and supplies in the UK. Zoetis is also exploring backup supply routes to enable it to manage any Brexit issues in the supply of its products, which include cattle and pig respiratory drug Draxxin. more

Farmers Weekly, 24 August 2018 

Study: environmentally friendly farming can increase productivity

A major new study involving researchers from the University of York has measured a global shift towards more sustainable agricultural systems that provide environmental improvements at the same time as increases in food production.

The study shows that the sustainable intensification of agriculture, a term that was once considered paradoxical, delivers considerable benefits to both farmers and the environment.

Published in the leading journal Nature Sustainability, the study involved researchers from 17 universities and research institutes in the UK, USA, Sweden, Ethiopia and New Zealand Their assessment shows considerable progress has been made towards the sustainable intensification of agriculture, with sustainable approaches now being implemented on 163 million farms worldwide. more

Fresh Plaza, 21 August 2018

Wheat gene map to help 'feed the world'

The starting pistol has been fired in a race to develop "climate change resistant" wheat with the publication of a map of the crop's genes.

An international team of scientists has identified the location of more than 100,000 wheat genes.

The researchers say the map will accelerate the development of new strains to cope with the increased heat waves expected from climate change. The research has been published in the journal Science. more

BBC News, 16 August 2018

Seeding a New Green Revolution

Researchers at the University of Oxford and the Chinese Academy of Sciences discover a new gene which improves yields of cereal crops such as wheat and rice, using less fertilizer.

“Elite crops” can be grown to maintain their current high yields with less fertilizer, according to a paper published online this week in Nature.

The new study led by Professor Xiangdong Fu from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology, Beijing, and Professor Nicholas Harberd from the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Oxford, and part-funded by the BBSRC-Newton Fund Rice Initiative, have discovered a gene with the potential to reach sustainable global food security by understanding of how plants metabolize nitrogen. more

UKRI, 15 August 2018

£20m farm productivity and sustainability funding announced

Up to £20m of government funding is up for grabs for businesses to develop systems or equipment which improve productivity and sustainability in agriculture systems.

UK farmers and growers can apply for a share of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund for projects aiming to transform how the agrifood sector works with crop and animal-based agricultural systems.

Projects need to tackle research questions and make a case for receiving public investment. This is the first instalment of a total £90m fund for revolutionising food production and reducing its environmental impact, which aims to bring the agrifood sector together with robotics, satellite, data and digital technologies, and artificial intelligence. more

Farmers Weekly, 15 August 2018 

New pesticides 'may have risks for bees'

Attempts to find a new generation of pesticides to replace neonicotinoids have been dealt a potential blow. Neonicotinoids are the most commonly used insecticide in the world, but had been linked to bee declines.

Studies suggest a new type of pesticide seen as an alternative to the chemicals, which have been banned in many countries, may have similar risks. The new insecticides may reduce bumblebee reproduction in the wild, according to a study by UK scientists. more

BBC News, 15 August 2018 

£90 million to help feed the 9 billion

The first funding from a £90 million fund that aims to revolutionise how food is produced and dramatically reduce its environmental impact launches later this month.

The Transforming Food Production Challenge, part of the government’s modern Industrial Strategy, will bring together the UK’s world-leading agri-food sector with robotics, satellite, data and digital technologies and artificial intelligence to make the UK a world leader in the precision farming techniques needed to make sure the planet is able to feed a population of nine billion people by 2050.

The Challenge, funded through the government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF), will help to fuel rural growth, create high-skilled jobs and open up new export opportunities while reducing pollution and minimising waste and soil erosion. more

UKRI, 13 August 2018 

US jury which awarded glyphosate cancer damages lacked scientific expertise

A Californian jury which awarded $290 million to a school groundskeeper who blamed his terminal cancer on exposure to glyphosate lacked scientific expertise, according to the NFU.

The union’s deputy president, Guy Smith, made the remarks shortly after two UK DIY giants, Homebase and B&Q, confirmed they would be reviewing the safety of the weedkillers they sell in light of the US judgement.

Both the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) have concluded glyphosate is ‘unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans’. more

Farmers Guardian, 13 August 2018 

Epic genetic: the hidden story of wheat

An international research team have uncovered the hidden genetic secrets that give wheat its remarkable ability for local adaptation - revealing a previously untapped resource for breeding better, more resilient wheat. 

Globally, wheat, together with maize and rice, provides the most human nutrition. It can thrive in a whole range of different environments, even within a similar geographical region. 

Exploring one hundred different wheat lines worldwide, the research team led by the Earlham Institute in collaboration with Helmholtz Zentrum München, University of Liverpool and the John Innes Centre have revealed a trove of epigenetic variation that was previously unknown to current genotyping methods. more

Seedquest, 9 August 2018 

Seeing the light: scientists unlock seed germination process 

Scientists have identified a key gene that helps seeds decide whether to germinate. The MFT gene stops seeds germinating in the dark or under shady conditions, where their chances of survival would be poor, according to new research from the University of York.

The study, conducted on Arabidopsis, a very close relative of oilseed rape, increases our understanding of one of the most important stages in the life cycle of a plant and may help to improve the seed quality of agricultural crops in the future. more

Seedquest, 7 August 2018

Growers could get new funding to invest in new technology post-Brexit

UK horticultural growers could get access to new sources of funding in order to invest in technologies post-Brexit. That’s according to Farming Minister George Eustice, who is seeking to reassure growers concerned about the impact of Brexit on their businesses.

In an exclusive interview with AHDB's The Grower magazine, he said there’s an opportunity in the way government is designing future policy so farmers can invest in new equipment and new technology.

“There’s an opportunity for horticulture to get access to that kind of support in the future in a way that it perhaps didn’t in the past,” Mr Eustice said. more

Farming UK, 7 August 2018 

Trial to test if GM fed salmon are more nutritious

Researchers in the Highlands of Scotland are giving farmed salmon feed made from genetically modified crops.

The aim of the scientific trial is to increase the nutritional value of the fish.

The feed is rich in healthy fish oils, which the team hope will be absorbed by the salmon. more

BBC News, 1 August 2018 

'Far-reaching consequences': Bayer to appeal against EU verdict on neonics

Agri-chemical giant Bayer is to appeal against the recent European Union verdict on neonicotinoids, saying it will have "far-reaching consequences".

The German giant will appeal against the recent ruling of the General Court of the European Union in Case T-429/13. The Court ruled that the European Commission’s decision from 2013, which restricted the use of certain neonicotinoids, was lawful.

But Bayer said it is concerned that the verdict, announced in May, could have "far-reaching consequences" for the "certainty and predictability" of active substance approvals in the EU. By appealing against the verdict, the agri-chemical company said it aims to ensure that some general interpretations of the crop protection law established by the court are re-considered. more

Farmers Guardian, 30 July 2018 

US Agriculture Secretary slams European ruling on gene editing

Last week's European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling which subjected gene editing (GE) to the same regulations which cover genetic modification (GM) has been slammed by the USA. Sonny Perdue, the US Agriculture Secretary, branded the ruling a 'setback' in an extraordinarily critical statement.

Mr Perdue said: "Government policies should encourage scientific innovation without creating unnecessary barriers or unjustifiably stigmatising new technologies. Unfortunately, this week's ECJ ruling is a setback in this regard in that it narrowly considers newer genome editing methods to be within the scope of the EU's regressive and outdated regulations governing GMOs. We encourage the EU to seek input from the scientific and agricultural communities, as well as its trading partners, in determining the appropriate implementation of the ruling." more

Farmers Guardian, 30 July 2018    

Bayer, BASF to pursue plant gene editing elsewhere after EU ruling

Bayer and BASF, among Europe’s largest makers of farm supplies, all but ruled out pursuing genetic plant breeding at home after the EU ruled the technology should be regulated like genetically modified organisms (GMO).

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) said on Wednesday mutagenesis-based gene-editing methods such as CRISPR/Cas9, which can rearrange targeted bits of DNA, fall under rules that now apply to genetic modification via strands of DNA from a different species.

“As we run a global platform, it would mean that basically these applications of these instruments would not be used in Europe and Germany. So overall, that does not impact us as a company too much, but as a European, I’m worried about what that means to the Europeans,” Chief Executive Martin Brudermueller told analysts in a call on Friday. more

Reuters, 27 July 2018 

State-of-the-art agri-tech building a tribute to ‘brilliant’ RAU professor

A state-of-the-art building packed with the latest technology to help new rural and agri-tech enterprises grow has been opened at the Royal Agricultural University.

The Alliston Centre is a tribute to Professor John Alliston, who tragically died last year. He had worked for the RAU for more than 20 years.

The Alliston Centre is the culmination of a £4.2m project which will support both rural and agri-tech businesses. more

Farmers Guardian, 27 July 2018 

ECJ ruling on gene editing: ‘A missed opportunity for agricultural innovation in the EU’

Industry is railing against the ruling published yesterday by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) that classifies plants from mutagenesis techniques as GMOs.

The European Seed Association (ESA) described it as a watershed moment for the EU’s agri-food chain.

“It is now likely that much of the potential of these innovative methods will be lost for Europe - with significant negative economic and environmental consequences. That strikes a serious blow to European agriculture and plant science,” said Garlich von Essen, ESA Secretary General. more

Feed Navigator, 26 July 2018

Gene editing is GM, says European Court

The European Court of Justice has ruled that altering living things using the relatively new technique of genome editing counts as genetic engineering.

Until now, gene editing, involving the precise replacement of one DNA sequence with another, has been a grey area. Traditional genetic engineering involves the less precise insertion of foreign DNA into an organism.

It would mean any novel food developed with the help of gene editing would need to be labelled as GM. more

BBC News, 25 July 2018 

Battle lines drawn as EU court weighs fate of gene-edited crops

Gene editing in agriculture takes centre stage next Wednesday when Europe’s highest court rules in a case that could determine the fate of the technology that is already making waves in the field of medicine.

The European Union has long restricted the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) widely adopted around the world, but there is legal uncertainty as to whether modern gene editing of crops should fall under the same strict GMO rules.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) will rule whether the use of genetic mutation, or mutagenesis, which is now exempt from GMO rules, should differentiate between techniques that have been used for decades and the new gene-editing technology. more

Reuters, 20 July 2018 

New report identifies five breakthroughs to address urgent challenges and advance food and agricultural sciences by 2030

A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine identifies the most promising scientific breakthroughs that are possible to achieve in the next decade to increase the U.S. food and agriculture system’s sustainability, competitiveness, and resilience. 

The urgent progress needed today, given challenges such as water scarcity, increased weather variability, floods, and droughts, requires a convergent research approach that harnesses advances in data science, materials science, information technology, behavioral sciences, economics, and many other fields. more

Seedquest, 19 July 2018 

UK exit from EU agency responsible for managing pesticides a 'massive issue'

Leaving the EU agency responsible for managing and regulating agricultural chemicals under a 'no deal' Brexit would be a "massive issue", a Committee has heard.

The EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee have expressed concern after hearing from Defra Minister Thérèse Coffey MP about what Brexit means for chemical regulation in the UK. more

Farming UK, 19 July 2018 

May proposes free trade, common rulebook for agriculture

The UK government has set out its proposals for future trade on agriculture and food products between the EU after it leaves the bloc next March.

In a White Paper published on Thursday (13 July), prime minister Theresa May proposes an “economic partnership” with the EU post Brexit, which would include a free-trade agreement with a common rulebook for agri-food products.

This arrangement would see “no tariffs applied on any goods” traded between the UK and EU bloc and therefore avoid the need for a hard border and tariffs on agri-food products traded between Northern Ireland and Ireland. more

Farmers Weekly, 13 July 2018 

Cross-sector review to look at new ways to manage weeds

A new review will identify ways to improve the management of weeds and research approaches to tackle them by early 2019.

The review, to be spearheaded by AHDB and the British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO), have issued a joint call for a review of weed management in UK cropping systems.

Drawing upon national and international information sources, the review will cover cereals and oilseeds, horticulture (field and protected crops), potatoes and sugar beet, as well as grassland. more

Farming UK, 11 July 2018 

Wild banana on the brink of extinction

A wild banana that may hold the key to protecting the world's edible banana crop has been put on the extinction list. It is found only in Madagascar, where there are just five mature trees left in the wild.

Scientists say the plant needs to be conserved, as it may hold the secret to keeping bananas safe for the future.

Most bananas consumed around the world are of a type known as the Cavendish, which is vulnerable to a plant pest. The race is on to develop new banana varieties that are both tasty to eat and resilient enough to survive attack from Panama disease. more

BBC News, 5 July 2018 

Mandatory labels reduce GMO food fears

As the U.S. Department of Agriculture prepares guidelines for labelling products that contain genetically modified ingredients, a new study from the University of Vermont reveals that a simple disclosure can improve consumer attitudes toward GMO food.

Led by Jane Kolodinsky, an applied economist in UVM's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the study compared levels of consumer opposition to GMO foods in Vermont -- the only U.S. state to have implemented a mandatory labelling policy -- with consumer attitudes in the rest of the U.S.

The analysis showed opposition to GMO food fell by 19% in Vermont after the implementation of mandatory labels. more

Science Daily, 28 June 2018 

A new ‘promiscuous’ enzyme helps turn plant waste into sustainable products

A new family of enzymes has been discovered which paves the way to convert plant waste into sustainable and high-value products such as nylon, plastics, chemicals, and fuels.

The discovery was led by members of the same UK-US enzyme engineering team which, in April, improved a plastic-digesting enzyme, a potential breakthrough for the recycling of plastic waste.

The study published in Nature Communications was led by Professor John McGeehan at the University of Portsmouth, Dr Gregg Beckham at the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Professor Jen Dubois at Montana State University, and Professor Ken Houk at the University of California, Los Angeles. more

BBSRC, 27 June 2018 

GM crop area at 190 million ha worldwide in 2017, says ISAAA report

Total area under transgenic crops went up by 3 per cent globally in 2017 to nearly 190 million hectares (mha) from around 185 mha in the previous year, according to a report by an organisation that tracks GM acreages around the world.

This increase is due primarily to greater profitability stemming from higher commodity prices, increased global and domestic market demand, and available seed technologies, said the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) in the report. more

Hindu Business Line, 27 June 2018 

UK agriculture benefits from nearly £2 million support towards sustainability improvement

Four new interdisciplinary projects received £1.8 million to improve the sustainability of UK farming. Funded in the third round of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Innovation Club (SARIC), the grants have been awarded by BBSRC and NERC, alongside 12 other industry partners.

The projects include exploring biological management strategies to control insect populations, and investigation of the use of sheep in arable rotations. The funded translational projects include a novel soil health monitoring approach for livestock farming and development of a farmer decision support tool to assist with systemic grassland management. more

BBSRC, 21 June 2018 

Gene-edited farm animals are on their way

Scientists have created pigs that are immune to one of the world's costliest livestock diseases.

The team edited the animals' DNA to make them resist the deadly respiratory disease known as PRRS - a move that could prevent billions of pounds in losses each year.

However, consumers have traditionally been reluctant to eat genetically altered animals and crops. This poses a significant barrier to farmers owning gene-edited pigs. more

BBC News, 20 June 2018  

Multi-million pound boost for crop resilience

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

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

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

Farming Online, 15 June 2018  

Campaign to put arable farming top of political agenda

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

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

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

Farmers Weekly, 13 June 2018 

AHDB launches farm data sharing project

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

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

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

Farm Business, 12 June 2018 

Defra announces £23.5m package to boost farming productivity

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

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

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

Farming UK, 8 June 2018 

New study to drive future direction of British sheep genetics

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

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

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

Farming UK, 7 June 2018 

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

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

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

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

Farming Online, 6 June 2018 

France backs GM labelling law for meat and dairy

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

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

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

Farmers Weekly, 5 June 2018 

Monsanto brand to disappear as Bayer deal finalised

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

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

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

Farmers Weekly, 5 June 2018  

Incentivise farmers and growers to share data

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

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

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

Farmers Guardian, 4 June 2018 

Neonic ban dates announced

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

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

Farmers Guardian, 1 June 2018 

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

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

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

Farming Online, 28 May 2018 

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

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

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

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

The Telegraph, 26 May 2018 

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

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

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

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

Farming UK, 25 May 2018 

£6m dairy research centre aims to raise sector productivity

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

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

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

Farmers Weekly, 23 May 2018 

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

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

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

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

BBC News, 21 May 2018  

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

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

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

Farmers Weekly, 18 May 2018 

EU court backs near-total neonicotinoids ban

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

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

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

BBC News, 17 May 2018 

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

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

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

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

Horticulture Week, 17 May 2018 

Fulfilling domestic demand for protein feed

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

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

Farmers Guardian, 15 May 2018 

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

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

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

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

The Telegraph, 7 May 2018 

British farming productivity rises to record high

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

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

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

Farmers Weekly, 4 May 2018 

Total neonics ban sparks calls for urgent action on pests

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

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

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

Farmers Weekly, 3 May 2018 

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

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

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

Farming UK, 2 May 2018 

Neonicotinoid ban extended to all outdoor crops

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

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

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

Farmers Weekly,  27 April 2018 

GM plant tech boosts malaria drug yield

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

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

BBC News, 24 April 2018 

Farmers face labour ‘struggle’ after Brexit

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

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

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

Farmers Weekly, 22 April 2018  

New technology to make spectral imaging more affordable

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

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

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

Farmers Guardian, 19 April 2018 

Healthy soil lifts animal weight

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

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

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

13 April 2018, Rothamsted Research 

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

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

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

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

Farming UK, 12 April 2018 

Scientists hope US gene editing decision sets precedent

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

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

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

Farmers Weekly, 9 April 2018  

Wheat research discovery could shape future crops

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

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

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

BBSRC, 10 April 2018

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

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

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

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

Farming Online, 5 April 2018 

'Send in the drones' to protect soil

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

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

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

BBC News, 3 April 2018 

Former chief vet joins RUMA scientific group

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

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

Farm Business, 27 March 2018 

‘Bee-friendly’ neonics in the pipeline

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

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

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

Farmers Guardian, 22 March 2018 

'Radical change' needed on countryside

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

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

BBC News, 22 March 2018

MacFry Academy opens its doors to potato growers

Potato growers supplying McDonald’s are set to benefit from the provision of free agronomy skills training to improve crop performance and quality with the launch of the MacFry Potato Academy.

The Academy is a joint initiative between NIAB and McDonald’s UK and Ireland, in association with potato suppliers McCain Foods and Lamb Weston.

In 2015 McDonald’s made a commitment to source 100 per cent British potatoes for all their UK fries. As the business sources in excess of 280,000 tonnes of British potatoes each year, the MacFry Potato Academy will be a key component in ensuring a vibrant and sustainable potato industry that can secure a growing volume of great quality ingredients, according to the company. more

Farmers Guardian, 12 March 2018 

Scientists develop harvesting robots that could revolutionise field vegetable production

Scientists at the University of Plymouth are developing ground-breaking technology which could assist fruit and vegetable growers with the challenges they face in harvesting crops.

Increasing demand for home grown produce, coupled with concern about workforce shortages in the wake of Brexit, are leaving farmers across the UK facing a unique set of pressures.

The Automated Brassica harvesting in Cornwall (ABC) project has secured funding from Agri-Tech Cornwall, a three-year, £10million initiative part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, with match-funding from Cornwall Council. more

Farming Online, 8 March 2018 

Animation launched to highlight importance of GM to UK livestock sector

A new animation has been launched which highlights the existing importance of GM feed imports to the UK livestock sector.

The animation, launched by the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC), aims to highlight the importance of better regulation for the agri-tech sector after Brexit to the UK economy and environment.

The Council say that improved regulation will enable the UK to realise the full potential of innovation in agricultural technology and better protect the environment after leaving the EU. more

Farming UK, 7 March 2018 

New research network involving 3,500 cattle aims to promote innovation

A new research network involving 3,500 cattle and 30 projects is to be created to promote innovation in the farming industry. SmartCow – a research network of 3,500 cattle and 30 pan-European projects – is to be created by the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA).

It will increase access to the most advanced research facilities and equipment for the cattle sector across Europe, and aims to improve the quality and ethics of cattle research through identification and promotion of best practices, new measurements techniques, and smart technologies.

The network will promote innovation in the European cattle sector, and UK-based Agrimetrics is supporting the consortium of ten research institutes with its expertise in big data for the agri-food industry. more

Farming UK, 5 March 2018 

Rumen genotyping advances could enhance cattle breeding

Future cattle selection decisions could extend to breeding for rumen microbiome characteristics, say researchers who have recently mapped more bovine rumen microbe genomes than ever before.

A British study. published in Nature Communications this week, has doubled the number of rumen microbes sequenced and available on public databases. This progress is still “early days”, but could influence cattle breeding, bovine nutrition and even biofuel technology in the years ahead, researchers said.

Led by researchers from the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), the study analysed rumen microbes in 43 commercial beef cattle (Limousin, Aberdeen Angus, Charolais) at the SRUC’s Beef and Sheep Research Centre. more

Farmers Weekly, 2 March 2018 

Gene injection set to bring big benefits to pea crops

Scientists are injecting genes into pea plants to speed up introducing better disease resistance and improving the nutrition of this pulse crop within the next five years.

Adding valuable genes from wild pea varieties from Africa and Asia is set to bring improved resistance to the potentially devastating disease downy mildew, with fungicide control being limited to seed treatments.Researchers are also well down the path of improving the nutrition of combine peas both for human consumption and for animal feed to potentially reduce expensive imports of soya.

Claire Domoney at the John Innes Centre says speedier breeding techniques mean these new beneficial traits can now be introduced more quickly into farm crops. more

Farmers Weekly, 28 February 2018 

Once-in-a-generation opportunity to shape future farming policy

Farmers, landowners and food producers have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to shape the future of English farming and the environment, with a consultation launched today (27 February) by Environment Secretary Michael Gove.

The government’s proposals will see money redirected from direct payments under the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), which are based on the amount of land farmed, to a new system of paying farmers “public money for public goods” - principally their work to enhance the environment and invest in sustainable food production.

Other public goods which could be supported include investment in technology and skills to improve productivity, providing public access to farmland and the countryside, enhanced welfare standards for livestock and measures to support the resilience of rural and upland communities. more

Farming Online, 27 February 2018 

Arctic stronghold of world's seeds reaches one million mark

The vault storing the world's most precious seeds is taking delivery on Monday of donations that will take it to the one million mark.

More than 70,000 crops will be added to frozen storage chambers buried deep within a mountain in the Arctic Circle. Cereal staples, unusual crops like the Estonian onion potato, and barley used to brew Irish beer are among the consignments.

Monday marks the tenth anniversary of the Global Seed Vault in Svalbard. more

BBC News, 26 February 2018 

Government announces £90m for agri-tech projects

In a keynote speech to the NFU conference on Wednesday (21 February), Business Secretary Greg Clark highlighted how new technology is boosting farmers’ earning power and making agri-businesses more productive and profitable.

Mr Clark has announced the £90 million new funding to bring together the UK’s agri-food sector with expertise in robotics, AI and data science.

The funding, delivered as part of the new the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, will make it easier for food and agri-business to embrace technology and innovation. more

Farming UK, 21 February 2018 

New report gives insight into emerging digital agri-tech market

The race is on to become the dominant digital platform in the agriculture sector, harnessing technologies that boost agricultural productivity through data capture and integration, according to new research.

PA Consulting Group's research creates a detailed overview of the digital agri-tech market, tracking 136 deals - including partnerships, acquisitions and investments - for 11 of the biggest agri-tech businesses and 200 start-ups and technology companies operating in the space since 1997.

The report offers five insights into the digital agritech market, including the need for closer collaboration between the established players and start-up companies. The companies that fail to collaborate will be left behind, says Oliver Lofink, lead author of the report and a digital agriculture expert at PA Consulting Group. more

Farming UK, 19 February 2018

NFU launches farm education package to combat ‘huge lack of knowledge’

Teachers will soon be able to educate youngsters on all things food and farming thanks to a trial Science Farm series designed by the NFU.

The initiative was launched on Monday (February 12) on the ethos ‘farms are the perfect place to learn about science’.

It came following concerns there was a ‘huge lack of knowledge’ among children about how and where their food is produced. more

Farmers Guardian, 13 February 2018 

Temperature resilient crops now an “achievable dream” say authors of new study

Breeding temperature-resilient crops is an “achievable dream” in one of the most important species of commercially-cultivated plants, according to a new study by the John Innes Centre which has established a genetic link between increased temperature and the problem of pod shatter in the crop.

The research, by the team led by Dr Vinod Kumar and Professor Lars Østergaard, reveals that pod shatter is enhanced at higher temperature across diverse species in the Brassicaceae family, which also includes cauliflower, broccoli and kale.

This new understanding brings the prospect of creating crops that are better adapted to warmer temperatures a step closer. more

Farming Online, 13 February 2018

Sweet route to greater yields

A promising technique that makes maize more productive even in droughts has now been unpicked and looks set to do the same for a range of other crops, including wheat and rice.

Three years ago, biotechnologists demonstrated in field trials that they could increase the productivity of maize by introducing a rice gene into the plant that regulated the accumulation of sucrose in kernels and led to more kernels per maize plant.

They knew that the rice gene affected the performance of a natural chemical in maize, trehalose 6-phosphate (T6P), which influences the distribution of sucrose in the plant. But they were keen to discover more intimate details of the relationships governing the increased productivity. more

BBSRC, 9 February 2018

Stem rust could wipe out 70 percent or more of barley and wheat crops scientists warn

A devastating disease that attacks barley and wheat - the world's most widely grown crop - could re-emerge in Britain, scientists said today. Over 80 percent of 57 wheat varieties tested in Britain are susceptible to the strain of stem rust that was discovered in an infected plant in Suffolk in 2013, the first time the disease has reappeared since 1955, they said.

The same strain battered wheat crops in Ethiopia, and caused smaller outbreaks in Sweden, Denmark and Germany in 2013, a study in the journal Communications Biology said.

These outbreaks, as well as the infection in Britain, are "a warning sign" to take immediate action, Diane Saunders, a plant pathologist at the UK-based John Innes Centre and lead author of the study, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. more

Farming UK, 8 February 2018

Tories condemn new EU committee on glyphosate

Conservative MEPs have condemned a European parliament decision to set up a new special committee to review the EU’s authorisation process for pesticides, with a particular focus on glyphosate.

The new committee has 30 members and has given itself nine months to examine the licensing procedures, in particular whether there are any failures in the way substances like glyphosate are approved.

“It is regrettable that there are individuals in parliament who remain determined to ignore the science and keep kicking this particular political football,” said Conservative MEP Ashley Fox. “We believe the EU already has a system for examining and licensing pesticides, which is fit for purpose. It places scientists front and centre, not politicians with an axe to grind or a campaign to advance.” more

Farmers Weekly, 7 February 2018 

MP calls for introduction of GCSE in agriculture

An MP has said teenagers around the country should be offered a GCSE in Agriculture to help Britain gain a more productive workforce.

According to Conservative MP for York Outer Julian Sturdy, who is an ex-farmer, the course could help create a "better skilled and more productive workforce" for Britain.

Mr Sturdy will today (7 February) lead a debate in Westminster on introducing the qualification, which he says would allow teenagers who are interested in food and farming to get a step on the ladder “at the earliest possible opportunity”. more

Farming UK, 7 February 2018 

Food and Drink Council meets for first time to discuss boosting productivity

The newly-formed Food and Drink Sector Council has met for the first time to discuss boosting agricultural productivity and increase industry skills.

Meeting for the first time this week, the Council, made up of industry figures from agriculture and others, agreed priorities for the next 12 months.

The new group will work together to boost skills in the agricultural and food industry, increase productivity and make it more competitive. more

Farming UK, 31 January 2018 

New poll finds public uneasy about pesticide use

The NFU has set out to reassure the public that farmers are not using pesticides excessively after a recent poll found 67 per cent of respondents wanted to reduce their use.

The survey, carried out on behalf of the Pesticide Action Network and campaign group SumOfUs, also showed 78 per cent of those polled would like the Government to provide more support to UK farmers to cut their pesticide use.

63 per cent of the total number of respondents wanted to retain EU regulations on pesticides after Brexit, with 57 per cent of leave voters and 77 per cent of remain voters feeling the same way. more

Farmers Guardian, 31 January 2018 

New field station makes space for innovative crop science

A new facility to assist advances in crop science is taking shape in the Norfolk countryside. The field experimental station at Church Farm, Bawburgh, will allow scientists at the John Innes Centre to carry out ground-breaking research in crop improvements.

Bringing together lab and field research in one location will further research in understanding how genes control plant growth in the field. The aim is to create tools for plant breeders to produce new varieties that are more reliable, nutritious and resilient to pests and diseases. more

Farmers Guardian, 29 January 2018 

'Super' crops and cows - Bill Gates, UK inject cash into farm science

Research that could lead to cows producing more milk, chickens laying better-quality eggs and crops being able to withstand droughts or disease received a funding injection of about $174 million from Britain’s Department for International Development and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Gates Foundation will invest $40 million in projects to develop livestock vaccines and make them accessible to the poorest small-scale farmers across Africa and South Asia through the Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines, a public-private partnership based in Edinburgh.

Britain will support CGIAR, a global research body, with funding of £90 million ($128.25 million) over three years to deliver new farm technologies that will support food security by producing more nutritious and climate-resilient crops. more

Reuters, 26 January 2018 

New £1m poultry research facility aims to improve bird welfare

A new £1m poultry facility offering specialist and industry-focused research into both laying hen and broiler health, behaviour and productivity has opened at the University of Bristol’s Veterinary School.

The new poultry facility, which features fully-monitored and controlled hatching housing, sits alongside Bristol's other agricultural facilities for cattle, pig, sheep and aquaculture.

It forms part of the Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock (CIEL), a national consortium comprising 12 research institutes across the UK, funded by Innovate UK, to develop new industry-needed solutions as well as commercial trial farms for real world results. CIEL is also one of the UK’s four Agri-Tech Centres established as a key pillar of the government’s Agri-Tech Strategy. more

Farming UK, 24 January 2018 

AHDB commits £5m to fix ‘fragmented’ farming innovation pipeline

The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) is committing £5m to fund Britain’s next generation of agricultural experts in an effort to overhaul the industry’s “fragmented” innovation and skills pipeline.

It will plough the funds into supporting PhD university students over the next five years, following its recent report which identified a UK productivity gap worth over £4bn in lost Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Modern agriculture is a diverse and highly advanced technological industry which has attracted increasing numbers of university students over the last 10 years. But industry experts have warned that the UK must overhaul its “fragmented” innovation and skills pipeline to drive change within the sector and keep pace with competitor countries. more

Farming Online, 19 January 2018 

New crop breeding method is exempt from GMO rules - EU court adviser

Crops obtained by the plant breeding technique of mutagenesis do not fall under laws restricting the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) but individual EU states can regulate their use, an adviser to Europe’s top court said on Thursday.

Mutagenesis, which generates a genetic mutation that can occur naturally or be induced, has been around for decades but advances in the technique have ignited a row over whether it should face the same EU rules as GMOs, which are often subject to a long process of scrutiny to win approval.

Michal Bobek, whose advice as advocate general is not binding but usually followed by European Court of Justice (ECJ) judges, said European Union rules on GMOs exempted mutagenesis and did not differentiate between old and new techniques. more

Reuters, 18 January 2018 

French seed group says GMO protests could force R&D relocation

Limagrain, the world’s fourth-largest seed maker, will consider moving its research activities out of France if field trials in its home market continue to be sabotaged by opponents of genetically modified crops.

The French cooperative group was targeted last month by protestors who invaded test fields southeast of Paris and scattered non-commercial seed. That was the latest in a series of actions by opponents of gene-editing technology, which they say will herald a new generation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Limagrain said the incident ruined a 37-hectare trial of wheat based on conventional breeding and showed the risk of a repeat of virulent debate over GMOs. more

Reuters, 16 January 2018 

New robotics survey highlights more investment is needed

An AHDB Horticulture survey has revealed that 82 per cent of UK growers believe recent developments in automation have helped reduce their reliance on labour.

Growers also report key areas for future investment should be focused on harvesting and improvements within the pack-house.

Areas of production with particularly high manual labour inputs – such as harvesting – are high priority for future research and investment, with nearly 60 per cent of growers identifying this as an area to focus on. more

Farming Online, 9 January 2018 

Seed breeders warn of major Brexit impact

Seed breeders have warned that British production would decline if growers have less access to new varieties after Brexit.

The UK could end up producing less fresh produce and importing more without access to European variety catalogues and protection of Intellectual Property, seed breeders have warned. 

The news is a major reversal of pro-Brexit reports in the national press that have suggested Britain could become more self-sufficient in fresh produce, and comes as UK breeders have voiced fears that the impact on their sector has been forgotten, despite its significance to UK production and wider economy. more

Fresh Produce Journal, 9 January 2018 

Genetically-modified animals could be sold in UK after Brexit, says Michael Gove 

Genetically-modified animals could be sold in the UK after Brexit, Michael Gove has said.

The Environment Secretary said that “bio-tech changes” are coming which will “challenge us to think about the future” as he suggested gene editing could be used to create “more valuable livestock”.

But he admitted that the science was still “in its infancy” and that its use would raise “political and moral questions”. more

The Telegraph, 4 January 2018  

New technique opens door to faster crop breeding programmes

Scientists have drastically cut the time needed to breed new crop varieties using a combination of artificial environments and intense day-long lighting regimes using LED lights.

The speed-breeding platform allows as many as six generations of wheat to be grown in a single year, three times faster than the shuttle-breeding techniques currently used by breeders and researchers.

Six generations is also possible for bread wheat, durum wheat, barley, pea and chickpea, with four possible for canola. Brande Wulff of the John Innes Centre, Norwich, part of the international team with the University of Queensland and University of Sydney, said the improvement rates of several staple crops has stalled, but this new technique could overcome this. more

Farmers Weekly, 3 January 2018 

Rapid revolution in productivity needed

AHDB’s latest Horizon report said improved productivity was essential to capitalise on Brexit, feed the UK population and protect the environment

The UK has fallen significantly behind major competitors in its growth in productivity, with countries such as the USA and the Netherlands growing three times faster. This productivity gap was worth over £4.3bn in lost GDP between 2000 and 2013.

AHDB’s Driving productivity growth together report, launched at the Oxford Farming Conference, warned a revolution in productivity was necessary to capitalise on Brexit, continue to feed the country and protect the environment. more

Farmers Guardian, 3 January 2018 

New report shows UK farm productivity lagging behind major competitors

The USA and the Netherlands are out-performing the UK on agricultural productivity by as much as three times, according to a new report.

The AHDB study, as part of its Horizon series looking at the pressing Brexit questions and scenarios, states that UK agricultural productivity is lagging.

Total Factor Productivity (TFP) in the UK, which measures all inputs into outputs, has fallen behind that of many major competitors, averaging 0.9 per cent per year as opposed to 3.5 per cent in the Netherlands, and 3.2 per cent in the USA. more

Farming UK, 3 January 2018 

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