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

Group News

APPGSTA Income & Expenditure Statement
July 2016

APPGSTA Annual Report 2014/15
July 2015

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

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

APPGSTA Annual Report 2012/13
January 2014

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

VIDEO: MP hails agri-tech project

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

UK Agri-Tech Strategy published

22 July 2013


APPGSTA Annual Report 2011/12

December 2012


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


George Freeman MP hails £250m bio-economy boost

24 May 2012


House of Lords Debate -

Innovation in EU Agriculture

February 2012


APPGSTA Annual Report 2010/11

December 2011



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


2015 Archive


2014 Archive


2013 Archive


2012 Archive


2011 Archive

2010 Archive

2009 Archive

2008 Archive

Science & Technology News


Syngenta chief points to Brexit boost for UK’s crop regulations

The UK’s planned exit from the EU would allow it to break with “politicised” European regulation in agriculture and take swifter advantage of scientific breakthroughs, the chief executive of Switzerland’s Syngenta agribusiness has said.

Erik Fyrwald argued the UK was a “voice for science-based regulation” and likely to develop a regulatory system that allowed the faster adoption of crop protection and seed technologies, which boosted farm competitiveness.

His comments are an example of international business spotting benefits from the UK “Brexit” decision, even if they are unsure about its long term impact. Syngenta has 2,500 employees in the UK, including in research. more

Financial Times, 25 July 2016

£4M awarded for new UK-Brazil joint projects in wheat research

A £4M investment between BBSRC and the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) has been made to support collaborations between UK and Brazilian scientists in wheat research.

The funding (£2M from the Newton Fund delivered through BBSRC, with matched resources from Embrapa) has been awarded to four partnerships between the UK and Brazil.

The funding aims to inform the development of new traits or practices to enhance the sustainability of wheat production in the context of the wider agri-ecosystem. more

BBSRC, 22 July 2016 

UK scientists speak about Brexit pain

Just weeks after the UK voted to leave the European Union, researchers are losing grants. BBC News has spoken to several research groups and small businesses who say they will soon have to scale down operations and lay off staff.

Seven national academies have called on the government to ensure that research is protected in Brexit negotiations; the President of the Royal Society has told the BBC that the future prosperity of the UK is at stake.

British universities, in collaboration with small businesses, receive £850m in research grants each year from the European Union. Since the vote to leave the European Union there have been reports that British applicants for grants are already losing out. more

19 July 2016 

Ancient barley DNA gives insight into crop development

An international group of scientists have analysed the DNA of 6,000 year old barley finding that it is remarkably similar to modern day varieties. They say it could also hold the key to introducing successful genetic variation.

Due to the speed at which plants decompose, finding intact ancient plant DNA is extremely rare. The preserved ancient barley was excavated near the Dead Sea, the journal Nature Genetics reports. The arid environment conserved the biological integrity of the grains, the paper says. more

18 July 2016 

Farming and forestry can deliver food security, says UN

Improving co-operation between nations' farming and forestry sectors will help reduce deforestation and improve food security, a UN report has suggested.

Between 2000 and 2010, tropical nations saw net forest loss of seven million hectares per year and a net gain in farmland of six million hectares.

Collaboration between the sectors would reduce environmental damage and improve social and economic outcomes, it said. more


Scientists warn of 'unsafe' decline in biodiversity

An international team of scientists has issued a warning that biodiversity is dropping below safe levels for the support and wellbeing of human societies.

As a species we are inextricably connected with the processes of our local ecosystems, such as crop pollination, waste decomposition and regulation of the carbon cycle. These ecosystems depend on the biological diversity within them to function.

The planetary boundaries framework updated in 2015 states that losing more than 10% of the biodiversity in an area places the local ecosystem at risk. A report in Science this week states that 58% of the world's land coverage already falls below this safe level. They find that the global average of biodiversity has dropped to 85% of that of unaffected ecosystems. more


Twenty four agri-tech projects unveiled with share of £16m funding from government

Twenty-four innovative agri-tech projects have today been awarded a share of £16 million funding from the government. Through the latest round of the Government’s Agri-Tech Catalyst, the aim is to solve some of the world’s greatest agricultural challenges – from food security and sustainability to weed control and livestock disease.

This round of the Government’s Agri-Tech Catalyst – alongside industry co-investment – has provided awards between £200,000 and £1.5 million to the most pioneering science and technology projects within the UK’s agricultural sector to help meet the global demand for food with the least environmental impact.

Successful projects in the fifth round of funding announcements include the development of a robot that accurately eliminates and controls weeds, which will significantly reduce the use of herbicides in food production. Another project will look at why potato greening occurs and how to prevent it – helping to reduce the 100,000 tonnes of potatoes thrown away annually. more

Farming UK, 13 July 2016 

Climate change poses threats to UK farming

A major climate report has shown that more needs to be done to tackle climate change and protect the natural environment in Britain, which is already feeling the effects of climate change. According to the report, the main risks to the country are from further flooding, heat and impacts on food and farming. 

The UK government is required to publish a report on the risk from climate change every five years; this latest report from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), released on Tuesday,  shows that conditions in the UK are mirroring those seen around the world, with rising sea levels, higher average temperatures and more extreme weather events observed in recent years. more

Farming Online, 12 July 2016 

Drought triggers 'austerity' root system in grass crops

Grass species of crops adopt an "austerity" strategy and limits the development of its root system during times of drought, a study has revealed.

The results offer an insight into the little understood biology of roots and could help breeding effort to improve drought tolerance, say scientists.

Many of the world's key food and energy crops belong to the grass family and are often grown in drought-prone areas. The findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. more


New EU study shows negative correlation between banning crop protection products and the quality of produce

A new EU impact study reveals that if more crop protection products are removed from the market, quality food supplies will be put at risk and unemployment will rise, costing the economy billions of euros.

The study, carried out by the consultancy Steward Redqueen and based on information provided by EU member organisations (Copa-Cogeca), looks at the cumulative impact in the EU of having a hazard based legislative approach for assessing crop protection products, instead of a risk based one. more

Farming UK, 10 July 2016 

Flagship DNA facility sets sights on advances in science

Scientists are marking the opening of the first fully automated DNA production facility in the UK. The Edinburgh Genome Foundry will design, build and test large sections of DNA – the building blocks of life – using large-scale robotic processes.

Researchers at the facility are seeking to create and modify long strands of DNA that can be used to equip cells or organisms with new or improved functions.

Its products could lead to advances such as programming stem cells for use in personalised medicines, developing bacteria that can detect disease in the gut, or altering the DNA of biofuel crops to enable a higher yield. more

BBSRC, 8 July 2016 

'Bitter blow’ after Defra rejects second neonics request

The NFU has expressed its deep disappointment after Defra rejected its second request for growers to use neonicotinoids on oilseed rape crops this autumn.

The union submitted a revised application for a derogation to allow growers to use Cruiser OSR and Modesto seed treatments on oilseed rape crops in English counties considered to be “hotspots” for cabbage stem flea beetle (CSFB) attacks.

The second application was narrower than the first, which requested a derogation to cover 33% of England’s OSR area. However, in a statement released on Tuesday (5 July), Defra said it had turned down the latest request after following advice from the government’s independent adviser on science related to pesticides. more

Farmers Weekly, 5 July 2016 

Science ‘needs free movement to thrive'

A leading scientist has said UK science will suffer unless any post-Brexit agreement allows the free movement of people. Prof Sir Paul Nurse said the country's research was facing its biggest threat in living memory. He added that researchers had to have a big voice in negotiations with the EU.

But Leave campaigners say the UK should be able to negotiate a deal to continue to receive European funding and still curb overall immigration.

British science was one of the biggest winners from EU funding. And so it is among those that have most to lose. UK universities receive 10% of their research funding from the EU, amounting to just over £1bn a year. more


Could ancient wheat be the future of food?

Researchers believe untapped consumer markets exist for ancient foods such as einkorn, emmer, and spelt, which fed large swaths of the world's population for thousands of years but disappeared almost completely during the rise of industrial farming and the green revolution.

In an Opinion published in Trends in Plant Science, two plant breeders argue that the consumer demand in the US and Europe for high-quality, healthy food specialties presents an opportunity to reintroduce ancient wheat varieties and other plant species by creating "farm to fork" supply chains that satisfy consumer demand; provide niche markets for small farmers, millers, and bakers; and increase agricultural biodiversity. more

Seedquest, 28 June 2016 

Dramatic Brexit vote spells huge uncertainty for UK agriculture

Industry leaders have called on the government to provide a clear direction for British agriculture after the UK voted to leave the European Union.

For more than 40 years, UK farmers have relied on subsidies from the EU’s common agricultural policy (CAP) and significant export markets in Europe with free access to 500 million consumers.

But the dramatic outcome of the referendum has created huge uncertainty about the future of farm support, regulation and access to the single market and migrant labour, which UK agriculture heavily depends on. more

Farmers Weekly, 24 June 2016 

New research projects look at satellites' role in future farming

The UK’s environment research council NERC has funded five new projects to explore and develop new ways to improve sustainable food production using satellite technologies. The projects were awarded following a 'Satellites to improve agri-food systems' competition, funded by Innovate UK and NERC.

Announcing the results of the competition, NERC said an increasing world population, changing diets in developing countries and the shift towards more urban populations are all putting an increasing strain on the world's food supplies. Satellite technology and increased use of data are already helping to increase agricultural productivity and will increasingly help farmers to manage their land in the most environmentally sustainable way. more

Farming Online, 24 June 2016 

Scientists hungry to deliver food system paradigm shift

Eight universities in northern England have joined forces to form a scientific powerhouse at the launch of an international food research programme.

The N8 AgriFood partnership will be centred on three themes: sustainable production; strengthening supply chains; and improving health.

It is hoped that the five-year partnership will contribute to a "paradigm shift" in the UK food system. The £16m scheme was launched at a two-day conference in Manchester this week. more


New crop varieties 'can't keep up with global warming'

Crops yields around the world could fall within a decade unless action is taken to speed up the introduction of new varieties. A study says temperatures are rising faster than the development of crop varieties that can cope with a warmer world.

In Africa, researchers found that it can take 10-30 years before farmers can grow a new breed of maize. By the time these new crops are planted, they face a warmer environment than they were developed in.

The scientists behind the study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, looked closely at the impact of temperature rises on crop duration - that's the length of time between planting and harvesting.

They found that in a warmer world durations will be shorter meaning these varieties will have less time to accumulate biomass and yields could be affected. more


£2.5m futuristic farming facility to open at James Hutton Institute

Plans to establish a £2.5m futuristic farming facility at the James Hutton Institute’s site in Invergowrie near Dundee have been agreed.

It is predicted that the collaboration with Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS) will provide a better understanding of the future potential of vertical farming, and give real insight into the efficiencies, cost savings and range of crops that can be grown.

The purpose-built facility, costing £2.5m will be the first in the UK to house automated growth towers for vertical, indoor farming. more

Farming UK, 20 June 2016 

Glyphosate saga highlights wider political threat to EU farm chemicals – NFU

The ongoing uncertainty surrounding the re-authorisation of glyphosate has set a dangerous precedent for the numerous active ingredients up for renewal in the coming years, the NFU has warned.

Hundreds of active ingredients will need to go through the EU approval process over the next 15 years, including 41 over the next 12 months.

A quarter of the crop protection toolbox in Europe could be withdrawn from the market before the 2018 harvest if reauthorisations are complicated by political issues, the NFU’s analysis showed. more

Farmers Guardian, 15 June 2016 

Scottish Conservatives demand rethink of GM crops ban

A review of the controversial ban on GM crops has been demanded by the Scottish Conservatives just hours after the Government appointed a new chief scientific adviser.

Tory farming spokesman, Peter Chapman MSP called on the SNP to ditch its “anti-science” approach which led to the Government’s GM ruling last year and instead make decisions based on evidence rather than ideology.

Professor Sheila Rowan was appointed to the position of chief scientific officer earlier this week after the post had lain vacant for 18 months. Mr Chapman said it was time for a reasoned debate on GM crop cultivation. more

Press and Journal, 13 June 2016  

Nobel prize winners warn leaving EU poses 'risk' to science

Leaving the EU poses a "key risk" to British science, a group of 13 Nobel prize-winning scientists have warned.

The group, which includes Peter Higgs, who predicted the existence of the Higgs boson particle, and geneticist Sir Paul Nurse, say losing EU funding would put UK research "in jeopardy".

"Inside the EU, Britain helps steer the biggest scientific powerhouse in the world", the group claim. more

BBC News, 11 June 2016 

Breakthrough on GM rice will help feed the world

A strain of genetically modified rice that promises 50 per cent greater yield and uses significantly less fertiliser has been developed by British scientists.

It is hoped that their research will lead to a wave of more efficient staple crops to cope with rising food demand.

Researchers have shown in field trials in China that a particular protein found naturally in rice helps it to access more of the nitrogen in soil or fertiliser. more

The Times, 10 June 2016 

Surprising global origins for regional food favourites

Italy's tomatoes and Thailand's potent chillies, although closely associated with these nations, originate from elsewhere, a study shows. The assessment of more that 150 key food crops shows how agriculture and diets rely on crops from other regions. The authors say the results highlight the interdependence of food systems and the need for a united effort to ensure its resilience to future threats.

The research by an international team of scientists assessed the diet and crop production of 177 counties, which accounted for 98% of the world's population. The findings appear in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. more


EU Parliament calls for technological and innovative solutions for farming

MEPs today voted on two own-initiative reports: 'Technological solutions for sustainable agriculture' from Conservative MEP Anthea McIntyre, and 'Enhancing innovation and economic development in future European farm management' from Liberal MEP Jan Huitema.

The reports call for innovative and technological solutions in agriculture policy and underline the importance of innovative technologies in ensuring competitiveness and sustainability for European agriculture. more

Farming UK, 7 June 2016 

Insect-dispensing eco-drones set to join battle against crop pests

Researchers from the University of Southern Denmark, Aarhus University and technology firm Ecobotix are working on a device said to be able to disperse natural insect predators to tackle aphids and other pests.

With their tanks filled with ladybirds, predatory mites and parasitic wasps, the drones will fly over fields and spread the insects precisely where pests are attacking crops.

According to associate professor Søren Wiatr Borg from the University’s Institute of Technology and Innovation, work is well underway with developing the drone’s spreader to ensure the insects land safely. more

Farmers Guardian, 6 June 2016 

EU nations refuse to back new license for glyphosate weed-killer

EU nations refused to back a limited extension of the herbicide glyphosate's use on Monday, threatening withdrawal of Monsanto's Roundup and other weed-killers from shelves if no decision is reached by the end of the month.

Contradictory findings on the carcinogenic risks of the chemical have thrust it into the center of a dispute among EU and U.S. politicians, regulators and researchers.

The EU executive - after failing to win support in two meetings earlier this year for a proposal to renew the license for glyphosate for up to 15 years - had offered a 12 to 18 month extension to allow time for further scientific study. more

Reuters, 6 June 2016 

UN focuses on technology in farming

Promoting sustainable agriculture requires a renewed focus on innovation and investment in research, technology and capacity development, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation said. FAO Director General José Graziano da Silva spoke at a meeting of agriculture ministers of the G20 in China: "ICT helps in the monitoring of crop growth, utilization of new techniques, field management and harvests."

He added that it has also become an essential tool for improving people’s livelihoods and welfare while advancing social justice and ensure equal access to opportunities, particularly in rural areas.

Telecommunication tools have the potential to provide internet access for millions of people and connect farmers with digital agriculture. This includes the use of mobile phones to report animal disease outbreaks, which is one area FAO has been supporting in recent years. more

Farming UK, 6 June 2016 

Innovation needed from research institute to farmyard – McIlveen

Given the challenges facing the agriculture industry, the importance of research and innovation have never been greater, Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Michelle McIlveen today told a special event to mark the tenth anniversary of the Agri-Food and Bioscience Institute (AFBI).

peaking at the Open Meeting at AFBI Hillsborough, Minister McIlveen said: “Much has changed over the last ten years but one constant has been the importance of innovation, pushing the boundaries of what is possible and delivering improved outcomes.” more

Farming Life, 4 June 2016  

MPs demand policy changes to improve soil health

A cross-party group of MPs has called for action to protect soil health, warning that some of the most productive land in England is at risk of becoming unprofitable within a generation because of soil erosion and loss of carbon.

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has published a report which calls for a review of cross-compliance rules and a rethink about the subsidy regime which encourages the growth of maize for anaerobic digestion (AD) plants.

The report said that the government relied on the cross-compliance rules associated with the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) to regulate agricultural soil health, but crucial elements such as structure and biology were not assessed at all. more

Farmers Weekly, 2 June 2016 

New blood test for the detection of bovine TB

A new blood test to detect bTB has been developed by a team at The University of Nottingham.

Researchers have used this new method to show cattle diagnosed with bovine tuberculosis (bTB) have detectable levels of the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis) in their blood, causing the disease.

This new blood test detects very low levels of mycobacteria in blood using a bacteriophage-based technique. more

Farmers Guardian, 1 June 2016 

Bayer partners with aerospace company to utilize space technology for agricultural products

German chemical and pharmaceutical giant Bayer has partnered with Planetary Resources, an aerospace tech company, as part of a deal to utilize satellite images to develop agricultural products.

Bayer will use information from the crop-specific images to develop agricultural products as part of its Digital Farming Initiative.

Bayer said the data can improve how farmers time their irrigation systems or assess their soil’s water-holding capacity, for example. The idea is to optimize how crops are grown, saving both time and money for farmers. more

Farming UK, 31 May 2016 

Scientists discover missing link in plant nitrogen fixation process

Scientists at the John Innes Centre have discovered an important component in the process of nitrogen fixation in plants. They have identified a key protein that facilitates the movement of calcium in plant cells.

This movement of calcium signals to the plant that nitrogen-fixing bacteria are close by and triggers the development of nodules on its roots to house these bacteria. Nitrogen is the most abundant gas in the atmosphere and legumes are able to take nitrogen out of the air and incorporate it into their cells. more

Farming UK, 27 May 2016 

Cattle drugs could fuel climate change, study suggests

Dosing farm animals with antibiotics increases greenhouse gas emissions from cow dung, research suggests. Scientists say the drugs boost methane production in cowpats - apparently by favouring antibiotic-resistant, methane-producing organisms in the gut.

Antibiotics also change the microbes which inhabit dung beetles, although apparently with no adverse effects. The researchers say it’s proof that antibiotic use on farms has unintended, cascading effects on the environment. more


Royal Society calls for review of European GM ban

The ban on GM crops by European countries should be reassessed, the president of UK science body the Royal Society says.

Prof Venki Ramakrishnan said the science of genetic modification had been misunderstood by the public and it was time to set the record straight.

He said it was inappropriate to ban an "entire technology" and products should be assessed on a case-by-case basis. more


UK farmers to cut antibiotic use to combat drug resistance

A new taskforce to reduce the use of antibiotics in farming in the UK is being set up in response to government concerns on the growing resistance of diseases to antibiotic medicines.

The alliance for the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) said it would work with organisations including farming leaders, food companies and government to find ways to replace antibiotic use where possible, and reduce it where not. more

The Guardian, 19 May 2016 

GM food safe to eat, say world’s leading scientists

Genetically modified food is safe for human consumption and there is no conclusive evidence that it poses a risk to wildlife, according to the most comprehensive review of research to date.

Decades of claims by campaign groups that GM crops can cause cancer, kidney disease or autism, or harm birds and insects, have been dismissed by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

The US advisory body, which includes more than 300 Nobel prize-winning scientists, concluded that GM technology had helped farmers to increase yields by protecting crops against pests and weeds. more

The Times, 18 May 2016 

Robot technology designed for use on Mars could help improve crop yields on Earth

A system developed originally to explore Mars has been transformed into an agricultural monitoring device for testing the quality of soil. It has the potential to reduce the environmental impact of farming.

The device consists of a mobile rover platform with a robotic arm which carries a soil sensing instrument.

It is based on technology developed by STFC’s RAL Space and will be used in a new project being run by a team at the University of Strathclyde. more

Farming UK, 16 May 2016 

Quit EU to embrace technology and feed world, says Paterson

The EU has become a “museum of world farming” and the UK must leave it to embrace new technology, increase food production and help the environment, according to former Defra secretary Owen Paterson.

Mr Paterson, a leading figure in the Vote Leave campaign, delivered his verdict at a Brexit debate hosted by the Crop Protection Association (CPA) in London.

The North Shropshire MP, who was sacked as Defra secretary in July 2014 after two years in the post, said the UK inside the common agricultural policy (CAP) had seen food self-sufficiency tumble to 62%. Meanwhile, the EU was “sitting by smugly importing food from 35 million hectares of somebody else’s land”. more

Farmers Weekly, 13 May 2016 

GM potato field trials get the go-ahead

Defra has given the green light for a series of GM potato field trials by the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norfolk.

The laboratory will conduct field trials of GM potato crops on a designated trial site at the Norwich Research Park between 2016 and 2019.

The trials are part of a project to develop a Maris Piper potato that is blight and nematode resistant, bruises less and produces less acrylamide when cooked at high temperatures. more

Farmers Weekly, 12 May 2016

New tally for total number of plants

Scientists have estimated that there are 390,900 plants known to science. The new tally is part of a report carried out by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

It is its first global assessment of the world's flora. The study also found that 2,034 new plant species were discovered in 2015.

However, the report warns that 21% of plants are at risk of extinction, with threats including climate change, habitat loss, disease and invasive species. more

BBC News, 10 May 2016 

Climate change 'will help and hurt crops'

Higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may increase water-use efficiency in crops and also boost yield losses due to climate change, according to a new NASA study, published in the Nature Climate Change.

The study shows some compensation for the adverse impacts of temperature extremes caused by increasing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Higher levels of carbon dioxide affect crops in two important ways: they boost crop yields, and they reduce the amount of water crops lose. more

Farming UK, 9 May 2016 

New breeding techniques provide opportunities for more sustainable agriculture

Products from new breeding techniques provide major opportunities for making agriculture more sustainable.

This makes them a useful addition to common breeding practice, especially for crops where the desired variety improvements are currently very time-consuming, such as potatoes and apples.

These findings are contained in a literature review by leading agricultural university Wageningen, published in the journal Trends in Plant Science. more

Farming UK, 3 May 2016 

Brexit would spell uncertainty for farmers, warns AIC

British farmers would face an uncertain future if the UK left the European Union, says the trade association which represents 250 agricultural suppliers.

Too many questions remained unanswered when it came to supporting Brexit, warned the Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC), which represents £6.5bn in farmgate turnover.

“There is a clear lack of information on strategy and desired outcomes from both sides,” says a policy paper published by the confederation. more

Farmers Weekly, 1 May 2016 

Banned pesticides 'not equally harmful' to bees

The largest field study so far in to the group of pesticides called "neonicotinoids" has concluded that each acts differently on the brains of the bees.

One of the chemicals widely considered as being the most toxic wasn't shown to affect bees at a level found in the countryside.

However other "neonics" were shown to cause significant harm to bumblebees. The results of the study are published in the journal Scientific Reports. more


Consumers underestimate severity of global food challenge

Research findings released today show significant levels of misunderstanding about the realities of food production, namely that only 4% of adults surveyed in Europe correctly estimate that world food production must increase by 60% by 2050.

Results of the survey conducted by YouGov Plc suggest that European adults (UK, Germany, Spain, Poland) underestimate the potential severity of the world’s food supply problem and the link between productivity and prices.

They also underestimate the role that pesticides can play in supplying affordable food to the consumers. In fact only 31% of adults surveyed think that farmers’ inability to protect their crops against diseases and crop infestation is a factor directly linked to increasing the cost of the world’s food supply. more

Farm Business, 28 April 2016 

New gene-detecting technology brings resilient superwheat closer

Scientists at the John Innes Centre (JIC) and The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL) have pioneered a new gene-detecting technology which if deployed correctly could lead to the creation of a new elite variety of wheat with durable resistance to disease.

The new technology, called 'MutRenSeq', accurately pinpoints the location of disease resistance genes in large plant genomes, reducing the time it takes to clone these genes in wheat from 5 to 10 years down to just two.

Effective use of these resistance genes in wheat could increase global yields and vastly reduce the need for agro-chemical applications. more

Farming UK, 26 April 2016 

Defra approves field trials of GM fish oil plants

Scientists at Rothamsted Research have been given the go ahead to carry out a field trial with genetically modified (GM) camelina plants.

The trial, based at the facility’s test field in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, will assess whether GM Camelina sativa plants are able to make significant quantities of omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFAs) and astaxanthin in the seed of the plant.

Fish, like humans, do not produce these oils but accumulate them through their diet in the wild or through fishmeal and fish oil in farmed fish. The oils have been shown to benefit human health and help protect against coronary heart diseases. more

Farmers Guardian, 25 April 2016  

New breakthrough on ash dieback

UK scientists have identified the country’s first ash tree that shows tolerance to ash dieback, raising the possibility of using selective breeding to develop strains of trees that are tolerant to the disease.

The findings, which could help ensure ash trees will thrive in UK woodlands, have today (22 April) been published in a report co-funded by Defra and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Ash dieback is spreading throughout the UK and, in one woodland in Norfolk, a great number of trees are infected. However, there are exceptions which demonstrate very low levels of infection by the ash dieback fungus and here researchers have identified one tree, nicknamed ‘Betty’, as having a strong tolerance to the disease. more

Defra / BBSRC, 22 April 2016 

Concern over Brexit's impact on science

The UK science community draws vital benefits from EU membership and could lose influence in the event of an exit, says a House of Lords report.

But scientists in favour of leaving say the UK would still be eligible for EU funding along with other benefits if it became an associate member.

"Restrictive" regulations could block cutting-edge research, the peers said. But UK researchers placed a high value on opportunities for collaboration afforded by EU membership, they added. more


EU referendum: NFU backs staying in EU

Farmers' interests are best served by remaining in the European Union, the National Farmers' Union has said.

It passed a resolution following an "overwhelming" vote in favour of staying in the EU, which it said was based on the "balance of existing evidence".

The union - which has 55,000 members in England and Wales - announced its position after a vote by its council. more

BBC News, 18 April 2016 

Space seeds on their way to schools

Thousands of schools in the UK will be receiving seeds that have been in space with Tim Peake. The British astronaut has launched a mass experiment to grow the seeds of the salad leaf rocket.

They want to compare them with seeds that have not been in space to see if there are any differences. The experiment is being run by the Royal Horticultural Society's campaign for school gardening and the UK Space Agency. more

, 14 April 2016 

Land area planted with GM crops drops for first time in two decades

For the first time since the introduction of genetically modified crops in 1996, the total area planted with GM plants fell last year. The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), which carries out the most authoritative annual survey of biotech crops worldwide, said the 1 per cent decrease reduced the total area from 181.5m hectares in 2014 to 179.7m.

According to Randy Hautea, ISAAA global co-ordinator, the downturn after 19 consecutive years of growth did not reflect any rejection of GM technology by farmers. “It is principally due to an overall decrease in total crop hectarage associated with low prices for commodity crops in 2015,” he said.

The decline was concentrated in industrialised countries where GM crop cover was down 3 per cent. In developing countries it rose 1 per cent. More than half of all GM crops (54 per cent) are grown in Latin America, Asia and Africa. more

Financial Times, 13 April 2016 

Soil protection could cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80%

The world's soils could store an extra 8 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases, helping to limit the impacts of climate change, according to scientists at the Universities of Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

The researchers said adopting the latest technologies and sustainable land use practices on a global scale could allow more emissions to be stored in farmland and more ‘natural’ wild spaces.

The researchers estimate that growing crops with deeper root systems, using charcoal-based composts and applying sustainable agriculture practices could help soils retain the equivalent of around 80% of annual emissions released by burning fossils fuels. more

Farming Online, 7 April 2016 

Food waste key in emissions cuts

Reducing food waste and changing the way people consume calories will help deliver a sustainable food system and reduce emissions, a study suggests.

The global demand for food could more than double by the middle of the century, yet an estimated one third of produce is lost or wasted each year.

By cutting this waste will help food security and reducing agriculture's climate burden, the researchers added. The findings appear in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. more


New report lays out Brexit implications for farmers

A move towards a more liberal trading policy by the UK following Brexit would result in a significant reduction in farmgate incomes across the livestock sectors, particularly if support is cut, according to a report commissioned by the NFU.

But a more protectionist approach would see a boost in farmgate prices as imports became a less attractive proposition, the report by a Dutch research institute concluded. However, the biggest factor when it comes to farm incomes would be the approach the UK Government took to farm support.

The NFU commissioned researchers at Wageningen University to consider the impact on UK agriculture of nine possible trade and farm support scenarios open to the UK Government in the event of Brexit. more

Farmers Guardian, 6 April 2016  

West Suffolk estate set to become potato research hub

A West Suffolk estate is set to become a Regional Research & Demonstration Hub for potato growers and suppliers, thanks to funding from the Eastern Agri-Tech Growth Initiative.

The project, coordinated and co-funded by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board’s Potatoes Division (AHDB Potatoes), has been awarded £109,273 and will be located at Elveden Farms in West Suffolk, and will provide a unique opportunity for the industry to see the latest research innovations and practical science in action.

The site will promote improved business and agricultural productivity and resource management, alongside providing a space for knowledge exchange and collaborative working. more

Farming UK, 6 April 2016 

EU policymakers accused of ‘disregarding the science’ as key pesticides under threat

UK politicians and industry leaders have called on EU policymakers to adopt a science-based approach as efforts to restrict the use of glyphosate and neonicotinoids are stepped up.

EU policymakers have been accused of ‘disregarding the evidence and science’ as the future of vital crop protection products hangs in the balance.

The European Parliament’s Environment Committee voted overwhelmingly last week to reject European Commission proposals to renew the licence for glyphosate for another 15 years, at least until the European Commission has carried out an independent review into its safety. Separately, the French National Assembly recently voted to ban the use of all neonicotinoid insecticides from September 1, 2018. more

Farmers Guardian, 1 April 2016 

Action needed to boost ‘weak’ horticulture sector

Britain’s horticulture sector is ‘weak’ and must be rebuilt in order to reduce the food trade gap and benefit public health, a report has found.

The Food Research Collaboration (FRC) has called on the Government to put the sector at the forefront of its forthcoming 25-year food and farming plan. The report, Horticulture in the UK: potential for meeting dietary guideline demands, paints a sober picture of a mismatch between supply and demand in the UK, particularly in light of public health advice to eat more fruit and vegetables.

Statistics show from 1985-2014, there has been a decline of 27 per cent for fruit and vegetables combined. The area growing vegetables has fallen by 26 per cent and the area growing fruit by 35 per cent. more

Farmers Guardian, 30 March 2016 

Plant-growing season now a month longer than in 1990

The growing season for plants has become a month longer than it was a few decades ago, Met Office figures show. In the last 10 years, the growing season, measured according to the central England temperature daily record, which stretches back hundreds of years, has been on average 29 days longer than in the period 1961-1990, the data show.

And while more of the year is warm enough for plants to grow, there has also been a decline in the number of frosty days in recent decades, the Met Office said. more

The Guardian, 24 March 2016 

Defra farm strategy delayed until after EU referendum

Long-awaited government plans to “grow more, buy more and sell more British food” are unlikely to be revealed before summer – and perhaps not until autumn.

The 25-year strategy for food and farming is unlikely to be published before the EU referendum on 23 June, said Defra food and farming director Sarah Church.

Ms Church was speaking to industry leaders and commentators at a Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum event on Tuesday (22 March). more

Farmers Weekly, 23 March 2016 

Go wild to protect food security, says study

More needs to be done to ensure wild relatives of our key food crops are conserved for future generations, a study has said.

Researchers are concerned the genetic diversity of these vital plants are not being adequately stored in gene banks.

They say characteristics such as drought or heat resilience could be lost forever unless action is taken to preserve these genetic traits. The findings have been published in the journal Nature Plants. more

, 21 March 2016 

£48m devoted to farming research projects in Scotland

The Scottish government has announced details of multimillion-pound projects aimed at improving sustainable food and farming production.

Scottish rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead said the government has allocated more than £48m in the 2016-17 financial year to strategic scientific research in the area of rural affairs, food and the environment. 

Research institutes that focus on advances in crop science, animal welfare, food security and climate change are to benefit from the funding. more

Farmers Weekly, 21 March 2016 

£17.5m funding secured to help develop precision farming

More than £17m of government funding has been secured over the next four years to create a  global hub for agricultural engineering and precision farming, as part of the government’s UK strategy for agricultural technologies.

The Agri-EPI Centre aims to become a world-leading centre for excellence for the livestock, arable, aquaculture and horticulture sectors.

The centre will bring together expertise in research and industry, as well as data-gathering capacity in all areas of farming. more

Farmers Weekly, 13 March 2016 

EU exit threat to UK food security, says report

A major restructuring of agricultural policy will be needed to maintain food security if the UK leaves the European Union, academics have warned.

The UK’s forthcoming in-out referendum on 23 June will have “momentous significance” for the country’s food system, says a report by Food Research Collaboration.

Called Food, the UK and the EU: Brexit or Bremain?, the briefing paper argues that country must “wake up to the enormity of unravelling 43 years of co-negotiated food legislation”. more

Farmers Weekly, 8 March 2016 

Climate deadline looms for African food crops

Researchers have produced a timescale of how projected climate change is set to alter the face of agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Climate change is widely projected to have a significant adverse impact on food security if no adaptation measures are taken, they explain.

In their study, the team provides timings of the "transformations" needed to help minimise these impacts. The findings have been published in the journal Nature Climate Change. more

, 7 March 2016 

Reduced crop productivity and negative changes in diet a likely scenario of climate change

Climate change could kill more than 500,000 adults in 2050 worldwide due to changes in diets and bodyweight from reduced crop productivity, according to new estimates from the University's Oxford Martin Future of Food Programme.

The research, published in The Lancet, is the strongest evidence yet that climate change could have damaging consequences for food production and health worldwide. more

Farming UK, 7 March 2016

£70m plan to ‘transform livestock sector

A £70m innovation centre aims to bring together researchers and the industry to transform the productivity of the UK livestock sector. The Centre of Innovation Excellence in Livestock (CIELivestock) will set up state-of-the-art facilities across the UK, providing the livestock sector with world-beating access to research.

It will bring together the best in breeding, animal health, biotechnology, feeding and genomics with a goal to generate £12 for each £1 spent on research.

The project is being backed by £31.7m in funding from the government’s Department for Business Innovation and Skills. Additional funding is coming from the industry and research institutions. more

Farmers Weekly, 1 March 2016 

EU exit 'risks British science'

Prof Sir Paul Nurse has said that UK research would suffer if the country were to leave the EU. A British exit would make it harder to get funding for science and sell "future generations short", the Nobel Prize winner added.

Prof Nurse, who is director of The Francis Crick Institute and the former president of the Royal Society, believes those who campaign for a "Brexit" are jeopardising "the long-term future of the UK for short-term political advantage".

But a group of scientists arguing to leave the EU counters that UK research would not be adversely affected. They say British institutions would receive similar amounts of European funding as they do now. A national referendum on the UK's participation in the European Union is set for 23 June. more

, 27 February 2016 

UK institutes sign crop science agreement with Indian government

UK research institutes including the John Innes Centre (JIC) and University of East Anglia (UEA) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Indian government’s department of biotechnology.

The agreement will set the scene for a collaborative approach to crop science, with the government and research institutes looking into increasing crop yields and improving disease and drought resistance in crops.

In addition to JIC and UEA, representatives from the University of Cambridge, NIAB in Cambridge and Rothamsted Research have also signed the agreement. more

Farming Online, 25 February 2016 

Researchers make advance in fight against deadly pig virus

A research team at The Roslin Institute used advanced genetic techniques to produce pigs that are potentially resilient to African Swine Fever – a highly contagious disease that kills up to two-thirds of infected animals.

The new pigs carry a version of a gene that is usually found in warthogs and bush pigs, which researchers believe may stop them from becoming ill from the infection. African Swine Fever is spread by ticks. When standard farmed pigs are infected, they quickly become ill and die, but warthogs and bush pigs show no disease symptoms when infected.

The researchers used a gene-editing technique to modify individual letters of the pigs’ genetic code. By changing just five letters in their RELA gene, they converted it to the allele that is found in the warthog. more

Farming UK, 22 February 2016 

Fungi from goats' guts could lead to better biofuels

The legendary abilities of goats and sheep to digest a wide range of inedible materials could help scientists produce cheaper biofuels.

Researchers say fungi from the stomachs of these animals produce flexible enzymes that can break down a wide variety of plant materials.

The scientists say that in tests, the fungi performed as well as the best engineered attempts from industry. The study has been published in the journal, Science. more

BBC News, 19 February 2016 

Eustice calls for scientific approach to new gene editing technologies

As the European Commission considers whether new plant breeding technologies like gene editing should be classified as GM, George Eustice has called for it to rely on science rather than lawyers.

Farming Minister George Eustice has made a plea for crucial regulatory decisions on new ground-breaking plant breeding techniques to be based on science rather than the whims of EU lawyers.

Speaking at the John Innes Institute, Mr Eustice highlighted the work being done there and elsewhere on techniques like CRISPR and Cisgenesis, which could deliver major benefits for growers in future. more

Farmers Guardian, 16 February 2016 

GMs and lab-grown meat ‘future of UK agriculture’

UK agriculture will have undergone a “green revolution” by 2050 with farmers growing genetically modified crops that are self-fertilising, pest and drought resistant, claims a think tank study.

The combination of self-fertilisation and pest resistance along with crops which are saline resistant and heat and cold tolerant will “significantly increase the yield per acre of many food crops”. In addition, new strains will be developed through genetic engineering that have higher edible yields a plant – and each modified plant will produce more food than previous strains.

These are some of the predictions put forward for agriculture in a new “futurology” study entitled The UK and the World in 2050, published by the Adam Smith Institute. more

Farmers Weekly, 16 February 2016 

Major company shows interest in ‘super pea’

Scientists who developed a high-protein pea which could replace soya as an animal feed say a major company has expressed an interest in the project.

The pea, which helps livestock absorb more protein from their diet, was developed by researchers at the John Innes Centre, Norwich.

It has the potential to cut costs for farmers because livestock need to eat fewer of the new peas to obtain the same amount of protein as standard peas. more

Farmers Weekly, 15 February 2016 

Boost for UK crop science as NIAB and EMR join forces

Two leading UK crop research institutes are joining forces to create a major new centre for applied crop science and innovation.

East Malling Research (EMR) has become part of the NIAB group. This alliance, bringing together internationally renowned expertise in crop genetics, agronomy, environmental and data science, will strengthen NIAB’s ambition to lead the UK in crop innovation. EMR brings international leadership in top fruit and soft fruit research, complementing NIAB’s scientific expertise in arable crops, potatoes and ornamentals.

Both organisations have a focus on industry-facing, applied research aimed at addressing the challenges facing UK and global agriculture. The partnership will strengthen the UK’s crop science infrastructure and capabilities, with the pooling of complementary research expertise, and a shared commitment to the translation and application of science to support crop production in the UK and internationally. more

NIAB, 9 February 2016 

Satellites to build farming’s first UK digital cropping map

The first ever digital map of the UK’s cropping areas has been made using satellites, as part of a long-term environmental study.

Researchers at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) have been working with with Remote Sensing Applications Consultants (RSAC) to produce “Land Cover plus: Crops”.

The project combines the CEH’s existing UK land cover map with new analysis of radar satellite data to map arable crops and grassland at field level. Over the next three years crop maps will be updated annually to build up rotational cropping information for the whole of the UK. more

Farmers Weekly, 5 February 2016 

Japanese to open giant lettuce farm run by robots

A Japanese company is starting construction of a giant lettuce “farm” which will be run almost exclusively by robots, cutting its labour requirements by half. The development highlights the potential for new technology to transform agricultural practices, particularly in countries struggling with labour shortages. 

Spread, a vegetable company, which supplies more than 2,000 supermarkets in Japan, already operates a plant producing 21,000 head of lettuce a day at Kameoka in Kyoto. It has emerged the company will shortly start construction on a plant at Keihanna, producing 30,000 head of lettuce a day, where every part of its operation other than the planting of the seed will be carried out by robots. more

Farmers Weekly, 2 February 2016 

Boosting food crop yields 'can protect biodiversity'

Increasing crop yields could help meet the rising global demand for more food while sparing land to protect biodiversity, a study has suggested.

The expansion of agriculture is deemed to be one of the main drivers for global habitat and biodiversity loss.

Researchers from the UK and Brazil say that boosting yields could help - but only if policies such as incentives or land-zoning are implemented as well. Their findings have been published in the journal Science. more


Man admits stealing patented corn seeds from US fields to take to China

A Chinese man pleaded guilty in a US court on Wednesday to stealing patent-protected corn seed from agribusiness giants Monsanto and DuPont to take back to China for commercial use.

Mo Hailong, 46, participated in a plot to steal inbred corn seeds from the two US companies so that his then employer, Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group, could use them in its own seed business, the US Department of Justice said.

Mo “admitted to participating in the theft of inbred – or parent – corn seeds from fields in the southern district of Iowa for the purpose of transporting those seeds to China,” the department said in a statement. more

The Guardian, 28 January 2016 

'Technological progress is the key to productivity and sustainability in agriculture'

Technological progress is the key to productivity and sustainability in agriculture, a new report to the European Parliament stresses.

Genetic, mechanical and increasingly digital advances represent the only realistic means of meeting the challenges of feeding a growing global population while protecting the environment, according to Conservative MEP Anthea McIntyre, the report's author.

Entitled Technological Solutions for Sustainable Agriculture in the EU, the report highlights how so called precision farming can cut the use of pesticides, water and fertilisers while improving soil fertility and boosting yields. more

Farming UK, 26 January 2016 

SRUC to build new ‘world class’ poultry research centre

Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) is to move its poultry research unit from Ayrshire to Midlothian, creating a “state of the art” centre in the process.

The new facility will be built on the Easter Bush Estate, just outside Edinburgh, which is already home to most of the college’s animal and veterinary scientists, over the next two years.

SRUC’s poultry team undertakes a large amount of research for both government and private concerns, with particular focus on avian-related nutrition, welfare and the study of disease. more

Farmers Weekly, 25 January 2016 

Fatty acids from GM oilseed crops could replace fish oil

Oil from genetically modified (GM) oilseed crops could replace fish oil as a primary source of the beneficial Omega 3 fatty acid EPA – according to new research from the University of East Anglia in collaboration with Rothamsted Research and the University of Stirling.

BBSRC-funded researchers at the University of East Anglia studied the effect in mice of consuming feed enriched with oil from glasshouse grown genetically engineered Camelina sativa, developed at the Rothamsted Research.

The team examined levels of EPA in various organs in the body such as the liver, as well as its effect on the expression of genes key for regulating the way the body processes fats. The results show that the benefits were similar to those derived from fish oils. more

BBSRC, 21 January 2016 

Reducing meat consumption could actually harm environment, study finds

Reducing meat consumption may not be as environmentally friendly as campaigners have claimed.

The findings of a new report have shown that increasing demand for meat provides an incentive for farmers to maintain grassland and recover degraded pastures.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), found reducing beef production in the Brazilian Cerrado could actually increase global greenhouse gas emissions. more

Farmers Guardian, 18 January 2016 

GM free-for-all 'probably illegal'

The European Council's legal service has serious doubts about the legality of controversial Commission plans to allow member countries to ban the use of imported GM food and feed, as such a move would not comply with European Union internal market and world trade rules.

In a legal opinion distributed to member countries, Council lawyers find major flaws in the legal basis of the proposals. They cite a lack of specific reasons to justify a ban at national level and say any import restrictions would flout Europe's international trade obligations. more

Farming UK, 18 January 2016 

Agriculture courses see biggest leap in new student numbers

Agri-food subjects had the largest surge in popularity of all UK university courses last year, according to new figures released today by the Higher Education Statistics agency.

Courses throughout the UK categorised as 'Agriculture and related subjects' saw the biggest leaps in new student numbers at both undergraduate (four per cent) and post graduate (29 per cent) levels from 2013/14 to 2014/15.

The 29 per cent increase in postgraduate agriculture students was leagues ahead of all other advances, the closest being 10 per cent for subjects allied to medicine. more

Farming UK, 14 January 2016 

New vision and high level research strategy for UK Animal and Plant Health Research published

BBSRC has published, on behalf of a partnership of key UK research funders and policy makers, a vision and high level research strategy for UK Animal and Plant Health Research to 2020 and beyond.

In December 2014, Defra and the Government Office for Science jointly published the report Animal and Plant Health in the UK: Building our science capability, which made the compelling case for a more coordinated approach across public funders of animal and plant health research.

The new research vision and high level strategy has been developed, with leadership from BBSRC, as an early action towards delivering that joined up approach. more

BBSRC, 13 January 2016

More than 50% of UK’s food and feed sourced overseas

More than half of the UK’s food and feed is sourced from abroad, increasing the environmental impact on other poorer countries, a study has found. 

Researchers say the UK’s food self-sufficiency has decreased substantially over recent decades, as more food and animal feed are imported compared with 25 years ago. 

Published in the latest Journal of the Royal Society Interface, it also shows that the environmental impact of the UK’s food is increasingly “outsourced” to other regions, including South America, south-east Asia and the EU. more

Farmers Weekly, 9 January 2016 

Research investment to make British agriculture more competitive

Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference this week, agriculture secretary Liz Truss said the government plans to increase capital funding in agriculture by 12 per cent over the next five years to £2.7 billion. The investment includes doubling investment in science and animal and plant health.

“We will invest in technology, digital systems, growing our exports, world leading science, protection against animal health and plant disease and flood defences,” Mrs Truss said.

The agriculture secretary said that British government will shortly be publishing a new programme for Food and Farming for the Environment covering the next 25 years, which will include decentralising decision making in the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and cutting red tape for farmers. more

Farming Online, 7 January 2016

Farm-science to inspire the public at Open Farm Sunday 2016

BBSRC has funded three new public engagement projects to produce on-farm activities that will inspire and educate people about the science behind farming and food production. The activities will be used by farmers and visiting scientists at LEAF’s Open Farm Sunday on 5 June 2016.

Open Farm Sunday, managed by LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) is the farming industry’s annual open day where the public can find out how their food is produced and the work farmers do to manage the countryside. Since 2006, over 1,000 farmers across the UK have opened their gates and welcomed over 1.5M people onto farms across the UK.

Activities funded by BBSRC focus on egg production and soils, as well as ‘whole farm’ science to enable visitors to understand the importance of farming within the context of food security and raise awareness of how UK bioscience underpins the agricultural industry. more

BBSRC, 7 January 2016 

Increasing yields and rewilding ‘spared’ land could slash GHG emissions by 80 per cent

The farming industry could drastically reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 if it increased farm yields and freed up land for woodlands and wetlands.

A Cambridge University study said the industry could meet the Government’s 80 per cent emissions reduction if it expanded the area of natural forests and wetlands to match its European neighbours.

However, this would require new polices promoting both sustainable increases in farm yields and sparing land for climate mitigation. Reducing meat consumption and food waste will also be important, according to the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change. more

Farmers Guardian, 4 January 2016 

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