Science & Technology News
El Nino could 'disrupt food markets'
Global food markets could be disrupted by
the El Nino event predicted for later this year.
A strong El Nino is likely to increase
prices of staple foods such as rice, coffee, sugar and
cocoa, say scientists.
Forecasters agree that the El Nino effect,
which can drive droughts and flooding, is under way in the
tropical Pacific. But they say it is too early to say how
severe it will be.
Phage therapy could cut antibiotic
use, say scientists
A virus that destroys illness-causing
bacteria but is harmless to humans and animals could help
reduce antibiotic use in the pig industry.
Scientists at the University of Leicester
are working to develop “friendly viruses” known as phages to
help treat illnesses such as salmonella.
They hope the treatment, known as phage
therapy, will help farmers and vets target and treat disease
in pigs more effectively.
Farmers Weekly, 19 May 2015
NFU to seek derogation from
The NFU is seeking an emergency
application to allow farmers to use neonicotinoid seed
treatments for oilseed rape crops this autumn. It will be
submitting a request to the Government for a derogation that
would allow farmers to use seed treatments from Bayer and
The union is concerned at
the extent of OSR crop damage in some parts of the country resulting
from the lack of availability of neonicotinoids last autumn
and is keen to avoid a repeat this year.
There are fears some areas will see a
significant drop in OSR yields this summer, while there is
also concern that the ban on the seed treatments resulted in
increased use of pesticide sprays, particularly pyrethroids.
Farmers Guardian, 15 May 2015
Top science panel to advise European
A high level group of scientists is to
be recruited to provide independent advice to the European
Commission. The panel will supersede the role of
chief scientific advisor that was controversially abolished last
year by new EC President Jean-Claude Juncker.
The commission wants also to strengthen
its relationship with the national academies across Europe.
Mr Juncker believes the reforms will be a better mechanism
to ensure EU policies are evidence-based.
Calls for tighter rules on illegal
rules are needed to keep illegal and counterfeit pesticides
out of the European Union, says a report.
The European Commission study into the
trade of illegal and counterfeit pesticides in the EU raises
concerns about loopholes for products.
According to the Health and Safety
Executive (HSE), under the current system importers can
bring a pesticide into the EU without any evidence to prove
it is safe. Companies only need to show that their product
is identical to one that has already been assessed to be
safe for use in the EU.
As a result, the study found “considerable
evidence” of misuse of these permits to move illegal
pesticides around the EU and to bring them to market once
they have been repackaged as an identical approved product.
Farmers Weekly, 7 May 2015
Innovation key to competitiveness say
Access to new technology, greater
automation, faster approval for new bio pesticides and
attracting new entrants to the industry were some of the
issues put by growers to the Agriculture and Horticulture
Development Board (AHDB)’s new CEO Jane King during a
meeting to outline the challenges and opportunities facing
Jack Ward, CEO of British Growers, which coordinated the
summit said: “UK growers are operating in a very competitive
environment. Changing consumer habits and the rise of
discount retailers is putting increased pressure on the
supply chain. Suppliers
are expected to continue to deliver better value, more
choice and improved quality against a background of deflated
food prices. AHDB and its specialist horticultural arm, AHDB
Horticulture, have a crucial role to play in helping growers
to meet these challenges.”
Farm Business, 6 May 2015
'Widespread support’ for livestock
centre of excellence
Plans for a £34m investment focusing on
the creation of a centre of excellence for UK livestock have
won widespread support, say industry backers. More than 80
companies and nearly 30 industry organisations have thrown
their weight behind the bid to create a Centre for
Innovation and Excellence in Livestock (CIEL).
The next step is for potential industry
investors to refine the proposal during a workshop on 5 June
at the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera), near
The overall industry-led submission is
for a £34m investment in the UK livestock research and
development sector and to establish a single UK-wide centre.
Money will be matched over five years by commitments from
industry partners in the form of cash and in-kind
investments in research.
Weekly, 6 May 2015
Dairy industry surpasses climate
UK dairy industry has already surpassed 2020 targets to
improve energy efficiency, according to new figures.
collected by Dairy Energy Savings (DES), which runs the
dairy sector’s Climate Change Agreement scheme (CCA), shows
the sector has achieved a 15 per cent improvement in its
energy efficiency since 2008. It means CCA targets of a 13.6
per cent improvement in energy efficiency and the 2020 Dairy
Roadmap target of 15 per cent have been achieved well ahead
industry said the improvements could be attributed to moves
towards more efficient equipment, technologies and product
mixes, fuel switches and increased employee engagement.
5 May 2015
Hedges, flower-rich margins and
woodland feed bees’ needs
Farmers and land managers need to devote
more land to flower-rich habitats to help save bees and
other pollinating insects, new research has found.
The five-year study, which formed part
of the Farm4Bio project, suggested that at least a 7%
increase in flower-rich margins on arable land was needed to
double pollinator numbers.
Entomologists from the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust
(GWCT) and Rothamsted Research
carried out the study in two English regions – Devon and
Cornwall and East Anglia. The research concluded that the
success of current agri-environment scheme habitats for
pollinators was “variable” and “depends on their type and
Weekly, 3 May 2015
Report forecasts high-tech bonanza
for arable farmers
Rapid advances in autonomous robots and
precision technology and new genetic engineering techniques
to extend crop protection are among the key trends that will
reshape arable farming over the next 15 years, according to
a major US consultancy.
Boston Consulting Group (BCG) analysed
all agricultural patents registered between 2010 and 2014
and interviewed a panel of European farmers and industry
experts to help put together its report,
Crop Farming 2030.
30 April 2015
Advances in producing “insect repellent
perfume” for crop protection
Scientists at Rothamsted Research, in
collaboration with Cardiff University, have,
through a novel approach, made new insect repellent odours
[.. using] a combination of biological and chemical
techniques to imitate a naturally occurring odour.
At a time when insect pests are
increasingly becoming resistant to conventional pesticide
control, this research represents an important step forward
in adding to the much needed alternative insect pest control
toolbox. The work, which was funded by the BBSRC, is published in the journal Chemical Communications.
Rothamsted Research, 27 April 2015
approves 19 GM crops for import into EU
The EU Commission granted import
licences for 10 new genetically modified (GM) crops on
The move, which came alongside renewals
for 7 existing authorisations, was made just days after the EU executive tabled proposals for new legislation to
govern imports of GM crops into the bloc.
The Commission’s plans to allow member
states to make their own decisions on imports of GM corps
were heavily criticised by both environmentalists and pro-GM
groups when they were announced on Wednesday.
Farming Online, 27 April 2015
EU Commission warned plans to
nationalise GM approvals could ‘damage livestock industry’
Allowing member states to ban GM imports on political
grounds would distort the single market and push up feed
costs, the EU farm, feed and biotech industries have warned.
The European Commission has been warned
its proposals to give member states more power to ban
imports of GM products could disrupt the animal feed market
and push up costs for farmers.
formally launched by the Commission on Wednesday, has been
widely condemned as unworkable and a threat to the EU single
Farmers Guardian, 23 April 2015
EU proposes new GM import approval
rules, allowing opt-outs
The European Commission proposed on
Wednesday a new law allowing individual EU countries to
restrict or prohibit imported genetically modified crops
even after they have been approved for use in food and feed
by the bloc as a whole.
The Commission said member states that
opted out would have to justify their decision to do so.
The new law would mirror legislation
recently cleared covering the cultivation of GM crops in the
European Union, giving member states a similar opt-out
Reuters, 22 April 2015
Vets call for change to badger culling
The British Veterinary Association (BVA)
has called for the four-year culls of badgers in West
Somerset and West Gloucestershire to be completed using the
method of cage trapping and shooting only.
In light of the
results from two years of culling in the two pilot areas,
BVA has concluded that it can no longer support the
continued use of controlled shooting as part of the badger
Following a full discussion at BVA Council, at which a wide
range of views were expressed, BVA concluded that the
results from the first two years of culling have not
demonstrated conclusively that controlled shooting can be
carried out effectively and humanely based on the criteria
that were set for the pilots.
Farming UK, 20 April 2015
UK’s first commercial aquaponic farm
to open in London
A London warehouse is being converted
into the UK’s first commercial aquaponic farm, creating a
pioneering new model for sustainable, ethical food
production in cities.
The revolutionary farm will use aquaculture and hydroponic
technology to produce more than 20,000kg of sustainable
salads and herbs (enough for 200,000 salad bags) and 4,000kg
of fish each year, with first harvests predicted for
GrowUp Urban Farms has been given the green light to
start building the farming system after receiving planning
permission from the London Borough of Newham this week.
UK, 17 April 2015
Europe looks for
sustainable solutions to best feed the planet
Commission has launched a consultation on how science and
innovation can best help the EU ensuring safe, nutritious,
sufficient and sustainable food around the world.
discussion is linked to the theme of this year's Universal
Exhibition (Expo Milano 2015) "Feeding the Planet, Energy for
Life", which aims to go beyond cultural activities and open
a political debate on global food security and
paper was presented today in Brussels by Tibor Navracsics,
Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, and
responsible for the Joint Research Centre, together with
Franz Fischler, Chairman of the Expo 2015 EU Scientific
Click Green, 13 April 2015
Research into livestock health
receives £2.7m boost
Research at The Roslin Institute to
improve the health of livestock around the world has
received a £2.7 million boost. Studies to understand viruses
that cause major losses in the pig and poultry industry will
benefit from the funding.
Scientists will also investigate the genetics of the
chicken’s immune response, to help devise strategies that
will enable farmers to breed birds that are more resistant
to diseases. Another project will focus on a parasite that
is a major cause of gut diseases in farmed cattle worldwide.
The funding was announced by the Biotechnology and
Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) as part of a £6
million investment from the Animal Health Research Club.
Farming UK, 6 April 2015
waste could be useful as biofuel
Straw-powered cars could be a thing of
the future thanks to new research from the University of
East Anglia (UEA). A new study pinpoints five strains of
yeast capable of turning agricultural by-products, such as
straw, sawdust and corncobs, into bioethanol – a well-known
It is estimated that more than 400
billion litres of bioethanol could be produced each year
from crop wastage. The research team say that their findings
could help to create biofuel which is more environmentally
friendly and ethically sound than other sources because it
would make use of waste products.
University of East Anglia, 30 March 2015
Blight and nematode-resistant GM
potato in the pipeline
British scientists plan to develop
a new genetically modified potato that aims to be resistant
to blight, better for the environment and healthier.
Researchers at the Sainsbury Laboratory, a
government-funded research institute in Norwich, are in the
“very early stages” of a long-term project to develop a new,
Prof Jonathan Jones and his team have already trialled a GM potato,
which can stay free from the fungal disease late blight. Now
the team plans to create a potato resistant to blight,
bruising and nematodes by inserting eight genes in a popular
commercial variety, such as Maris Piper.
Farmers Weekly, 26 March 2015
Climate projections suggest that 50% of
the countries' bean production will be lost by 2050 if
farmers do not have access to the new variety of bean. The
discovery was made by plant breeders at CGIAR, a global
agricultural research group.
BBC News, 25 March 2015
£16m boost for agricultural innovators
Over 70 businesses and universities from across the UK will
share £16M from BBSRC, government and industry to develop 25
innovative business ideas and boost UK agriculture.
The 25 projects, worth £16M with £9.8M from government and
£6.2M from industry, form the third round of funding to be
distributed through the £70M Agri-Tech Catalyst, announced
as part of the UK Industrial Strategy for Agricultural
The Agri-Tech Catalyst, run by Innovate UK and BBSRC,
supports collaborative research between scientists and
businesses to springboard projects from the lab to the
market place – speeding up the time before the farmer and
BIS, 24 March 2015
Flower-friendly farms 'boost bee populations'
Planting farmland with strips of
flowers can boost the number of wild bumblebees, a study has
confirmed. Not only does it attract foraging bees, but it
also encourages nesting, say researchers at University of
In past decades, many bumblebee species have declined, due
to a number of factors, including intensive farming. The
study, published in
Molecular Ecology, suggests farms given funding to
improve the environment can increase the size of wild
BBC News, 23 March 2015
Govt invests in ‘Big Data’ for
agri-tech with Centre for Agri-Informatics
Rothamsted Research has been selected as
the headquarters for a new Centre for Agricultural
Informatics and Sustainability Metrics, which aims to make
more effective use of data science and modelling for the
Sam White, Assistant Director of the
Agri-Tech Industrial Strategy BIS, says that the £12m
funding, which has been awarded to a consortium of business
and academia, will put “the UK at the heart of the data
revolution in agriculture”.
The consortium includes Rothamsted
Research, National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB),
University of Reading and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC).
Agri-Tech East, 21 March, 2015
‘Superfeed’ lupin will provide
soya-grade protein from UK farms
Scientists at Aberystwyth University's
Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences
(IBERS) have proved that growing lupins provides a viable
alternative source of soya-grade protein for animal and fish
feeds in the UK.
This is the conclusion of the three
year LUKAA research project (Lupins in UK Agriculture and
Aquaculture) funded by 10 industry partners and co-funded by
Innovate UK and the BBSRC. Following newly published results
from the project, farmers will be advised that home-grown
lupins have the potential to provide soya-grade protein.
The potential for home-grown lupins to
replace imported soya in concentrate feeds has been made
clear through the three year project which has revealed that
livestock, poultry and fish given rations containing lupins
perform equally well and in some cases better than those fed
rations of comparable quality containing soya.
IBERS, 19 March 2015
Truss urges science-led approach on
Defra secretary Liz Truss has called for
a “science-led” approach to pesticide regulation in the UK.
Ms Truss was speaking after a meeting with EU health and
food safety commissioner Vytnenis Andriukaitis in London on
Tuesday (17 March).
She said she wanted to see a
“science-led and evidence-based approach” around the issue
of pesticide use and regulation, with more decisions being
taken domestically rather than at a European level. Ms Truss
also called for action to make sure regulation around
pesticides is based on risk not hazard in order to make sure
the industry remained competitive.
Farmers Weekly, 18 March
Europe-wide research finds
coexistence of GM and non-GM products is possible
Freedom of choice between genetically
modified (GM) and non-GM products is a central goal of the
EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. It is essentially based on
the principle of coexistence. EU Member States apply
coexistence measures such as minimum distances between
fields with, and without, GM that allow the growing of GM
and non-GM crops in the same area, transport and market them
side by side, preserving their identity in accordance with
the relevant labelling rules and purity standards.
Within PRICE, coordinated by the Technische Universität
München (TUM), researchers have studied how implementable
and costly these strategies are for farmers, agri-food
supply chain operators and consumers. They found that the
current measures implemented to ensure coexistence of GM and
non-GM crops in the EU are practically feasible, both at
farm level and along the supply chain. However, these
measures come with additional costs, which are partly paid
by consumers and other supply chain stakeholders.
Farm Business, 17 March 2015
CPA sets out
policy priorities for the next government
The Crop Protection Association
(CPA) has outlined its policy priorities for the next
government, as it publishes a mini-manifesto ahead of the
2015 General Election.
The manifesto calls on the next government to produce a UK
Food Plan, which should include three key priorities: the
‘Food Proofing’ of policymaking, a commitment to
science-based decision making, and the championing of
innovation and proper risk management.
Business, 17 March 2015
Endocrine disruptor review 'should be
The European Commission’s review of endocrine disruptors in
crop protection products should consider both risk and
exposure of any harmful substances, an MP has warned.
Conservative MEP, Anthea McIntyre, has said the EC should be
“led by science” in its latest review of the Plant
Protection Products Regulation, in which the definition of
endocrine disruptors will be questioned.
The review has generated fears across the industry that a
number of active substances could now be classed as
endocrine disruptors and consequently banned.
Fresh Produce Journal, 16 March 2015
97% of foods in EU within safe levels
A Europe-wide monitoring programme of
pesticides in food has shown residue compliance rates above
Tests carried out in 2013 on more than
81,000 food samples found 97.4% were within the maximum
residue levels (MRLs) of pesticides permitted in the EU.
The report by the EU food safety body, the
European Food Safety Authority (Efsa), found more than half
of the food tested contained no residues at all.
Farmers Weekly, 13 March 2015
Scientists transfer pathogen-sensing
‘antenna’ gene to wheat
A team of BBSRC-funded scientists have
successfully transferred a receptor into wheat that
recognises bacteria and triggers a defensive response. The
gene from the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana could
help increase resistance to bacterial disease in wheat
The scientists from the John Innes
Centre (JIC), the National Institute of Agricultural Botany
(NIAB) and The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL) also demonstrated
that the signalling pathways or circuitry downstream of the
receptor are conserved between evolutionary distant monocots
BBSRC, 13 March 2015
GM crops could benefit farmers and
consumers, new report says
The adoption of genetically-modified
(GM) cereals and oilseeds crops could benefit farmers,
consumers and the animal feed supply chain, while supporting
UK competitiveness in the global marketplace, according to
an independent report published today.
The work was commissioned by HGCA, the cereals and oilseeds
division of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development
Board (AHDB), to address key research questions around
domestic adoption or non-adoption of GM technologies.
The report also finds that GM crop production carries no
negative environmental impacts compared to conventional
cropping – and may offer environmental advantages.
UK, 11 March 2015
CT scanning shows why
tilting trees produce better biofuel
have used medical imaging techniques to explore why making
willow trees grow at an angle can vastly improve their
biofuel yields. Using micro-CT scans, the team showed that
the trees respond to being tilted by producing a sugar-rich,
gelatinous fibre, which helps them stay upright.
at Imperial College London worked with experts at the
Natural History Museum, the University of Surrey and
Rothamsted Research Centre to use X-ray micro-computed
tomography (CT scanning) to examine the willow's growth
through high resolution 3D images.
Imperial College, 11 March
£5 million in
funding now open to boost innovation for farmers
Thanks to £5 million worth of government
funding, farmers can now access the best new technology to
keep the UK farming industry at the forefront of innovation,
Farming Minister George Eustice announced today.
With the first phase of the new Countryside Productivity
scheme now open, farmers, foresters and land managers across
the country are being invited to apply for the grants.
This includes small grants, worth up to £35,000 per
business, and also large grants worth £35,000 - £1million
per business. This money can be used to invest in improved
infrastructure and ground-breaking new technology, opening
up opportunities for farmers.
Farm Business, 9 March 2015
GM opponents condemn billions to
death, says Paterson
Former Defra secretary Owen Paterson has launched a
blistering attack against environmental pressure groups over
their continued opposition to GM technology.
Mr Paterson accused the “green blob” – a network of
environmental groups, renewable energy companies and some
public officials – of “condemning billions to hunger,
poverty and underdevelopment”. And he said pursuing their
policies would decimate the natural world and “devastate
species and biodiversity”.
Speaking during a recent fact-finding mission on GM crops in
South Africa, Mr Paterson castigated the activities of
Greenpeace, the anti-GM activists. “They call themselves
humanitarians and environmentalists but their policies would
condemn billions to hunger, poverty and underdevelopment,”
Farmers Weekly, 6 March 2015
Changes to water rules ‘threaten
Tighter water abstraction rules threaten
to have a profound impact on UK food production, growers
have been warned. Time-limited water abstraction
licences due to expire this year and beyond are being
assessed by the Environment Agency to ensure they comply
with the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD).
In some circumstances, licence conditions
may change if there is deemed to be a risk of environmental
deterioration. The impact of any changes are most likely to
be felt initially in the Cam and Ely Ouse catchment – which
encompasses some of the UK’s most productive farmland in
Farmers Weekly, 5 March 2015
Scientists create GM cows ‘more
resistant to TB’
Scientists claim they have created
genetically engineered cows more resistant to bovine TB. A
team of researchers from China inserted a protective mouse
gene, called SP110, into the genome of Holstein-Friesian
cattle to create animals more resistant to TB. To estimate
their ability to resist the disease, researchers inserted
the Mycobacterium bovis bacterium, which causes TB, into the
immune system of the cows.
Three randomly selected transgenic cattle
and three experimental control cattle, derived from the same
cells but without the mouse gene, were infected with M
bovis. The animals were killed 16 weeks later and analysis
of organs, such as lungs, spleen and liver, showed the
protective mouse gene “significantly reduced” the disease.
Farmers Weekly, 3 March 2015
Scientists find evidence of wheat in
UK 8,000 years ago
Wheat was present in Britain 8,000 years
ago, according to new archaeological evidence.
Fragments of wheat DNA recovered from an
ancient peat bog suggests the grain was traded or exchanged
long before it was grown by the first British farmers.
The research, published in Science,
suggests there was a sophisticated network of cultural links
'Warrior’ fungus could wipe out a
quarter of British wheat crop
An aggressive fungus could wipe out a
quarter of British wheat crops this harvest season,
scientists have warned. The virulent ‘Warrior’ strain of
yellow rust has been found in many crops in the UK and
experts warn it could present a serious threat to wheat
The National Farmers Union warned that
around a quarter of British crops could be affected and said
that European pesticide bans were making it more difficult
Yellow Rust can cause significant
reductions in quality and yield, and in some cases, lead to
the loss of the entire harvest.
The Telegraph, 26 February 2015
MPs call for
reform of EU’s ‘flawed’ rules on GM crops
Europe's approval system for
genetically modified (GM) crops is "fundamentally flawed",
The process assumes GM plants pose greater risks than
conventional plants, which is not backed by scientific
evidence, the parliamentary Science and Technology Committee
It calls for GM crops to be regulated on
the basis of their characteristics not the method used to
BBC News, 26 February 2015
decline in UK food production, new report warns
A new report published by the NFU
today has revealed disturbing new figures relating to the
UK’s self-sufficiency in food.
It states that at current rates, just 53 per cent of the
nation’s food needs will be produced from home farms in the
next 25 years, with potential for serious implications for
the British economy, food security and employment.
With the population expected to boom over the coming
decades, there will be around 13 million extra mouths in the
UK by the time the country’s self-sufficiency in home-grown
food is predicted to hit dwindling new lows. Currently, the
figure stands at 60 per cent – following a 30-year downward
spiral. The NFU says action is needed now, and from
successive governments, to reverse this current negative
Farming UK, 24 February 2015
Agriculture must change, says FAO
The model of agricultural production that
predominates today is not suitable for the new food security
challenges of the 21st century, FAO Director-General José
Graziano da Silva said. While the numbers of the chronically
hungry have been reduced by 100 million over the past
decade, 805 million still go without enough to eat on a
regular basis, he noted in remarks to ministers, scientists,
farmers, and representatives of civil society gathered in
the French capital for a government-organized International
Forum on Agriculture and Climate Change.
Increasing production has long seen as the natural pathway
to ending hunger - but today, even though the world produces
enough food to feed everyone, hunger remains a problem, he
"Since food production is not a sufficient condition for
food security, it means that the way we are producing is no
longer acceptable," said Graziano da Silva. "What we are
still mostly seeing is a model of production that cannot
prevent the degradation of soils and the loss of
biodiversity - both of which are essential goods, especially
for future generations. This model must be reviewed. We need
a paradigm shift. Food systems need to be more sustainable,
inclusive and resilient," he added.
Farm Business, 22 February
output ‘not being harmed’ by solar panels
Food output in the UK 'is not being
harmed' by the spread of solar panels
across the countryside, according to new documents from the
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
"Given the small areas of land covered by solar farms,
currently, it is not possible to argue that, at the national
level, there is yet a serious impact on agricultural
output," the CAP Direct Payments team told Defra in
September last year. But Environment Secretary Liz Truss
told farmers one month after that British agricultural
output was being affected by 'ugly' solar panels.
Truss said: "English farmland is some of the best in the
world and I want to see it dedicated to growing quality food
and crops. I do not want to see its productive potential
wasted and its appearance blighted by solar farms.”
Farming UK, 18 February 2015
Agchem firms to apply for neonics ban
Agrochemical companies are expected
to apply for emergency permission so farmers can use banned
neonicotinoid treatments this year. NFU policy director
Andrew Clark said the union was encouraging agchem firms to
apply for emergency authorisation so growers could use
neonicotinoid seed treatments when planting oilseed rape
from this summer onwards.
“It is absolutely clear that
neonicotinoids are going to be critical this summer and into
the autumn,” Dr Clark told Farmers
Growers had seen rape crops devastated by cabbage stem flea
beetle in 2014 and it was important that the situation did
not repeat itself.
Neonicotinoid seed treatments have been
banned by Brussels for two years over fears that the
chemicals damage bee populations, which are vital for
pollination. But the NFU continues to argue that the
findings are based on unsound science.
Weekly, 16 February 2015
Deal struck to part privatise Defra
Outsourcing giant Capita and Newcastle
University have struck a 10-year deal to partly privatise
the government’s Food and Environment Research Agency
Defra says the £14.5m investment “will
expand the agency’s world-leading scientific capability and
strengthen its role in food research”.
The venture, which will start from 1
April, will enable Fera to play an “even greater role in
helping to drive growth in our £100bn agri-food industry”.
Farmers Weekly, 11 February 2015
Scientists create barley variety more
resistant to flooding
Scientists in the UK have bred a barley
variety which is better able to tolerate flooding and
Researchers at the University of
Nottingham have identified the mechanism used by plants in
stress conditions to sense new oxygen levels. This
breakthrough has helped them use advanced breeding
techniques to breed barley cultivars that reduce yield loss
in waterlogged fields.
Weekly, 9 February 2015
UK scientists’ breakthrough could stop
Scientists have found a genetic
mechanism that could stop the spread of a "devastating"
disease threatening wheat crops.
Septoria leaf blotch (STB) is caused by
a fungus and is seen as the most significant threat to wheat
yields in Europe, and most other wheat growing regions, as
STB infection can claim up to a third of wheat yields and
currently available fungicides are becoming less effective
against resistant strains of the disease.
Researchers at Durham University,
working with partners from Newcastle University and
Rothamsted Research, have now found a way that could
potentially be used to stop extensive spreading of STB
Farming Online, 6 February 2015
UK industry bodies call for balanced
EU approach to pesticides
UK farming and agri-chemical
organisations have urged EU policymakers to look at the
bigger picture in determining the future availability of key
pesticides in Europe. The NFU, Crop Protection
Association (CPA) and Agricultural Industries Confederation
(AIC) presented their Healthy Harvest campaign to
representatives from the European Commission and European
Parliament in Brussels on Wednesday.
Richard King, head of research at the
Anderson’s centre, outlined the findings of his
report, commissioned by the three organisations, which
showed EU policies threaten 87 out of about 250 approved
pesticides in the UK.
Of these, about 40 are considered to have
a high likelihood of disappearing or being restricted within
the next five to seven years, with potentially serious
consequences for crop yields, including a 12 per cent drop
in winter wheat yields and massive impacts on ‘minor crops’
like carrots and onions.
Guardian, 5 February 2015
Oat growers to benefit from huge
research funding boost
The oat breeding team at Aberystwyth
University has secured £2.76m of public funding for research
aimed at improving the crop’s genetics. The project will use
the latest genetic tools and resources to improve traits to
benefit both farmers and consumers, including grain yield,
quality and composition.
The UK grows about 750,000t of oats
annually, with about two-thirds destined for human
consumption. Demand for food-grade oats has been increasing
in recent years, driven by the grain’s health benefits and
product innovation by millers and cereal manufacturers to
make meals such as porridge more convenient to eat. Despite
the growing market, it is often put in the shade by heavy
investment made in other crops, so news of the funding will
be a major boost for the oat industry.
Farmers Weekly, 4 February 2015
Ex-EU science chief Anne Glover: GM tech
The technology behind GM crops is safe,
according to scientific consensus, says the outgoing science
adviser to the European Commission.
In her first full broadcast interview
since leaving Brussels, Prof Anne Glover defended her stance
on GMOs. And she denied reports that she was "sacked",
saying she intended to leave.
She told the BBC programme Hardtalk that
criticism from environmental groups over her role was
unjustified. Prof Anne Glover, a former chief scientific
adviser to the Scottish government, was accused by NGOs in
July of presenting "one-sided, partial opinions" in the
debate over GM crops. She had argued opposition to GMOs was
"a form of madness".
BBC News, 3 February 2015
sciences GCSE mooted in Welsh education review
The Welsh Government has accepted all
15 recommendations contained in a review of agricultural
education provision in Wales put forward by former Harper
Adams University principal, Professor Wynne Jones.
They include the possibilities setting
up an apprenticeship scheme, encouraging greater
co-operation between existing further education agricultural
colleges, development of management and entrepreneurial
skills of those already engaged within the industry and an
increased involvement of the Farming Connect business
For schools there is the suggestion of
establishing a GCSE in agricultural sciences within the
annual curriculum and the setting up of an agricultural
ambassador programme to showcase people who have developed a
successful career within the industry.
Farmers Guardian, 2 February 2015
Fish oils from GM crop fed to Atlantic salmon
British scientists have genetically
engineered camelina plants to produce high levels of omega-3
oils in their seeds which were successfully fed to Atlantic
salmon. The breakthrough could eventually provide a more
sustainable source of omega-3-producing crops to substitute
fish oil in fish feeds.
In a joint research project between the University of
Stirling and Rothamsted Research, scientists developed GM
plants that can produce up to 20% of the omega-3 oil
eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). The extracted oils from the
plants grown in the glasshouse were used as a replacement
for marine fish oil in feeds for Atlantic salmon.
The results of the study demonstrated
that growth performance, feed efficiency, fish health and
nutritional quality for the human consumer were unaffected
when dietary fish oil was substituted with oil from the GM
Farmers Weekly, 29 January 2015
Europe lagging behind all other
continents on GMs, report shows
of genetically modified crops declined slightly across
Europe last year amid concerns over their impact on the
environment and human health.
Limited choice for farmers in the EU
caused by a lack of product authorisations and national bans
meant fewer European farmers grew GM crops in 2014.
According to figures released by the
International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech
Applications (ISAAA), GM crop plantings grew globally for
the 19th consecutive year.
Last year, 18 million farmers planted
181.5ha of GM crops in 28 countries, up from 175.2m ha in 27
countries in 2013. However, in Europe farmers in five EU
countries – Spain, Portugal, Czech Republic, Slovakia and
Romania – planted 143,016ha of insect resistant biotech
maize, down marginally by 3% on 2013. This figure represents
less than 1% of global GM crop production.
Farmers Weekly, 29 January 2015
UN's pro biofuels stance an
'important milestone' for agriculture
Sustainable biofuel production can offer
additional incomes for farmers as well as helping to achieve
energy security, the United Nations Food and Agriculture
Organisation (FAO) chief has said.
Speaking at the Global Forum for Food and
Agriculture, the organisation’s director general José
Graziano da Silva recognised the need for biofuels to
address oil reliance and climate change and argued debate
needed to focus on how biofuels can positively contribute to
He said: “We need to move from the food
versus fuel debate to a food and fuel debate…biofuels should
not be simply seen as a threat or as a magical solution.”
Guardian, 27 January 2015
collaborate to combat crop rusts
Seven scientific teams from the John
Innes Centre (JIC), The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL) and The
Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC), have joined forces in the
fight against rust fungi which can cut crop yields by up to
The newly formed Norwich Rust Group (NRG)aims to develop improved resistance
in crops. Exploiting advances in genomics, scientists will
investigate how parasitic rust fungi invade and feed off
plants. They will also use the new knowledge and techniques
to locate genes in some varieties of crops that can resist
Farming Online, 26 January 2015
UK asparagus production ‘under
threat’ from pesticide laws
Britain’s biggest asparagus grower
believes producing the crop in the UK will become “almost
impossible” if the EU passes laws to ban key crop protection
EU policymakers are seeking to implement
new legislation on endocrine disruptor chemicals (EDCs),
which could result in the loss of key products. A
consultation on the proposals for an EDC definition closed
Herefordshire grower John Chinn farms
500ha of asparagus at Cobrey Farms, Ross on Wye,
Herefordshire, equivalent to about 25% of the country’s
total asparagus production. Mr Chinn said further reductions
to the list of permitted active ingredients would jeopardise
current British asparagus production and curtail the
expansion so urgently needed to replace imports from Peru.
Farmers Weekly, 23
UK wheat yields
have potential to double
UK wheat yields have theoretical
potential to more than double over the next 10-20 years if
every aspect of agronomy is fine-tuned and technological
advances are embraced. That was one of the key messages at
Hutchinsons’ winter technical conference in Newmarket last
week (14 January), where speakers urged growers to focus on
the many ways to build, not just protect, wheat yields in
order to break through the current “yield plateau”.
Average UK yields increased rapidly during the 80’s and
90’s, yet the past decade had seen hardly any tangible gain,
with yields remaining close to 8t/ha. While that compared
well to other countries globally it was far below the
19-21t/ha genetic potential of the crop, speakers said.
“We don’t believe a 20t/ha target is that extravagant,” said
Malcolm Hawkesford of Rothamsted Research, which has
launched its 20:20 Wheat initiative that aims to help
growers meet this target within the next 20 years.
Farming UK, 23 January 2015
British produce vital for food
security, say MPs
MPs have called on the government and
retailers to do more to encourage shoppers to buy home-grown
produce because it forms a vital part of a secure food
The recommendation was made in the Food
security: Demand, Consumption and Waste report published on
Thursday, 22 January by the cross-party Environment, Food
and Rural Affairs committee.
Committee chairwoman Anne McIntosh MP said
climate change and rising world populations meant ensuring
everyone could access affordable, healthy food was a growing
challenge for the UK.
Farmers Weekly, 22 January 2015
EU pesticide crackdown ‘must be based
on sound science’
Pesticides must only be identified as
endocrine disruptors following a sound scientific and full
risk assessment, says the NFU.
The European Commission’s consultation to
help define the criteria for endocrine-disrupting chemicals
(EDCs) closed for responses on 19 January. The consultation
aims to help the commission define chemicals that might
interfere with hormone systems, which may harm human health
and the environment.
An independent report by farm consultant
Andersons has warned up to 40 active substances are at risk
of being lost. This could result in a yield penalty of up to
50% depending on the crop, and farming income could take a
£1.73bn hit, equivalent to a 36% fall in overall profits.
Farmers Weekly, 21 January 2015
Doubts raised over neonic ban as bee
Concerns are mounting over the scientific
backing behind a ban on neonicotinoid seed treatments as two
researchers at the same university row over possibly flawed
The two scientists at the
University of Sussex disagree on whether neonicotinoids were
to blame for a decline in bee populations, which was the
main factor behind the ban on the pesticide. Bee
researcher Norman Carreck is accusing his colleague Dave
Goulson of feeding bumblebees unrealistic high levels of the
neonicotinoid imidacloprid in the laboratory to show an
adverse effect on bees.
“This shows that there are significant
questions over the science. Full field trials have not shown
the levels of harm compared with artificial doses,” says
Chris Hartfield, bee and pollinator expert at the NFU.
Farmers Weekly, 20 January 2015
The food systems
of the future need to be smarter, more efficient
Increasing competition for natural
resource and emerging resource bottlenecks mean that global
agriculture can no longer operate using a "business as
usual" approach – the input-intensive agricultural
development model used for the past 40 years is no longer
sustainable, and a "paradigm shift" in food production is
This was the key message of a speech delivered by FAO
Director-General José Graziano da Silva at the Global Forum
for Food and Agriculture taking place this week in Berlin.
The topic of the forum is The Growing Demand for Food,
Raw Materials and Energy: Opportunities for Agriculture,
Challenges for Food Security?
"Business as usual would mean a huge and simultaneous
increase in the need for food, energy and water in the next
decades: 60 percent more food, 50 percent more energy and 40
percent more water by 2050," Graziano da Silva said during
his remarks. FAO estimates
point to the need to increase food production by 60 percent
by 2050 to feed a population that will top the 9 billion
Farm Business, 17 January 2015
plant protection products would have detrimental effect on
land management, says CLA
The CLA has said vital products needed for
land management may be lost as a result of the EU’s attempt
to redefine how hazardous they are.
Responding to a European Commission consultation to help
determine criteria for endocrine disruption - chemicals
contained within products which could alter the hormonal
system - the CLA said it was necessary to identify the
potential risk of pesticides and biocides by taking into
account potency and exposure as well as hazard.
CLA President Henry Robinson said: “Seventeen active
substances in herbicides, fungicides and insecticides could
be lost as a result of the endocrine disruptor
classification. Such a loss would have significant
consequences for agriculture and land management.
Farm Business, 16 January 2015
MEPs vote to give member states more
powers on GM crops
MEPS have overwhelmingly endorsed a
significant change to EU legislation today, giving member
states a much greater say over whether they grow genetically
modified (GM) crops.
The European Parliament voted in
Strasbourg on Tuesday by 480 votes to 159 to make it easier
for member states to ban GM crops and, potentially, to push
ahead with approvals on a national scale, prompting
speculation about possible approvals in England within the
next few years.
After today’s vote, the
new legislation is
expected to be in place by this spring.
Guardian, 13 January 2015
Truss wants UK powers to decide on GM
DEFRA Secretary Liz Truss has
stressed her desire for the UK to be allowed to make its own
decisions on GM crops, ahead of a key vote in Europe next
The vote could go a long way to moving
control over GM approvals away from the Commission into the
hands of member states. This follows a
vote by MEPs in November.
Mrs Truss said GM crops should ‘have a
role to play’ in the UK and farmers should have the
opportunity to grow GM crops. She said the UK was pushing at
EU level to break down the barriers to growing them. She
called for decisions on issues like pesticides and GM
cultivation to be ‘made on science alone’. “Ultimately we
want to see decisions on GM crops taken in Britain,” she
Farmers Guardian, 8 January 2015
highlights UK sector must improve productivity
The UK farm industry is lagging behind
other countries and must work to improve efficiency.
The Oxford Farming Conference’s annual
report, compiled by Andersons, identified key issues within
the UK’s agricultural industry which have seen it fall
behind several other countries’ farm sectors.
According to the report, ‘The Best
British Farmers: What gives them the edge’, the UK is
hampered by a loss of technology but must work harder to
implement tools to improve competitiveness.
Farmers Guardian, 7
Global warming threat to wheat yields
New research in the UK has predicted global wheat yields
will drop by 6% for each degree of centigrade of global
The study, published in the journal
Nature Climate Change, also warns global warming will
increase variability of wheat yields across regions and
An international group of agronomists,
including scientists from Rothamsted Research, used computer
modeling technologies, field and artificial heating
experiments to focus on responses of wheat to high
Farmers Weekly, 5 January 2015
'Broadband to boost rural job
migration over next decade’
Faster internet and better transport
links could help the rural economy grow faster than urban
areas over the next decade, say government analysts.
A Defra report on rural productivity
claims rural workers are 83% as productive as those in urban
areas. However, increased connectivity, spread of innovation
and growth in knowledge-based industries, including
agriculture, could allow the countryside to gain ground on
towns over the next decade.
Defra estimates a rise in rural jobs,
thanks to a high-tech boost from speedier broadband and
better transport links, could increase economic output in
rural areas by £35bn by 2025. During this time, the
government predicts an additional 300,000 rural jobs could
be created – a 6% increase in rural employment – with more
people leaving cities in search of a rural idyll.
Farmers Weekly, 5 January 2015
Bee-friendly pesticide research among
Research to develop an
environmentally-friendly pesticide, using spider venom, that
is not harmful to bees will be among the beneficiaries of
the latest tranche of Government funding aimed a tackling
the big agricultural challenges of the day.
Businesses and universities across the UK
will benefit from £16 million under the second round of
funding to be distributed through the £70 million Agri-Tech
Catalyst, announced as part of the UK Industrial Strategy
for Agricultural Technologies in July 2013.
Among the most eye-catching beneficiaries
is a £1m project aiming to further develop an
environmentally friendly pesticide which is harmless to
non-target species, including bees. Led by Arch UK Biocides
in collaboration with the University of Durham, the Food and
Research Agency (FERA) and I2LRESEARCH LTD, this project
will receive over £650,000 in Agri-Tech Catalyst funding.
Guardian, 24 December 2014
University of Edinburgh ‘most powerful’ in UK agricultural
and veterinary research
Agricultural and veterinary research at
SRUC and the University of Edinburgh has been ranked as most
powerful in the UK in the Research Excellence Framework
The REF process is an assessment of the quality of the
research being undertaken at UK Higher Education
Institutions (HEIs) and the impact it has in society.
Building on a long history of collaboration and
complementary activities, SRUC and the University’s Royal
(Dick) School of Veterinary Studies – which includes The
Roslin Institute - made a joint REF submission.
Three quarters of the research and related activity
submitted by SRUC/UoE was judged to be “world leading”
(receiving the top REF grading of four star) or
“internationally excellent” (three star).
Farm Business, 19
NFU issues 'call to arms' on EU
The NFU is urging farmers to make their
views known to the European Commission about proposals that
could remove key pesticides from the market.
The Commission is currently consulting
on the definition of ‘Endocrine Disruptors’ a group of
chemicals that could be removed under changes to EU
In a recent
report, commissioned by the UK farming and agro-chemical
industry, farm business consultants Andersons concluded the
potential loss of pesticides from this and other EU
legislation could have a devastating impact on the UK
Guardian, 17 December 2014