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

Group News

APPGSTA Annual Report 2017/18
October 2018

APPGSTA Income and Expenditure Statement
October 2018

Review of developments since 2010 APPGSTA report

- Professor David Leaver
February 2018

Westminster Hall Debate
Agriculture GCSE

(Julian Sturdy MP)
February 2018

APPGSTA Annual Report 2016/17 September 2017

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

APPGSTA Income and Expenditure Statement
July 2017

Promotion of Innovation

House of Commons, BEIS Questions
September 2016

APPGSTA Annual Report 2015/16
July 2016

APPGSTA Income & Expenditure Statement
July 2016

APPGSTA Annual Report 2014/15
July 2015

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

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

APPGSTA Annual Report 2012/13
January 2014

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

VIDEO: MP hails agri-tech project

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

UK Agri-Tech Strategy published

22 July 2013


APPGSTA Annual Report 2011/12

December 2012


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


George Freeman MP hails £250m bio-economy boost

24 May 2012


House of Lords Debate -

Innovation in EU Agriculture

February 2012


APPGSTA Annual Report 2010/11

December 2011



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


2018 Archive


2017 Archive


2016 Archive


2015 Archive


2014 Archive


2013 Archive


2012 Archive


2011 Archive

2010 Archive

2009 Archive

2008 Archive

Science & Technology News



Time to give GMOs a chance?

If the European Union would take a more 'science-led' attitude to genetically modified crops, it could hugely reduce its use of pesticides.

According to 'consumer advocacy group' the Consumer Choice Center, it is time to reassess the existing EU regulation of biotechnology.

In an open letter to Commissioner Stella Kyriakides, the pro-GM campaigners emphasised the benefits of a 'pro-consumer, pro-science and pro-innovation approach'. more

Scottish Farmer, 5 January 2020 

Plan unveiled for national farm advice service

A new partnership between Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and ADAS plans to give farmers greater access to independent advice backed by world-leading research and innovation.

The joint venture will see SRUC and ADAS pool their expertise to offer farmers a UK-wide agricultural and rural knowledge service – including a new digital platform, consultancy services, education and training courses for the food and farming sectors.

ADAS has 400 staff working across England and Wales. SRUC’s SAC Consulting arm has 24 offices across Scotland and Northern England. It offers a range of specialisms in soil nutrition, livestock and agronomy, branding and marketing of food products, and analytical testing. more

Farmers Weekly, 3 January 2020

Ex-Defra adviser accused of lying about livestock farmers ‘damaging’ nature

The Tenant Farmers’ Association (TFA) has accused ex-Defra adviser Professor Sir Ian Boyd of lying, after he claimed livestock farmers were being paid by the Government to damage the environment.

It is not the first time Sir Ian, who was the department’s chief scientific adviser from 2012 to 2019, has caused controversy in the farming community. In 2018, he shocked attendees of the IAFRI Metaldehyde Conference by saying the UK’s agriculture system was designed in the 19th century and ‘has not changed much since’. And in November last year, farm groups criticised his call for people to cut down on eating red meat in order to meet the 2050 net zero emissions target.

Now Sir Ian has said to The Guardian: “Most of the livestock production in the UK is unprofitable without public subsidy. The public are subsidising the production of livestock to produce environmental damage, all the way from greenhouse gas emissions to water pollution. Why should we continue to do that? It is not sensible.” more

Farmers Guardian, 2 January 2020 

Why ‘vertical’ farming is growing in the UK

Being able to produce crops 365 days a year, without the need for pesticides or much human intervention, while being unaffected by the weather, will appeal to many growers after such a prolonged, wet autumn.

Vertical farming – sometimes called indoor farming – is the practice of growing plants under fully controlled conditions in buildings in many stacked layers, without solar light. Unlike glasshouse production, which relies on sunlight, it makes use of LED lighting to provide different wavelengths of light, according to crop and growth stage need.

And it’s a fast-growing sector. Worldwide, it was worth £1.72bn in 2018, with experts predicting that will rise to £9.84bn by 2026. Japan and the US are leading the way, but other countries are catching on. more

Farmers Weekly, 18 December 2019 

Wheat yields only 60% of what they could be, study shows

Farmers could be getting yields up to 15t/ha out of their wheat harvests, newly published research shows. 

The crop’s untapped potential was discovered in a research simulation conducted by Rothamsted Research, which showed that wheat yields in the UK could be increased by 50%, while yields in some European countries could be increased by 90%. 

When comparing the performance of computer-modelled “idealised” gene-edited wheat plants and locally adapted cultivars in millions of different simulations, a significant “genetic yield gap” was found. more 

Farmers Weekly, 12 December 2019 

Multi-species grass mixes can increase yield stability, study says

Multi-species grassland mixtures can increase yield stability even under drought conditions, research has shown.

The benefits of multispecies mixtures were so strong that yields from a mixture of four species under drought conditions matched or exceeded yields for monocultures under normal rainfall conditions.

“Multi-species mixtures can be an effective, farm-scale practical action that could be used to mitigate or even adapt to the effects of severe weather events such as drought”, said Dr John Finn, researcher at Teagasc. more

Farming UK, 12 December 2019 

Glasgow scientists develop plant protection without sprays

Scottish scientists say they have discovered a new way to protect crops from a devastating bacterial disease – without using environmentally damaging chemical sprays.

The Glasgow University team said the method could protect crops such as tomatoes and peppers against the bacteria Pseudomonas Syringae (PS), which causes huge economic losses.

The hope is that it could prove to be a viable alternative following the withdrawal of key active ingredients in agrochemicals. Bacteria such as PS are responsible for about one-third of the plant diseases responsible for destroying an estimated 15% of world crops worth some £114bn annually. more

Farmers Weekly, 8 December 2019 

Better breeding could reduce cattle emissions as beef lags behind

Better breeding has the power to lower greenhouse gas emissions by improving efficiencies per unit of meat produced, a panel of agricultural scientists said.

The pig and poultry industries have already advanced a long way in this, but there is still room for improvement in the dairy sector (which accounts for 50 per cent of beef produced in the UK) and beef sector.

Prof Eileen Wall, head of research at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), said: “Fifty per cent of [overall livestock] production gains since World War II have come from genetics, but not so much in the beef sector. About 70 per cent of emissions reductions could come from efficiency [techniques] we already know about.” more

Farmers Guardian, 6 December 2019 

Iron-boosting GM wheat trials ‘successful’

Wheat bio-fortified to produce white flour with increased iron has progressed successfully through the first season of field trials.

Tests on the newly developed variety showed the grain contained double the amount of iron its white flour fraction of the grain.

The aim of the research by scientists at the John Innes Centre is to address iron deficiency anaemia, a significant global health problem, with women and girls particularly affected. more

Farmers Weekly, 2 December 2019 

New £11m centre to advance UK pig industry research

A new £11m facility has opened in Yorkshire which will enable researchers to study ways to make the British pig industry more sustainable and productive. Scientists at the University of Leeds National Pig Centre will use new state-of-the-art technologies to improve sustainability and efficiency of producers.

Supported by more than £11 million investment, the centre is set to make Yorkshire one of the best places in Europe for pig research. It will mainly research pig nutrition, behaviour, health and production system research – all themes identified by the livestock industry as central to improving future competitiveness. more

Farming UK, 28 November 2019 

‘Harness farmers’ ingenuity’, policy expert recommends

Research support for innovation in agriculture should focus on developing farmers’ ideas, not just ‘more money and bigger institutes’, a leading rural policy expert argued today.

Speaking at the annual Food and Farming Futures conference, Professor Tom MacMillan said the UK had ‘barely scratched the surface’ of what was possible in terms of transformative change in the sector.

A relatively small proportion of the government’s agriculture research budget could be made to go a long way if invested intelligently in farmers’ ideas and encouraging collaboration, he said. more

Farm Business, 27 November 2019 

Food Strategy chief wants fundamental change of the UK’s food system

Food Strategy chief Henry Dimbleby has said he wants to carry out a fundamental change of the UK’s food system which will stand the test of time. Mr Dimbleby claimed the dynamics of the current system, which was designed to produce maximum food after two world wars, ‘do not work’ in the modern era. 

Speaking at the Financial Times Global Food Systems Summit in London, he confirmed the ‘issue of meat’ was being considered by his team.

“We have a system where the unexpected consequences of doing a good thing are people are getting sick from the food we eat, biodiversity has been impacted, there is too much nitrogen in our rivers, too much ammonia in our air, and we now realise the food system creates 30 per cent of our carbon,” he said. more

Farmers Guardian, 22 November 2019 

Scientists discover origin of deadly wheat pathogen

The origin of a deadly wheat pathogen which threatens a vital global food source has been identified by an international team of researchers.

Stem rust has, throughout history, been associated with crop failure and famine around the world.

First identified in Africa two decades ago, the strain of the stem rust fungus, ‘Ug99,’ was said to threaten the global wheat supply due to its ability to attack most varieties. more

Farming UK, 20 November 2019  

Technology could unlock British farmland’s full potential

Software may now enable British farmers and growers to unlock the full potential of their land by applying the exact nutrients it needs. For the first time, the latest research from the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB)’s Nutrient Management Guide has been converted to data for software.

This means a bespoke plan can now be created for each field, potentially increasing yield from a large number of arable, potato and horticultural crops, helping farmers and growers to decide whether to save or apply fertiliser, manures or slurry to maximise growth. The development could have significant environmental and cost saving benefits for the industry. more

Farming Online, 20 November 2019 

Technological efficiency push could drive farmers out of business, warns ag expert

The push to make food production as efficient as possible with the use of new technology could end up driving farmers out of business, an agricultural expert has warned.

Emily Norton, a dairy and arable farmer and head of rural research at Savills consultancy, said there was a danger the human element of farming was being ignored by policy makers and the wider supply chain, who are focused heavily on the need to increase efficiency. more

Farmers Guardian, 19 November 2019 

Experts unlock key to photosynthesis, a find that could help us meet food security demands

Scientists have solved the structure of one of the key components of photosynthesis, a discovery that could lead to photosynthesis being 'redesigned' to achieve higher yields and meet urgent food security needs.

The study, led by the University of Sheffield and published in the journal Nature, reveals the structure of cytochrome b6f—the protein complex that significantly influences plant growth via photosynthesis. more

PhysOrg, 13 November 2019 

Never knowingly undersoiled – John Lewis trucks to run on cow manure

Hundreds of John Lewis delivery trucks will begin running on cow power from 2021 as the retailer weans its fleet off polluting diesel fuel and switches to carbon-neutral cow manure.

The retailer will begin using renewable biomethane made from manure slurry for almost 300 John Lewis and Waitrose delivery vans under new plans from its fuel supplier to swap rotting vegetables for poo power at no extra cost.

John Lewis currently runs 80 vans on biomethane from food waste, but plans to expand its green fleet by up to 200 vans within the next 18 months before switching to manure. more

The Guardian, 7 November 2019 

Brexit uncertainty delaying farmers' use of agri-tech

Political uncertainty is delaying those farmers who are wishing to use agri-tech to make their businesses more profitable.

Fast-developing tech, from robotic pickers to fitness trackers for cows, has the potential to transform British farms.

The use of emerging technology would make businesses more profitable while benefiting the environment, according to a new report by NFU Mutual. more

Farming UK, 6 November 2019 

Ex-Defra chief scientist under fire after calling for cut in red meat production

Farm groups have criticised former Defra chief scientist Professor Sir Ian Boyd for saying people will have to cut down on eating red meat if the UK is to meet its 2050 net zero emissions target.

Speaking to BBC News, Sir Ian claimed climate change policies after Brexit will ‘alter the landscape more than most people expect’, with more trees and hedges and far fewer grazing animals.

He went on to suggest it would be more carbon-efficient to raise sheep and cattle on intensive, high-tech farms than extensive pastures, because fewer methane emissions would be produced. more

Farmers Guardian, 4 November 2019 

£14m study to look at plant protein regulation

Rothamsted is to lead one of four UK consortia awarded a total of £14m to explore the fundamental biology of living systems, with the project set to be the biggest study into protein regulation ever attempted.

Also involving University College London and the University of Cambridge, the BBSRC-funded project will use molecular biology techniques and big data analysis to decipher the rules governing the regulation of protein abundance in plants.

Protein regulation underpins many important agricultural traits with the two so-called ‘green revolutions’ - which resulted from the development of dwarf wheat and flood-tolerant rice varieties - being prime examples, says Rothamsted. more

Farmers Guardian, 30 October 2019 

Livestock farmers slash antibiotics use by 53%

Sales of veterinary antibiotics have reduced by 53% in just four years, according to new figures from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD).

The new data, covering 2014-2018 and published in the annual Veterinary Antibiotic Resistance Sales and Surveillance report, has been welcomed by Defra.

It praised “the strong and committed approach” taken by the UK’s food, farming and veterinary sectors to tackle antibiotic resistance, which it has dubbed one of the most pressing global challenges of the century. more 

Farmers Weekly, 29 October 2019 

National food strategy must improve farmers' productivity, NFU says

The upcoming national food strategy must play a pivotal role in supporting British farming’s ability to improve productivity, sustainability and support the nation’s health, the NFU says.

The government's food strategy, to build on the work underway in the agriculture bill, looks to design a system which delivers safe and affordable food for the public.

In June, Defra invited businessman Henry Dimbleby to lead an independent review to inform this strategy, the first major review of the nation’s food system in nearly 75 years. more

Farming UK, 27 October 2019 

‘Pesticides cocktail’ report slammed by experts who say legal limits pose no risk

A new report claiming a quarter of all food consumed in the UK contains ’cocktails of pesticides’ has been rubbished by experts who said the law ensures legal limits do not pose any risk to human health.

The report, released by Pesticide Action Network (PAN) UK, said 87 per cent of pears, 64 per cent of apples and one quarter of bread contained pesticides, while other items contained traces of up to 14 different pesticides.

But NFU senior regulatory affairs adviser Dr Chris Hartfield said PAN UK made no attempt to explain that strict legal limits on pesticide residues in food were set in law at levels ‘well below limits that pose any risk to human health’. more

Farmers Guardian, 24 October 2019 

Public have high confidence in UK food safety, survey shows

The majority of British people admit to taking food safety for granted two decades after some of the UK's biggest food scares, including BSE and salmonella outbreaks.

A new YouGov survey of more than 2,000 adults looked at people’s concerns about the food they buy and how their confidence in UK produced food has been restored. Commissioned by the Red Tractor, it reveals a marked difference in the levels of trust between supermarkets and restaurants when it comes to their food standards.

The survey shows that 71% said they were confident that the food they buy from a supermarket has been produced to high standards and that they know where it comes from. This compares to only half of people who feel confident about standards and traceability when eating out at a restaurant or café. more

Farming UK, 24 October 2019  

Switch to organic farming ‘would increase greenhouse gas’

A wholesale switch to organic farming would result in a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions – unless consumers radically changed their diets, a study has found.

Shifting 100% to organic production across England and Wales would reduce yields by as much as 40%, sucking in food imports to make up the shortfall, it suggests.

Published in the journal Nature Communications on Tuesday (22 October), the study was conducted by researchers at Cranfield, Reading and the Royal Agricultural universities. more

Farmers Weekly, 23 October 2019 

Trial shows 'superfood' for bees increases crop yield

A special 'superfood' for bees could boost crop yields by up to 90 percent, according to an Argentina-based agri-tech company.

Concerns are raising over the future of the insect, responsible for pollinating nearly one-third of all crops worldwide.

But now a new nutrient-packed formula, created by startup 'Beeflow', looks set to makes bees stronger by boosting their immune systems, in turn making them stronger. more

Farming UK, 21 October 2019  

British farmers could soon grow new plant protein

British farmers could become large-scale producers of a plant protein crop as researchers breed a new variety of bean suited to the UK's climate.

The white haricot bean has been bred by UK researchers as the country's eating habits shift toward a more flexitarian diet. It has been harvested from a large-scale field trial with a combine harvester for the first time last month.

Professor Eric Holub, a plant genetics expert from Warwick University’s School of Life Sciences, has been leading the project. more

Farming UK, 18 October 2019 

Badger culls have varying impacts on cattle TB

The UK government's badger cull has had mixed effects on the incidence of tuberculosis (TB) in cattle, a new study reports.

A team found the incidence of cattle TB had fallen in two areas where badgers had been culled and slightly increased in a third area.

Farming groups claim the figures demonstrate badger culls are working. But researchers are more cautious about the results, which have been published in the journal Scientific Reports. more

BBC News, 11 October 2019  

Genome-edited bull passes hornless gene to calves

Researchers have used genome editing to generate hornless cattle, which then pass on the trait to their offspring. The absence of the horns means they cannot use them to injure other animals - or, indeed, humans. The team members also demonstrated that the bulls passed the edited trait on to their offspring.

Dehorning - along with "disbudding", which removes the horn buds at an early age - is an unpleasant process with implications for animal welfare. Hornless cattle are easier to transport and need less space at a feeding trough.

The scientists from the University of California, Davis, along with one colleague from the University of Mansoura, Egypt, have published their findings in the journal Nature Biotechnology. more

BBC News, 7 October 2019 

Plans unveiled for 40 UK ‘vertical farms’

The vision of dozens of indoor ‘vertical farms’ being built across the UK has been unveiled by Edinburgh-based start-up Shockingly Fresh with the claim that such operations will be equipped to grow up to five times the amount of vegetables as traditional farms.

The company is already developing five sites countrywide with the aim of introducing ‘low cost naturally-lit’ vertical farms using special hydroponic towers to grow multiple crop cycles of leafy veg, such as salads and herbs.

The company’s directors say the increased yields from their farms will help British growers boost crop production and reduce the UK’s reliance on costly off-season imports from the EU. They also say the enclosed environment they’re creating will reduce the need for pesticides. more

Farm Business, 7 October 2019 

Hawk-eyed robot cuts chemical use by up to 95%

Research trials of a new automated weed-killing robot have reduced herbicide usage on crops by up-to 95 per cent.

A recent trial in Reading University demonstrated how eyeSpot uses cameras to identify weeds in vegetable fields. It targets weeds individually and applies precise herbicide droplets with an ejector, which accurately fires treatment to individual leaves of each weed.

“This is precision agriculture in action, the robot has significantly reduced use of herbicides, while practically eliminating any harm to non-target organisms,” said AHDB Crop Protection Senior Scientist, Joe Martin. more

Farming Online, 4 October 2019  

Environmental impact focus for new sheep research

An international research project called ‘Grass to Gas’ has been launched to find new ways of feeding and breeding sheep to reduce their impact on the environment.

Led by researchers from Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), the project will combine international scientific and industry expertise to measure the key factors affecting the environmental impact of sheep: feed efficiency – the amount of feed required to produce one unit of meat or milk – and methane emissions.

Research partners in Norway, Uruguay and New Zealand will use state-of-the-art sensor technologies, recording equipment and novel protocols to measure these traits at an individual sheep level. more

Farm Business, 3 October 2019 

Bayer to spend over 25 billion euros in crop science R&D over 10 years

German drugmaker Bayer is to spend more than 25 billion euros ($27.22 billion) on research and development at its agriculture unit over the next 10 years. “Agriculture needs to feed a growing world without starving the planet,” Liam Condon, board member and head of the crop science division, said at a company event.

Investments in crop science unit last year, on a pro forma basis, amounted to 2.3 billion euros, Bayer said.  Activities within its development pipeline of breeding, biotech, crop protection and environmental science had an annual peak sales potential of 30 billion euros, of which 17 billion were expected to come from recent and near-term product launches, it said. more

Reuters, 1 October 2019 

Gene editing a 'key tool' in improving UK pig production

Genome editing could be a 'key tool' in improving the efficiency of UK pig production and could help in tackling devastating diseases such as African swine fever.

In 2017, scientists used the method to create male pigs that could be used as surrogates capable of producing sperm that contains the genetic blueprint of sought-after pigs. In the same year, pigs were produced that were potentially resilient to Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome, an infection which costs the sector billions each year.

The National Pig Association (NPA), responding to the Nuffield Council of Bioethics' call for evidence on genome editing, highlighted the potential value of the technique. more

Farming UK, 26 September 2019 

James Hutton Institute prepares for 'significant' job losses

A 'significant' number of jobs could be axed at the James Hutton Institute as it undergoes a change in how it undertakes its activities.

Dozens of scientists and workers at the agricultural research facility, located on the outskirts of Dundee, run the risk of being made redundant.

The world-respected institution said redundancies are necessary because of 'current funding constraints'. more

Farming UK, 24 September 2019 

Climate change impacts 'accelerating'

The signs and impacts of global warming are speeding up, the latest science on climate change, published ahead of key UN talks in New York, says.

The data, compiled by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), says the five-year period from 2014 to 2019 is the warmest on record.

Sea-level rise has accelerated significantly over the same period, as CO2 emissions have hit new highs. The WMO says carbon-cutting efforts have to be intensified immediately. more

BBC News, 22 September 2019 

£3bn needed for greener farming post-Brexit, charities say

Around £3bn is needed from the government's coffers to support farmers with restoring the environment once the UK leaves the EU, charities say.

The UK currently spends around £3.2bn a year on both farm income support and environmental payments under the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Conservation charities RSPB, National Trust and the Wildlife Trusts say this amount must be rolled over post-Brexit to support 'nature-friendly farming'. more

Farming UK, 19 September 2019 

Wild wheat genetics offer climate hope for food crops

Wild relatives of food crops, such as wheat, host an abundant array of genetic material to help the plants cope with a changing climate.

In a study over 28 years showed that populations of wild wheat accumulated "beneficial mutations" such as a tolerance to temperature increases.

Researchers say the results improve our understanding of how plants are responding to a warming world. The findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. more

BBC News, 17 September 2019 

Climate change could lead to food shortages say MPs

The UK's food supply could be at risk as a result of the impact of climate change on agriculture around the world.

MPs say the government needs to recognise the risks to national food security from importing 40% of food, including a fifth of fruit and vegetables from countries at risk of "climate breakdown".

The risks are heightened by uncertainty over trade after Brexit, according to the report from the Environmental Audit Committee. more

Sky News, 17 September 2019 

Abattoir waste fertilisers could become the norm

Scientists led from Rothamsted Research say their tests on a new type of sustainable fertiliser are very encouraging – although the news might leave many vegans conflicted.

That’s because the phosphorus in this product is not obtained by mining, but instead recovered from abattoir waste, including bones, hooves, tails, and skin.

Global food production is utterly dependent upon phosphorus fertiliser, the main ingredient of which, rock phosphate, is not mined in the UK – meaning the hunt is on for local replacements that can reduce waste and contribute to greener farming. more

Rothamsted Research, 16 September 2019 

NFU unveils plans for net zero farming emissions by 2040

The NFU has unveiled its vision of how British farming hopes to reach net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2040.

Achieving Net Zero: Farming’s 2040 Goal was launched to stakeholders at an event at the NFU’s office in London on Tuesday (10 September), with a call for support from government, industry and other key groups to work in partnership to help deliver this challenging ambition.

The policy measures needed to enable UK farming to meet the NFU’s net zero aspiration will require a partnership approach. more

Farmers Weekly, 10 September 2019 

Farming could suffer '16% financial loss' due to climate change

Climate change could cut the value of European agriculture by 16 percent by 2050 due to an increase in droughts and higher rainfall, a new report concludes.

Farmers in the UK and Europe are increasingly faced with climate change issues such as crop failures, animal welfare concerns and wildfire risks.

A new report released by the European Environment Agency, the EU's green watchdog, says that prolonged heatwaves experienced this year and last have highlighted the vulnerability of the industry. more

Farming UK, 5 September 2019  

Germany to ban glyphosate from 2023

Germany is following in the footsteps of Austria with the introduction of a glyphosate ban set to be enforced from 2023.

Europe's largest economy is moving away from the weedkiller after more than 40 years of using the chemical.

Agreed by the government on Wednesday (4 September), it is part of an environmentally-friendly program by Environment Minister Svenja Schulze. more

Farming UK, 5 September 2019 

Drought-tolerant barley could help 'future-proof' whisky industry

Researchers at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh have found a gene that helps barley cope with climate change.

They said it enabled barley to resist drought and thereby "future-proof" the whisky industry - and could be extended to other crops.

Barley is the fundamental raw material for both whisky and beer production. Global heating is hitting barley crops, with 2018's hot summer having a catastrophic effect on yields across Europe, especially in the UK. more

BBC News, 2 September 2019

Majority support new crop techniques for food security

Widespread support for innovative crop technologies, which could make a huge difference to the farming community and food production challenges, has been revealed in a new poll.

The YouGov survey of more than 2,000 people was carried out in July for the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC), the umbrella organisation for the agricultural biotechnology industry in the UK.

Nearly three quarters (72%) said they would support the use of new technologies and innovation – such as new plant breeding techniques to increase crop diversity and security. more

Farmers Weekly, 2 September 2019 

Shoppers should have choice to buy hormone-treated beef, says Defra chief scientist

Defra’s chief scientist has said British shoppers should be able to choose whether or not they want to eat hormone-treated beef or chlorinated chicken after Brexit, prompting a backlash from farm groups.

Professor Sir Ian Boyd, who is stepping down this week after advising Government Ministers for seven years, said there were no scientific or health reasons why either kind of meat should be banned – echoing the position of the US administration.

Speaking to Sky News, he said: “From a health perspective, there really is not a problem with chlorinated chicken. The issue is about production processes and animal welfare, and that is a values-based choice people need to make. My view is we need to be allowed to make that choice.” more

Farmers Guardian, 30 August 2019 

Climate change: Big lifestyle changes 'needed to cut emissions'

People must use less transport, eat less red meat and buy fewer clothes if the UK is to virtually halt greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the government's chief environment scientist has warned.

Prof Sir Ian Boyd said the public had little idea of the scale of the challenge from the so-called Net Zero emissions target. However, he said technology would help.

The conundrum facing the UK - and elsewhere - was how we shift ourselves away from consuming, he added. more

BBC News, 29 August 2019 

Insect-based food 'better for pets than top steak'

Pet owners are being urged by vets to feed their dogs and cats on a diet rich in insects. The British Veterinary Association (BVA) says some insect-based foods may be better for pets than prime steak.

The vets expect resistance from some pet lovers, but they say surveys suggest many would accept insect-based food.

Advocates say insect protein provides a more environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional pet food. more

BBC News, 27 August 2019 

Report: Adoption of biotech crops rapidly increases globally

New data show that biotech crop plantings have increased about 113-fold since 1996, with an accumulated area of 2.5 billion hectares, pointing to biotechnology being the fastest-adopted crop technology in the world. In all, 70 countries adopted biotech crops through cultivation and importation in 2018, making it the 23rd consecutive year of biotech crop adoption. 

This was part of an in-depth annual report called the Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops in 2018, put out by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications. more

AgDaily, 22 August 2019 

Four new Strategic Centres for vegetable crops launched

Field vegetable producers are set to benefit from four new centres that will demonstrate the latest horticultural research in practice.

Launched this year, the centres will showcase the latest ideas, science and technology to improve integrated pest management (IPM) strategies.

Located across the UK the demonstration sites will specifically focus on carrots, peas, onions and brassicas. They will build on the success of AHDB’s variety trial programme, which has been running for over 20 years, by expanding to incorporate grower-led research trials. more

Farming UK, 21 August 2019 

Consultation seeks views on radical shake-up of UK food

The government is launching a call for evidence giving the public and farmers an opportunity to help radically change how UK food is produced, sold and consumed. Their views will inform the first major review of the nation’s food system in nearly 75 years, led by entrepreneur Henry Dimbleby.

It has been launched to ensure the food industry supports growth, enhances the environment and is resilient to the challenges posed by climate change.

The review will look at what is working well already and the role of new technology to revolutionise the food supply – from innovations like vertical farming and robotics, to carbon neutral manufacturing and crops that tackle climate change. more

Farming UK, 18 August 2019  

Farmers warn of UK food self-sufficiency decline

Britain's food self-sufficiency must be kept above 61 percent to ensure a supply of home-grown food for consumers, the NFU urges the government.

The call comes on the day, 11 August, the country would notionally have run out of food if the public had only eaten British food from 1 January 2019.

The NFU says that farmers must produce more food for a growing population while at the same time delivering on a plan to achieve net zero in agricultural emissions by 2040. more

Farming UK, 11 August 2019 

Plant-based diet can fight climate change - UN

Switching to a plant-based diet can help fight climate change, UN experts have said. A major report on land use and climate change says the West's high consumption of meat and dairy produce is fuelling global warming.

But scientists and officials stopped short of explicitly calling on everyone to become vegan or vegetarian. They said that more people could be fed using less land if individuals cut down on eating meat. more

BBC News, 8 August 2019 

Research breakthrough brings nitrogen-fixing cereals a step closer

A breakthrough by scientists has raised the likelihood of farmers one day being able to grow nitrogen-fixing cereal crops.

The research conducted by Oxford and Cambridge Universities created a “molecular dialogue” between plants and the bacteria around their roots, which could be a vital step towards engineering nitrogen-fixing symbiosis in non-legume crops such as wheat and maize. 

Such a development could have enormous global potential for raising crop yields in nutrient-poor soils and reducing chemical fertiliser use. more

Farmers Weekly, 5 August 2019 

Three-quarters of UK farmers would adopt GM crop technology if UK regs changed

More than three-quarters of UK farmers would adopt GM crop technology if UK regulations changed, a Farmers Guardian poll has found.

The sample of 750 farmers determined 77 per cent had a positive attitude towards GM crops as a safe and sustainable way to produce more food.

It came as Boris Johnson vowed to liberate the UK’s bioscience sector from anti-GM rules in his first speech as Prime Minister last week. more

Farmers Guardian, 2 August 2019 

Boris Johnson vows to ‘liberate’ UK from EU’s GM crops stance

Boris Johnson’s backing for biotechnology has reignited the war of words between pro- and anti-genetic modification campaigners.

During his first speech as prime minister, Mr Johnson pledged to ditch the EU’s stance on GMs and gene-editing.

“Let’s liberate the UK’s extraordinary bioscience sector from anti-GM rules. Let’s develop the blight-resistant crops that will feed the world,” he said. more

Farmers Weekly, 26 July 2019 

Norwich crop scientists demand urgent rethink of EU gene editing rules

Norwich scientists have added their voice to calls for an urgent rethink of European legislation restricting the use of genome editing technologies which they say could rapidly improve food crops.

The John Innes Centre and The Sainsbury Laboratory, both based at the Norwich Research Park, are among the 117 research institutes from across the EU to sign an open statement aimed at the newly-elected European Parliament and European Commission.

It comes exactly a year after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that plants obtained by gene editing should be treated as genetically modified organisms (GMOs). But the statement says these techniques should be exempt from the wider ban on GM crops, enabling scientists, plant breeders and farmers to employ faster and more efficient ways of producing food sustainably. more

Eastern Daily Press, 25 July 2019 

Scientific research paves way for possible breakthrough in fight against bTB

Research by two Aberystwyth scientists has paved the way for a possible breakthrough in the worldwide fight against Bovine TB.

They have developed two skin tests for cattle that can distinguish between animals that are infected with bovine TB and those that have been vaccinated against the disease - whereas the traditional skin test shows a positive result for cows that have the disease as well as those that have been vaccinated.

It means that vaccines developed years ago could become key features in controlling the spread of the disease. more

Farmers Guardian, 23 July 2019 

Banning pesticides would add £786 a year to family shopping bill

The average UK family shopping bill is set to soar by £786 if pesticides are banned, with fresh fruit and vegetables subject to the biggest price rises, according to a new report.

Research commissioned by the Crop Protection Association found feeding a family of four would cost an extra £15 a week, or £786 a year, if farmers are no longer able to access plant protection products (PPPs).

The cost of fresh fruit and vegetables would increase the most, by around 40 per cent or £4 per week, making it more expensive for people to get their five-a-day, with possible knock-on impacts for public health and the NHS. more

Farmers Guardian, 16 July 2019 

UK farming must be sustainable by 2030, report says

The UK government must design a ten-year transition plan for farming to become more sustainable by 2030, a new report released today suggests.

That's the recommendation from the RSA Food Farming & Countryside Commission, which says the UK needs 'radical and practical ways' in battling climate change and improving health.

The Our Future in the Land report, which took two years to complete, says actions to become more sustainable in the next ten years will be 'critical'. more

Farming UK, 16 July 2019 

NZ and UK combine efforts on arable research

The UK and New Zealand are to team up in a new partnership to share knowledge and research to benefit arable farmers in both countries.

The UK's levy-board, AHDB, will partner with its equivalent body for arable in New Zealand, the Foundation for Arable Research (FAR).

The organisation funds a wide range of research for its arable and maize levy-payers to tackle issues themed around reducing cost, improving yield, adding value, resilience, environmental responsibility and innovation. more

Farming UK, 16 July 2019 

New varieties and tech to improve UK blackcurrant harvest

The UK blackcurrant harvest begins in earnest this week, with 10,000 tonnes of fruit forecast.

This year's growing season comes under the backdrop of the UK experiencing warmer winters overall. Without enough chilling time through the colder months, blackcurrant bushes will not produce the same quality and quantity of fruit.

However, new investment in climate-resilient varieties and cutting-edge technologies are set to protect the future of the British blackcurrant. more

Farming UK, 14 July 2019 

Investment in science must continue after Brexit, NFU says

A commitment is needed from government to ensure that 'essential' investment in scientific advancement continues beyond Brexit, the NFU says.

The next 30 years will be one of the most important points in the history of global agriculture. Farmers will need to produce 60-100% more food, using less land, less water and fewer agricultural inputs.

Add to that the issue of climate change, the NFU says funding in science and innovation is 'crucial' to the UK farming industry's future. more

Farming UK, 9 July 2019  

Farm lab adds ‘high tech sheep shed’

A new high-tech ‘sheep shed’ has been unveiled which will allow Rothamsted researchers to monitor the impacts of livestock in real-world farming systems.

The new facility, which can also accommodate goats, is part of Rothamsted’s ‘farm lab’at its North Wyke site near Okehampton, Devon, where it measures how sustainable different farming methods are 

It will help scientists study different ways of rearing and producing lamb – and examine whether a switch away from red meat is good for the environment in the UK. more

Rothamsted Research, 4 July 2019 

Lab-grown meat acceptance is possible, but only if marketed right

Cultured or lab-grown meat has the potential to significantly reduce the carbon footprint of the food industry, but only if consumers are willing to eat it. And according to new research, the right marketing is essential to widespread lab-grown meat acceptance.

In findings published today in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition, researchers have found that the three most common ways to present cultured meat to the public – as an innovation with social benefits, as a high-tech revolution or as a product very similar to conventional meat – illicit very different reactions from the public.

Concerningly, the most commonly presented image of lab-grown meat – as a high-tech product – is not effective at winning consumers round. more

Verdict, 3 July 2019 

Farmers set to benefit from innovations that boost food production & cut down on waste

New technologies are set to help UK farmers cut down on pollution, minimise waste and produce more food thanks to a £22 million Government investment.

Science Minister Chris Skidmore today announced the first 31 projects to benefit from the Government’s dedicated Transforming Food Production Challenge, a £90 million Industrial Strategy fund to help businesses, researchers and industry to transform farming and meet the needs of a growing population.

This investment in the latest technological developments is a key part of the Government’s modern Industrial Strategy, and commitment to boost R+D spending to 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027. more

Farming Online, 28 June 2019  

Tory peer calls for productivity calculations to include value of landscape

A top Tory peer has called on Defra officials to ensure the value of landscape preservation is included in farm productivity calculations.

Cumbria farmer Lord Inglewood, who is also president of the National Sheep Association, hit out at current methods for measuring agricultural productivity which do not take into account the work farmers do to shape iconic landscapes which are a magnet for tourists. more

Farmers Guardian, 25 June 2019 

£3.5 million climate change fund established to shake agri-food sector

A consortium of leading scientific research and academic institutions has formed to identify innovative solutions to tackle climate change linked to the agri-food sector.

The SHAKE Climate Change programme is specifically designed to attract entrepreneurs or start-ups who have developed early stage science or tech-based ideas that can have a significant impact on climate change, as well as form the basis of a sustainable and socially responsible business within the sector.

SHAKE Climate Change brings together experts from Rothamsted Research, Cranfield University, University College London, and the University of Hertfordshire with the financial backing of the Societe Generale UK Foundation to deliver world-class science, technology and business expertise to the programme. more

Rothamsted Research, 24 June 2019 

UK scientists develop drought-tolerant wheat plants

Scientists have developed wheat plants engineered to better survive drought conditions associated with climate breakdown.

Researchers at the University of Sheffield found that engineering bread wheat to have fewer microscopic spores – called stomata – helps the crop to use water more efficiently, while maintaining yields.

Like most plants, wheat uses stomata to regulate its intake of carbon dioxide for photosynthesis, as well as the release of water vapour. When water is plentiful, stomatal opening helps plants to regulate temperature by evaporative cooling – similar to sweating. more

Farmers Weekly, 20 June 2019 

University awarded £6.4m for first ever agri-robotics centre

A £6.4 million grant has been awarded for the creation of the UK’s first ever global agri-robotics centre.

Lincoln Agri-Robotics, a major new research centre of excellence at the University of Lincoln’s working farm, will focus on autonomous agri-robots that can efficiently tend, harvest and quality control high-value crops with reduced human intervention, improving agricultural productivity and environmental sustainability and addressing the demands of a growing population. more

Farmers Guardian, 18 June 2019 

Defra in High Court challenge over metaldehyde ban

Defra is to be challenged in the High Court over the Secretary of State’s decision to ban metaldehyde slug pellet products.

Chiltern Farm Chemicals, one of the largest suppliers of molluscicides in the UK, has, this week, been granted permission to bring a judicial review of the decision before the High Court, with the view to declare the ban as unlawful.

The news of the withdrawal was announced in December 2018, with sales to cease by the end of this month, and with a use-up period to the end of June 2020. more

Farming Online, 17 June 2019  

Most 'meat' will be lab-made or plant-based by 2040, report says

Sixty percent of the 'meat' people eat by the year 2040 will not come from present production methods, according to a new report. It predicts most of the meat eaten in just over 20 years will instead derive from plant-based sources and cultured, or lab grown, meat products.

And tissue engineering experts say the UK is leading global efforts to develop lab-grown meat which could be on supermarket shelves within five years, amid growing consensus in addressing future food needs as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions as part of efforts to tackle global warming.

Global consultancy firm AT Kearney, which created the report, highlighted how approximately $1bn has been invested in plant-based meat replacements. more

Farming UK, 13 June 2019 

Ocado invests £17m in high-tech indoor farming

Ocado is investing £17m in advanced indoor farming in a bid to become a 'leader' in the newly emerging industry. The online grocery firm has completed its acquisition of a 58% stake in Jones Food, Europe’s largest operating vertical farm, based in Scunthorpe.

JFC’s facility is currently producing leafy greens and herbs for UK customers with its capacity expected to grow to 420 tonnes per annum. With more than 5,000 square metres of production area and 12 kilometres of LED lights, JFC has the ability to produce consistent crop yields throughout the year. more

Farming UK, 11 June 2019 

Delivery plans outline vision for research and innovation in the UK

Ambitious delivery plans published today outline how UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) will work with its partners to ensure that world-leading research and innovation continues to flourish in the UK.

The 2019-20 plans highlight the areas of focus and key activities of UKRI’s nine constituent councils and its cross-cutting themes. The plans also detail UKRI’s approach to delivering the government’s target of 2.4% GDP spend on research and innovation by 2027. more

UKRI, 10 June 2019 

Temperature maps from space would 'boost crop production'

Scientists are developing a satellite system to record the temperatures of individual fields of crops.

The aim is to survey land temperatures to estimate water-use by plants and to show how they transfer that water back to the atmosphere.

The data will also help monitor how much water is available to grow crops and how they are responding to drought. more

BBC News, 7 June 2019 

Compaction and erosion ‘a serious threat’ to UK farm soils

About 6m hectares of farm soils in England and Wales are at risk of compaction or erosion, according to an Environment Agency (EA) study.

Intensive agriculture has caused arable soils to lose up to 60% of their organic carbon, and soil degradation was calculated in 2010 to cost £1.2bn every year.

In the “State of the Environment” report, published on Tuesday (4 June), the EA warns that compaction and the loss of organic carbon are “serious threats to soil health”. more

Farmers Weekly, 4 June 2019 

Ministers told back up science vision or risk UK stagnation

A £20bn investment is needed if the government is to achieve its vision of a science-led economy, according to a new analysis.

The Campaign for Science and Engineering (Case) is calling for the boost in UK science funding to avoid the risk of "stagnation".

The UK currently ranks 23rd in its R&D spending as a proportion of GDP. Case said now was the time for the government to set out details of its plan. more

BBC News, 29 May 2019 

Harper Adams launches autonomous farm

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

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

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

Farmers Guardian, 21 May 2019 

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

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

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

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

Sky News, 15 May 2019 

Defra approves new GM camelina oil field trials

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

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

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

Farmers Weekly, 10 May 2019 

Winter weather window costing UK rapeseed growers millions

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

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

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

Farming UK, 6 May 2019 

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

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

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

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

Farmers Guardian, 29 April 2019  

Environment groups resign from government’s pesticides forum

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

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

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

Farmers Weekly, 23 April 2019 

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

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

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

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

Farming UK, 19 April 2019 

MEP hits out at ‘disappointing’ EU Parliament pesticide report

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

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

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

Farmers Guardian, 17 April 2019 

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

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

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

Farmers Guardian, 8 April 2019 

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

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

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

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

Farming UK, 5 April 2019 

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

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

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

Farmers Guardian, 5 April 2019

Scientists to investigate how bird and swine flu jumps species

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

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

Farming UK, 1 April 2019 

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

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

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

BBSRC, 27 March 2019

Loss of British bees threatens food security

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

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

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

BBC News, 26 March 2019  

Facial recognition tool 'could help boost pigs' wellbeing'

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

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

BBC News, 19 March 2019  

Artificial meat: UK scientists growing 'bacon' in labs

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

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

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

BBC News, 19 March 2019 

Climate change: Pledge to cut emissions from dairy farms

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

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

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

BBC News, 11 March 2019 

Consent sought to release GM potatoes for UK trials

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

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

Farmers Guardian, 6 March 2019 

Bird extinctions 'driven' by global food trade

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

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

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

BBC News, 5 March 2019 

NIAB launches open access wheat pedigree resource

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

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

Seedquest, 4 March 2019

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

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

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

Farming UK, 25 February 2019 

UN: Growing threat to food from decline in biodiversity

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

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

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

BBC News, 22 February 2019 

British start-up breeds high performance bugs for animal feed

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

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

Reuters, 20 February 2019 

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

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

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

Farm Business, 18 February 2019 

Environment in multiple crises - report

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

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

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

BBC News, 12 February 2019 

Global insect decline may see 'plague of pests'

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

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

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

BBC News, 11 February 2019 

Food industry warns Gove on Brexit 'crisis'

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

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

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

BBC News, 11 February 2019

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

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

Financial Times, 9 February 2019 

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

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

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

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

Farmers Weekly, 5 February 2019 

Potatoes and other veg at risk due to climate change

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

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

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

Farmers Guardian, 5 February 2019

Rapid gene cloning technique to transform crop disease protection

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

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

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

Farming UK, 4 February 2019 

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

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

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

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

Farming UK, 29 January 2019 

GM chickens lay eggs with anti-cancer drugs

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

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

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

BBC News, 28 January 2019

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

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

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

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

Reuters, 23 January 2019 

Application made for UK GM wheat trials

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

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

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

Farmers Guardian, 22 January 2019 

MEPs agree plans to improve EU pesticides approval procedure

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

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

Farmers Guardian, 22 January 2019 

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

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

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

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

Farming UK, 16 January 2019 

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

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

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

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

Farmers Guardian, 15 January 2019

Spiders' natural toxins to help protect crops in new project

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

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

Farming UK, 8 January 2019 

Genetically modified 'shortcut' boosts plant growth by 40%

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

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

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

BBC News, 3 January 2019 

Gove warns of risks of no deal Brexit

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

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

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

Pig World, 3 January 2019


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