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

Group News

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


2014 Archive


2013 Archive


2012 Archive


2011 Archive

2010 Archive

2009 Archive

2008 Archive

Science & Technology News


Wales bans GM crops ‘to protect organic farming’

The Welsh government is seeking to ban the cultivation of GM crops to protest organic farming in Wales. Rebecca Evans, Wales’ deputy minister for farming and food, announced she would take advantage of new EU rules that allow member states to opt out of growing EU-authorised GM crops.

The minister said she would request that the EU excludes farmers in Wales from being allowed to grow Monsanto’s EU-approved GM maize variety MON 810 – currently grown in Spain and Portugal – and seven other GM maize varieties awaiting authorisation. more

Farmers Weekly, 5 October 2015 

Most EU nations seek to bar GM crops

Nineteen of the 28 EU member states have applied to keep genetically modified crops out of all or part of their territory, the bloc's executive arm said Sunday, the deadline for opting out of new European legislation on GM crops.

The EU nations had until October 3 to seek an opt-out which would give them the opportunity to ban GM crops already authorised as safe for cultivation, or under consideration, by the European Union. more

AFP, 4 October 2015

Science leaders make investment case

Leaders of the UK's science community have made a robust pitch to have the nation's research budget raised. Royal Society President Sir Paul Nurse said Britain needed a vibrant knowledge economy and the way to achieve that was to invest more in the nation's acknowledged science excellence.

Public R&D spend as a percentage of GDP currently stands at 0.49 - one of the lowest figures among advanced nations. Sir Paul said ministers should lift this to 0.67% during this parliament. This would bring spending into line with the OECD average. more

30 September 2015 

World 2030 goals put hunger and agriculture at centre of global policy

Food security, nutrition and sustainable agriculture are key to achieving the entire set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva has told world leaders in a plenary address at United Nations headquarters.

"We have given ourselves an enormous task, that begins with the historic commitment of not only reducing but also eradicating poverty and hunger in a sustainable way," he said during his speech at the UN’s Sustainable Development Summit. more

Farm Business, 28 September 2015 

Call for 'rational debate' over GM ban

An academic society has renewed its attack on the Scottish government over its ban on the growing of genetically modified crops.

Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead believes the ban will protect the reputation of Scottish produce.

But the Royal Society of Edinburgh called for a "rational debate" on the issue, in contrast to the "emotive language" used by Mr Lochhead. And it claimed the ban was not imposed on the basis of scientific advice. more

BBC News, 24 September 2015  

Policy changes threaten to ‘paralyse’ UK renewables

Evidence of the detrimental effect recent government policy announcements are having on investor confidence across the renewable energy sector has been published in two surveys by Ernst & Young.

The UK slipped from eighth to 11th in the firm’s quarterly renewable energy country attractiveness index, having being overtaken by Brazil and Chile. It is the first time the UK has been outside the top 10 as a raft of policy measures left investors “baffled” and threaten to “paralyse the historically attractive UK renewables market”, the report says. more

Farmers Weekly, 23 September 2015 

GM crop-growing banned in Northern Ireland

Scotland's environment minister has banned the growing of genetically modified (GM) crops in Northern Ireland. Mark H Durkan said he was "unconvinced of the advantages", and his decision would hold for the "foreseeable future".

The European Union said earlier this year that its 28 member states could adopt their own positions on the issue. Each regional assembly within the UK is making its own decision.

Mr Durkan said the relatively small size of farms in Northern Ireland could create "potential difficulties if we were to seek to keep GM and non-GM crops separate". He said the costs of maintaining separateness could be expensive and impractical. more


Plant discovery could help develop stress-resistant crops

A gene that helps plants to remain healthy during times of stress has been identified by BBSRC-funded researchers at University of Oxford.

Its presence helps plants to tolerate environmental pressures like drought – and it could help create crops that can better withstand adverse conditions. more

BBSRC, 18 September 2015 

Bats perform 'vital pest control' on crops

Bats provide a service worth an estimated US $1bn (£649m) globally by controlling pests on corn crops, a study has suggested. Scientists carried out a series of experiments to assess the economic and ecological importance of the nocturnal insect-eating mammals to farmers.

Globally, bat populations are under pressure as a result of habitat loss and the spread of diseases.

The findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. more


GM crops ban not based on scientific considerations, admits Sturgeon

A controversial decision to ban the cultivation of GM crops in Scotland was not based on scientific evidence, Nicola Sturgeon has admitted.

The First Minister said the move, announced last month, took into account "potential wider economic ramifications" for the food and drink industry.

Her comments were described as "flabbergasting" by the Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser, who said they raised questions about the role of specialist scientific advisers attached to the Scottish Government
. more

Herald Scotland, 11 September 2015

EU loses a billion tonnes of soil to erosion each year

An assessment of soil erosion carried out by the EU’s Joint Research Centre and published this week estimates that water erodes 970 million tonnes of soil every year in the EU. 

This amount of soil could cover the city of Berlin to a depth of one metre, or a one centimetre loss from an area twice the size of Belgium. JRC said this is an alarming loss, especially considering the fact that it takes 100 years to form 1 cm of new soil.

Soil erosion by water accounts for the greatest loss of soil in Europe compared to other erosion processes, such as wind. The highest average annual rates of soil erosion by water were found in Italy (8.46 t/ha), Slovenia (7.43 t/ha) and Austria (7.19 t/ha), and the lowest were found in Finland (0.06 t/ha), Estonia (0.21 t/ha) and the Netherlands (0.27 t/ha). Agricultural lands account for 68.3% of total soil losses, while forests account for less than 1%. more

Farming Online, 7 September 2015 

EU agriculture committee votes against GM crops flexibility

MEPs on the European Parliament’s agriculture committee in Brussels have voted against plans to allow individual member states to make their own choices on GM crops.

In a vote held in Brussels on Thursday (3 September), the agriculture committee rejected the European Commission’s draft law that would give members states powers to allow or ban GM crops in their territories.

MEPs on the committee said they feared arbitrary national bans could distort competition on the EU’s single market and jeopardise the union’s food production sectors, which are heavily dependent on imports of GM feed. more

Farmers Weekly, 3 September 2015 

Experts call for immediate halt to £7,000-per-badger cull

Three senior scientists who collectively produced two decades of government research on controlling badgers to reduce bovine TB are among a group of eminent experts to call for an immediate halt to the badger cull. The intervention comes as figures reveal the government has spent nearly £7,000 killing each badger so far.

Professor Lord Krebs, Professor John Bourne and Professor Ranald Munro write of their disappointment that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has extended the controversial cull to Dorset and called on it to immediately reconsider its decision to continue culling badgers. more

The Guardian, 2 September 2015 

Badger cull to be extended into Dorset

The badger cull is to be extended into Dorset following pilots in Gloucestershire and Somerset, the government has announced.

Ministers and the National Farmers' Union (NFU) say culling badgers will curb tuberculosis (TB) in cattle, but protesters say it has little effect.

Licences have been granted to allow six weeks of continuous culling in the three counties until 31 January. more

BBC News, 28 August 2015 

Neonicotinoid ban has cost farmers £22 million – study

The neonicotinoid ban cost the farming industry in England £22 million this year, according an interim assessment of the ban by Newcastle University.

The assessment used data from 205 Farm Business Survey (FBS) farms selected in proportion to the number of oilseed growers by region and, where possible county.

It estimated the area of winter oilseed rape (WOSR) grown for harvest in 2015 in England was 8 per cent down on the 2014 harvest at 577,000ha. more

Farmers Guardian, 26 August 2015 

Germany takes next step to ban GM crops

Germany looks set to join Scotland in taking advantage of new EU rules that allow individual countries to ban genetically modified (GM) crops from being grown.

Minister for agriculture Christian Schmidt has written to each of Germany’s state governments to explain he intends to use the “opt out” option when it comes to growing EU-authorised GM crops, according to reports.

It was agreed earlier this year to allow member states and devolved administrations the right to restrict or ban the cultivation of GM organisms in their own territory. However, any countries wanting to use this option must notify the European Commission by 2 October 2015. more

Farmers Weekly, 25 August 2015 

Study reignites debate over farming benefits of neonics

The debate over the farming benefits of neonicotinoid pesticides has been reignited following the publication of a government-backed study.

Scientists from the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) studied the effects of coating oilseed rape seeds with imidacloprid in nine regions of England and Wales between 2000 and 2010.

They found that farmers who used neonicotinoids reduced the number of foliar insecticide sprays used to control pests on oilseed rape. But the use of the pesticide was associated with a 10% decrease in 126,200 bee colonies, the study found. more

Farmers Weekly, 24 August 2015 

GM crop ban 'threatens research' say scientists

A ban on growing genetically-modified crops in Scotland could threaten the country's contribution to scientific research, according to scientists, universities and farming leaders.

Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead announced the move earlier this month.

Almost 30 organisations have signed an open letter seeking an urgent meeting with him to discuss their concerns. more

BBC News, 18 August 2015 

EU citizens waste over 100kg of food each year

Researchers from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) have suggested that 16 percent of all food sold in Europe goes to waste.

Europeans are thought to have the world’s largest ‘land footprint’ - put simply, the amount of land from other regions required to supply food, fuel, textiles and building materials - of any region on Earth. Researchers from the JRC, who examined statistics on consumer waste estimated that European citizens waste an average of 123kg of food each year.

Almost 80% (97 kg) of wasted food is estimated to be edible, and so avoidable. In total, Europeans waste 47 million tonnes of edible food annually. more

Farming Online, 17 August 2015 

Global warming increases 'food shocks' threat

Climate change is increasing the risk of severe 'food shocks' where crops fail and prices of staples rise rapidly around the world.

Researchers say extreme weather events that impact food production could be happening in seven years out of ten by the end of this century.

The authors argue that an over reliance on global trade may make these production shocks worse. more

Progress towards the perfect pea

Scientists at the BBSRC strategically-funded John Innes Centre have developed peas that will help animals absorb more protein from their diet. The study is published in PLOS ONE.

The new peas will cut costs for farmers because fewer of the novel peas will give the same or higher nutritional benefit than standard peas.

Pea and other legume seeds contain several inhibitors that stop proteins being absorbed fully from the diet of humans, poultry and livestock. Dr Claire Domoney’s group at the John Innes Centre used non-GM methods to develop peas that don’t have these inhibitors. As well as helping animals get more from feed, better protein digestion decreases the nitrogen content of livestock manure. Excess nitrogen in waste can pollute nearby watercourses. more

BBSRC, 14 August 2015 

Pioneering UK spin-out sold for $160m

A pioneering company using BBSRC-funded genetic engineering research to help control pests has been sold to a US-based biotechnology company for $160M.

Oxitec uses genetic engineering to control insect pests that spread disease and damage crops, and was founded in 2002 as a spinout from Oxford University.

BBSRC funding and support for Oxitec’s early research has been instrumental in their success. more

BBSRC, 12 August 2015 

Scotland to ban GM crop growing

Scotland is to ban the growing of genetically modified crops, the country's rural affairs secretary has announced. Richard Lochhead said the Scottish government was not prepared to "gamble" with the future of the country's £14bn food and drink sector.

He is to request that Scotland be excluded from any European consents for the cultivation of GM crops.

But farming leaders said they were disappointed by the move.

Under EU rules, GM crops must be formally authorised before they can be cultivated. An amendment came into force earlier this year which allows member states and devolved administrations to restrict or ban the cultivation of genetically modified organisms within their territory. more

BBC News, 9 August 2015

On-farm AD plants lead electricity surge

Farms led a surge in the energy generated by anaerobic digestion (AD) in 2014. The latest figures from the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) show AD capacity outside of the water industry went from 164MW in 2013 to 216MW (32 per cent) in 2014.

The Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association (ADBA) said its own analysis showed farm AD plants generated 40 per cent more electricity in 2014 than in 2013, more than was generated from sewage sludge in the water sector and for the first time breaking past 1TWh of electricity. more

Farmers Guardian, 4 August 2015 

£4.7M for science to benefit British farming

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) along with the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and 12 industry partners are to fund six research projects to improve the sustainability of UK farming.

The grants totalling £4.7M were funded in the first round of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Innovation Club (SARIC), which was developed by BBSRC and NERC, together with industry, to support innovative projects that will provide solutions to key challenges affecting the efficiency, productivity and sustainability of the UK crop and livestock sectors.

Among the funded studies is work to improve the drought tolerance of wheat, research to determine the best foodstuffs for ruminant animal health and production, and a project focused on optimising the use of buffer strips to enhance hydrology and water quality. more

BBSRC, 29 July 2015 

Four counties in England to benefit from neonicotinoids this Autumn

Neonicotinoid seed treatments will be available in four counties in the south and east of England this autumn, the NFU has announced.

The union announced last week it had secured emergency use of neonicotinoid seed treatments from the Chemical Regulation Directorate, after an initial application had been rejected. However, the derogation is limited to five per cent of the oilseed rape crop (OSR) in England, around 30,000ha, and the treated seed must be targeted to areas where the need for the pesticides is deemed the greatest.

The four counties are Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, where last year there approximately 90,000ha of OSR was grown. more

Farmers Guardian, 27 July 2015 

UK pulse market ‘can double in five years’

UK pulse production has the potential to double in five years if the right conditions are created, according to a report.

Quality peas and beans offer some of the highest potential gross margins from the 2015, says the report by Graham Redman, of The Andersons Centre for the John Innes Institute.

As well as building export markets, a rise in UK production would help increase pulse consumption in animal feed compounding, fish food and drive new product innovation in added-value food manufacturing for sports nutrition and health food markets. more

Farmers Weekly, 26 July 2015 

Neonicotinoid emergency use approved for 5% of OSR area

An emergency application for farmers to use neonicotinoid seed treatments on oilseed rape this summer has been approved – but only for 5% of the total crop area in England.

The NFU’s second request for farmers to use neonicotinoid-treated rapeseed was approved by Defra on Wednesday (22 July). However, the derogation will only apply to a limited area of 5% of the oilseed rape crop, amounting to 30,000ha. more

Farmers Weekly, 22 July 2015 

Lords Committee launches inquiry into GM insects

Could genetically modified insects be used to control the spread of human disease? Would farmers benefit if insects were modified in order to reduce crop pests? What are the safety and ethical concerns over the release of genetically modified insects? How should this emerging technology be regulated?

A new inquiry into the possible uses of GM insect technologies is today launched by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee; the investigation will aim to shed light on these and other areas. more

Farming UK, 20 July 2015 

Industry kick starts work on new Great British food and farming plan

Eighty leading representatives from the UK food and farming industry will help develop a long-term plan for the future of food and farming at a meeting with Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss today.

The industry-led 25-year plan will up the country’s ambitions for food and farming, setting out how we can grow more, buy more and sell more British food. Today’s event kick starts the plan’s development, discussing ways to promote a British brand, grow exports, improve skills, attract high-flyers and harness data and technology so that the industry can innovate, grow and create jobs. more

Farming UK, 16 July 2015 

Genetically engineered moths could be released in Britain to save crops

Genetically engineered moths could be released in Britain to prevent devastating damage to broccoli and kale crops, scientists have claimed.

Researchers from Oxford University spinoff Oxitec, have tweaked the genes of the insects so that they only produce male offspring. Tests in greenhouses have shown that releasing GM diamondback or cabbage moths causes populations to crash quickly, limiting damage from caterpillars. New results show that levels had been controlled within just eight weeks.

Now scientists are set to carry out new outdoor trials in New York State after gaining approval from the US Department of Agriculture. more

The Telegraph, 16 July 2015

Decline in bumblebees ’caused by climate change’

Climate change is causing greater losses in bumblebee populations than pesticide applications, scientists have warned.

In a study said to be the most comprehensive of its kind, researchers examined data on bumblebee populations across Europe and North America over the past 110 years. Their findings – published in the journal Science – suggest global warming is rapidly reducing the areas in which bees are found across both continents.

Many crops rely on bees for pollination and farmers are having to contend with tighter restrictions on pesticides said to be damaging to bee populations. But the scientists warn that the scale of the losses cannot be explained by the changes in land use or applications of neonicotinoid pesticides that have been blamed for declines in bee numbers. more

Farmers Weekly, 10 July 2015

UK scientists hail success of GM fish oil plants trial

Britain’s first field trial of genetically modified oilseed plants enriched with fish oil nutrients has been a success, say scientists.

Rothamsted Research announced the first year results of the field-scale trial of GM camelina (false flax) oilseed plants engineered to make omega-3 fish oils in their seeds on Tuesday (7 July).

The landmark proof of concept showed that a crop plant could be engineered to produce high levels of health-boosting omega-3s. more

Farmers Weekly, 7 July 2015 

Emergency neonicotinoid application rejected

An emergency application for farmers to use neonicotinoid seed treatments on oilseed rape this summer has been refused, the NFU has said. The union had hoped that growers would be able to use a limited and controlled amount of neonicotinoid treated rape seed to combat cabbage stem flea beetle.

But it said on Friday (3 July) that its application had been rejected. The confirmation follows weeks of wrangling with government officials over the application – a process described by the NFU as deeply frustrating, painful and prolonged.

Defra has the power to allow farmers to use neonicotinoid-treated seed despite an EU-wide ban introduced amid concern that the chemicals are harmful to pollinators, including bees. more

Farmers Weekly, 3 July 2015 

Scientists awarded £1.6m to tackle soil security

Scientists have been awarded £1.6m to investigate how to make our soils more sustainable and resilient to environmental change.

Soils are coming under increasing pressure through nutrient depletion and there is an urgent need to ensure that soils found across different farming landscapes continue to deliver vital resources for food security.

The study, led by Rothamsted Research, will look at whether soils in different ecosystems, ranging from intensive agriculture through to extensive, semi-natural systems, are robust enough to cope with environmental pressures from climate change and human activity. more

Farmers Weekly, 29 June 2015 

Truss outlines plans for a data revolution in the countryside

Defra Secretary Liz Truss has announced plans to turn the countryside into a high-tech hub, providing what she believes will be new opportunities for farming and rural businesses.

At the heart of it was her desire to put Britain at the forefront of a data revolution she said was ‘transforming the world of food and farming’.

She revealed that over the next year, virtually all the data Defra holds—at least 8,000 sets—will be made freely available to the public, in ‘the single biggest government data giveaway the UK has ever seen’. more

Farmers Guardian, 25 June 2015 

UK GM wheat 'does not repel pests'

A strain of genetically modified wheat developed in the UK has failed to repel pests as intended in field trials.

Scientists had wanted to engineer a variety with an odour that deterred aphids, nicknamed "whiffy wheat". While it worked in the lab, out in the field, the wheat was still attacked by the pests.

But negative results are part-and-parcel of the scientific process; researchers behind the project will now work to improve the strain. more


Three new research projects promise sweeter deal for berry growers

British berry lovers could get their favourite fruits all year round thanks to three new pioneering research projects set to revolutionise Scottish berry production, Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss has said.

£1.3 million from the government’s £70 million Agri-Tech Catalyst has been awarded to projects led by the James Hutton Institute and James Hutton Limited, based in Dundee, to help Scottish producers meet the growing demand for home grown berries.

The projects will use the latest advancements in plant genetics to identify traits in raspberries that make them more resilient to pests and diseases, and in blueberries, traits that are better adapted to growing in Scotland’s cooler climate. more

Farming Online, 22 June 2015 

Poor farm policies wiping £3.9bn from UK economy

A failure to grasp the effect of EU and government policies on agriculture is costing the UK economy as much as £3.9bn, a study has said.

The Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC), which represents Britain’s agriculture supply industry, said single issue policymaking at European and UK levels was hampering farm productivity. It commissioned a study – Food Supply in the Balance– to investigate concerns policies are made without an understanding of their impact across the whole farming industry.

AIC’s initial, but conservative, estimate is that the imbalance between opportunities and threats could be as much as £3.9bn, or one-third of the value which farmers add to the UK economy. more

Farmers Weekly, 16 June 2015 

Defra pledges to reverse food self-sufficiency decline

Britain’s declining self-sufficiency in food will be reversed under government plans to introduce a long-term strategy for agriculture, according to farm minister George Eustice.

A 25-year strategy for food and farming was a key pledge in the Conservative manifesto ahead of the general election.

With a majority Tory government now in power, Defra officials will meet industry leaders over the coming month to ensure such a strategy is in place by the end of the year. more

Farmers Weekly, 12 June 2015 

Hormonal treatment for cows could reduce global warming

New research carried out by The University of Nottingham suggests targeted use of hormone treatments could make the dairy industry more efficient and sustainable in addition to cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The research, led by Dr Simon Archer of the School of Veterinary Medicine and Sciences, has been published in the academic journal PLOS ONE.

“Routine hormone treatments could improve efficiency by getting more cows pregnant sooner. This is better for the environment as for every litre of milk produced; fewer animals would be needed, which generates less waste. This applies for any breed of cow and to the majority of farms, except those that are already exceptionally well managed,” said Dr Archer. more

Farming UK, 11 June 2015 

Plant breeding vital for sustainable agriculture – ADAS study

By developing crop varieties with higher yields, improved resource use efficiency and reduced environmental impact, plant breeding is a major contributor to meeting the goals of sustainability in agriculture, according to an independent review published today.

Agricultural consultants ADAS assessed the contribution of modern plant breeding to sustainability in agriculture. With a focus on UK and EU plant breeding in key food and forage crops over the past 10 years, ADAS conducted a systematic review of published scientific literature and other information sources – comprising more than 250 individual citations in total. 

The study found that innovation in plant breeding provides a vital foundation to address multiple sustainability goals, and is a major contributor to raising yields, increasing resource use efficiency and reducing the negative environmental impacts of food production. more

Seedquest, 9 June 2015 

Ex-Greenpeace director denounces 'immoral' groups that campaign against GM foods         

Environmental groups that campaign against genetically modified food are taking a “morally unacceptable” position that puts “ideology” ahead of the needs of the poor, a former director of Greenpeace has warned.

Stephen Tindale, who led the organisation at the height of its opposition to GM technology, said he had “decided to speak out” because he believed the technology was safe and could help alleviate hunger in the developing world. But his remarks, in a BBC Panorama programme, will infuriate his former colleagues at Greenpeace. The group is still campaigning for GM bans across the world.

Mr Tindale is the second prominent green campaigner in recent years to publicly change his mind about GM. Mark Lynas, an author and activist who spent years destroying GM crops, shocked the environmentalist world in 2013 when he admitted he had been wrong about the technology and now believed it was a force for good. more

The Independent, 8 June 2015 

Quest to engineer the perfect potato

A genetically modified potato that could resist destructive blight, defend itself against parasitic worms, avoid bruising, and cut down on the accumulation of a suspected carcinogen during cooking would be worth many billions of dollars per year to potato producers across the world.

This mega-resilient potato is the goal of a new project officially launched by researchers in the United Kingdom this week. If they are successful, this would be the first potato to have all these traits, each of which has already been demonstrated in previous genetically modified versions of popular potato varieties. The five-year endeavour will be led by Jonathan Jones, a scientist at Sainsbury Lab in the UK and one of the world’s leading experts on the genetics of plant diseases. more

MIT Technology Review, 5 June 2015 

Public thinks farming is stuck in the past

Consumer perceptions of agriculture are woefully out of date, according to a shocking survey carried out by Linking Environment and Farming (Leaf).

The survey, released to publicise Open Farm Sunday (7 June), demonstrates that many members of the public are unaware of the realities of modern farming.

While many farms rely on a host of technologies, including GPS steering systems, robot milking machines and even drones, only 5% of people surveyed said they would describe a farmer as tech savvy. more

Farmers Weekly, 2 June 2015 

£4M to fund important food crops from BBSRC and NERC

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, collaborating with the Natural Environment Research Council, have awarded over £4M in research funding to six projects to help improve the sustainability of commercially valuable crops.

The funding is the second round of awards from the Horticulture and Potato Initiative (HAPI), which was developed by BBSRC together with NERC and the Scottish Government to support high quality, industrially relevant research projects on potato and edible horticulture crops. HAPI will help the horticulture and potato supply chains enhance their competitiveness and resilience to climate change, increase plant resistance to disease and environmental change, and develop more efficient ways of farming. This will lead to economic, social and environmental benefits, such as improved resilience to climate change and better food security. more

BBSRC, 1 June 2015 

EC calls for new data on neonic use ahead of review

The European Commission is calling for new data to be submitted on the use of three neonicotinoid seed treatments as it looks to review the ban on these insecticides.

The use of these three products was restricted by the European Union on flowering crops likely to be attractive to bees due to their perceived harmful effect on these insects.

The EU restrictions started in December 2013 and it promised to review its ban in two years. Therefore, the EC’s scientific arm, the European Food Safety Authority, is now calling for new information by the end of September 2015. more

Farmers Weekly, 26 May 2015 

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. more


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. more

Farmers Weekly, 19 May 2015 

NFU to seek derogation from neonicotinoid ban

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 Syngenta.

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. more

Farmers Guardian, 15 May 2015 

Top science panel to advise European Commission

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. more


Calls for tighter rules on illegal pesticides

Tighter 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. more

Farmers Weekly, 7 May 2015 

Innovation key to competitiveness say horticulture leaders

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 the sector. 

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.” more

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 York.

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. more

Farmers Weekly, 6 May 2015 

Dairy industry surpasses climate change targets

The UK dairy industry has already surpassed 2020 targets to improve energy efficiency, according to new figures.

Data 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 of schedule.

The industry said the improvements could be attributed to moves towards more efficient equipment, technologies and product mixes, fuel switches and increased employee engagement. more

Farmers Guardian, 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 quality”. more

Farmers 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. more

Farmers Weekly, 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. more

Rothamsted Research, 27 April 2015 

Commission approves 19 GM crops for import into EU

The EU Commission granted import licences for 10 new genetically modified (GM) crops on Friday.

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. more

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.

The proposal, formally launched by the Commission on Wednesday, has been widely condemned as unworkable and a threat to the EU single market. more

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 right. more

Reuters, 22 April 2015 

Vets call for change to badger culling method

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 control policy.

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. more

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 September.

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.

Farming UK, 17 April 2015 

Europe looks for sustainable solutions to best feed the planet

The European 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.

The 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 sustainability.

The 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 Steering Committee. more

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 

Agricultural 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 alcohol-based biofuel.

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. more

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, improved potato.

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. more

Farmers Weekly, 26 March 2015 

A breakthrough in the development of temperature-resilient beans could help sustain a vital source of protein for millions of people around the globe. The news offers a glimmer of hope for many farmers in developing nations.

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. more

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 Technologies.

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 public benefit. more

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 Sussex.

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 bumblebee populations. more

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 agri-food industry.

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). more

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. more

IBERS, 19 March 2015 

Truss urges science-led approach on pesticide regulation

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. more

Farmers Weekly, 18 March 2015 

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. more

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. more

Farm Business, 17 March 2015 

Endocrine disruptor review 'should be science-led'

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. more

Fresh Produce Journal, 16 March 2015 

97% of foods in EU within safe levels of pesticides

A Europe-wide monitoring programme of pesticides in food has shown residue compliance rates above 97%.

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. more

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 crops.

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 and dicots. more

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.

Farming UK, 11 March 2015 

CT scanning shows why tilting trees produce better biofuel

UK researchers 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.

Researchers 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. more

Imperial College, 11 March 2015 

£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. more

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,” he said. more

Farmers Weekly, 6 March 2015 

Changes to water rules ‘threaten farming’

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 East Anglia. more

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. more

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 across Europe. more

'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 production.

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 to control.

Yellow Rust can cause significant reductions in quality and yield, and in some cases, lead to the loss of the entire harvest. more

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", say MPs.

The process assumes GM plants pose greater risks than conventional plants, which is not backed by scientific evidence, the parliamentary Science and Technology Committee report says.

It calls for GM crops to be regulated on the basis of their characteristics not the method used to produce them. more

BBC News, 26 February 2015 

‘Alarming’ 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 trend.

Farming UK, 24 February 2015 

Agriculture must change, says FAO Director-General

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 pointed out.

"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. more

Farm Business, 22 February 2015 

UK agricultural 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 exemption

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 Weekly. 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. more

Farmers Weekly, 16 February 2015 

Deal struck to part privatise Defra science agency

Outsourcing giant Capita and Newcastle University have struck a 10-year deal to partly privatise the government’s Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera).

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”. more

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 waterlogged conditions.

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. more

Farmers Weekly, 9 February 2015 

UK scientists’ breakthrough could stop septoria spread

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 disease. more

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. more

Farmers 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. more

Farmers Weekly, 4 February 2015 

Ex-EU science chief Anne Glover: GM tech ‘is safe’

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". more

BBC News, 3 February 2015 

Agricultural 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 development agency.

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. more

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 plants. more

Farmers Weekly, 29 January 2015 

Europe lagging behind all other continents on GMs, report shows

Plantings 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. more

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 food production.

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.” more

Farmers Guardian, 27 January 2015 

Scientists 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 80 percent.

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 invasion. more

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 products.

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 last week.

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. more

Farmers Weekly, 23 January 2015 

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 supply system.

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. more

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. more

Farmers Weekly, 21 January 2015 

Doubts raised over neonic ban as bee scientists clash

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 experiments.

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. more

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 needed.

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 mark. more

Farm Business, 17 January 2015 

Restrictions on 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. more

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. more

Farmers Guardian, 13 January 2015 

Truss wants UK powers to decide on GM approvals

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 week.

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 said. more

Farmers Guardian, 8 January 2015 

OFC report 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. more

Farmers Guardian, 7 January 2015

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 warming.

The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, also warns global warming will increase variability of wheat yields across regions and seasons.

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 temperatures. more

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. more

Farmers Weekly, 5 January 2015 

Bee-friendly pesticide research among Agri-Tech winners

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

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

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

Farmers Guardian, 24 December 2014 

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

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

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

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

Farm Business, 19 December 2014

NFU issues 'call to arms' on EU pesticide legislation

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

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

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

Farmers Guardian, 17 December 2014 

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