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

Group News

APPGSTA Income & Expenditure Statement - March 2021

NEWS - APPG welcomes clarification of Co-op position on gene editing - 26 February 2021

NEWS RELEASE - Leading scientists, politicians welcome Defra gene editing consultation, urge organic sector to keep an open mind - 7 January 2021

NEWS RELEASE - Government announces Autumn consultation on future regulation of precision breeding techniques - 29 July 2020

Joint briefing on the Ag Bill amendment by Earlham Institute, Quadram Institute, The Sainsbury Laboratory and Norwich Research Park - July 2020

Sustainability metrics key to improving farm-level productivity, says APPG chair - 3 July 2020

APPG welcomes R&D roadmap and Govt’s ambition to cement UK as a science superpower - 1 July 2020

APPGSTA Annual Report 2018/19 - July 2020

NEWS RELEASE: Ag Bill amendment on precision breeding techniques will protect crops, jobs, investment, food security and the environment in the UK sugar beet sector - 12 June 2020

Julian Sturdy op-ed: Breaking away from EU rules on gene editing should be a no-brainer for Government -  Farmers Guardian, 5 June 2020

Farmers Weekly Editorial: It's time to give the green light to gene editing - 29 May 2020

NEWS RELEASE - Leading UK international development scientists back APPG initiative - 28 May 2020

NEWS RELEASE - APPG calls for Ag Bill boost to post-Brexit genetic innovation - 22 May 2020

Top UK scientists support APPG amemndment proposal - 22 May 2020

BSPB backs APPG amendment proposal - 22 May 2020

APPG chair Julian Sturdy letter to Defra Sec George Eustice - 7 May 2020

APPGSTA Annual Report 2017/18
October 2018

APPGSTA Income and Expenditure Statement
October 2018

Review of developments since 2010 APPGSTA report

- Professor David Leaver
February 2018

Westminster Hall Debate
Agriculture GCSE

(Julian Sturdy MP)
February 2018

APPGSTA Annual Report 2016/17 September 2017

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

APPGSTA Income and Expenditure Statement
July 2017

Promotion of Innovation

House of Commons, BEIS Questions
September 2016

APPGSTA Annual Report 2015/16
July 2016

APPGSTA Income & Expenditure Statement
July 2016

APPGSTA Annual Report 2014/15
July 2015

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

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

APPGSTA Annual Report 2012/13
January 2014

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

VIDEO: MP hails agri-tech project

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

UK Agri-Tech Strategy published

22 July 2013


APPGSTA Annual Report 2011/12

December 2012


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


George Freeman MP hails £250m bio-economy boost

24 May 2012


House of Lords Debate -

Innovation in EU Agriculture

February 2012


APPGSTA Annual Report 2010/11

December 2011



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


2019 Archive


2018 Archive


2017 Archive


2016 Archive


2015 Archive


2014 Archive


2013 Archive


2012 Archive


2011 Archive

2010 Archive

2009 Archive

2008 Archive

Science & Technology News



Bureaucracy holding back spray drone use, MPs told

MPs and peers have been warned that bureaucracy and red tape are holding back the use of spray drones in agriculture. Parliamentarians also heard about the opportunities the use of spray drones could present, including reducing fossil fuels and increasing the transparency of food provenance.

Harper Adams University Researcher Jonathan Gill spoke to MPs during a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Science and Technology in Agriculture.

Drawing on his work as part of the Hands-Free Hectare, he explained how drones can be used to distribute plant protection products. He also raised some of the current regulatory burdens which are holding back their use. more

Farming UK, 25 March 2021

Weeds pose ‘unprecedented threat’ to food security

Arable crops are now more vulnerable to weeds than before the advent of herbicides, according to a new study. Herbicide resistance, fertiliser, crop height and climate change mean weeds pose an unprecedented threat to food security, according to scientists at Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire.

Data from the world’s longest-running experiment – the Rothamsted Broadbalk wheat trial – suggests less than one-third of the harvest was lost to weeds during the 1960s. But this had risen to more than half by 2005-2014.

Rothamsted Research scientist Jonathan Storkey said this was due to weeds doing better than crops in a warming climate, coupled with a shift towards shorter crop varieties that are shaded out by taller weeds. more

Farmers Weekly, 24 March 2021

Dyson's first crop of sustainable strawberries hit supermarket shelves

The first crop of Dyson Farming’s strawberries from its new six-hectare glasshouse in Carrington, Lincolnshire will hit supermarket shelves this week. This marks the start of the season for the new venture, which will produce around 750 tonnes of strawberries each year in the giant greenhouse powered by renewable electricity and surplus heat from Dyson Farming’s anaerobic digester.

The company, which is owned by home appliances inventor Sir James Dyson and recently rebranded as Dyson Farming from Beeswax Dyson, says the project supports the advancement of high-tech, sustainable farming in the UK, and avoids unnecessary food miles that come from imported strawberries at this time of year. more

Farmers Guardian, 23 March 2021

Seaweed helps cattle reduce methane emissions by 82%

Introducing seaweed to the diet of beef cattle could reduce methane emissions by 82 percent, according to new research. Scientists at the University of California, Davis say the results could pave the way for the sustainable production of livestock across the world.

Last summer, researchers added scant amounts of seaweed to the diet of 21 beef cattle and tracked their weight gain and methane emissions. Cattle that consumed doses of about 80 grams of seaweed gained as much weight as their herd mates while burping out 82% less methane into the atmosphere. more

Farming UK, 19 March 2021

Climate change: Cattle heat stress and late blight to 'increase'

Climate change will have a major impact on farming sectors, according to new projections by the Met Office, including an increase in heat stress in cattle and late blight in crops. The Met Office examined the effect of climate change on the dairy and potato farming sectors over the next thirty to fifty years.

It found that heat stress in dairy cattle is projected to increase significantly in key dairy regions of the UK, particularly South West England. The study also covered the climate change impacts on the potato sector due to late blight, a disease affecting potato crops which occurs in warm, humid weather. more

Farming UK, 19 March 2021

Gene editing regulation changes would support net zero by 2040 target, says NFU

The NFU has responded to the Government’s consultation into future regulation surrounding gene editing, saying that changing regulations surrounding gene editing could protect crops and support its net zero by 2040 ambitions.

The NFU said that new precision breeding techniques, such as gene editing, could protect crops and animals from pests and disease, help deliver net zero and allow farmers to produce more home-grown food.

The government consultation is focused on stopping certain gene editing organisms from being regulated in the same way as genetic modification, as long as they could have been produced naturally or through traditional breeding.

Farm Business, 18 March 2021

Access to gene editing ‘a priority’ for Scottish agriculture, says supply industry

Leaders of Scotland’s agricultural supply industry have called on rural stakeholders to unite to put pressure on the Scottish Government to change its stance on gene editing.

Getting access to the technology is among the key priorities of the AIC, the supply industry’s trade association, outlined in its manifesto ahead of the Scottish parliamentary elections in May.

The renewed pressure on the Scottish Government to reconsider the use of gene editing in agriculture comes as the UK Government’s consultation on the topic closes and just  ahead of an imminent report by the European Commission.

The Courier, 17 March 2021

Ten-year roadmap to guide UK plant science

A new strategy, UK plant science research strategy: a green roadmap for the next 10 years, sets out clear goals for research and innovation involving plants.

The strategy is crucial to address a range of global challenges, such as:

- reaching net zero to mitigate the effects of climate change
- ensuring a sustainable and secure agri-food supply
- protecting biodiversity and enhancing our environment
addressing health and wellbeing issues within our populations.

This strategy was led and authored by Professor Jane Langdale CBE FRS, University of Oxford, and involved very extensive consultation with members of the research and innovation community.

UKRI, 15 March 2021

£74m pumped into new virtual agri-tech hub

The government has helped invest £74m into a new virtual agri-tech hub to improve the efficiency and output of agricultural technology. The Easter Bush AgriTech Hub will be centred at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies’ Easter Bush Campus – Europe’s largest concentration of animal science research expertise.

The virtual centre will foster collaboration between researchers and companies to advance food production, work with new tech and move toward net zero goals. Experts will use data to develop genetics and health innovations for agricultural science and business, and to build initiatives and novel systems of production, such as robotics. more

Farming UK, 12 March 2021

Gene technology could help prevent swine flu on farms

Gene-editing technologies could help prevent swine flu virus on farms and reduce the risk of a pandemic, according to UK researchers. The approach could be used to improve vaccine effectiveness and to produce pigs resistant to swine flu, scientists at the Roslin Institute said.

The disease was transmitted to humans across the world in the 2009 pandemic and led to pig industry costs of around US$1 billion. It causes respiratory illness, fever, loss of appetite and impacts on productivity.

But new gene-editing tools could complement current strategies for controlling swine flu, researchers concluded in a newly published review study. more

Farming UK, 11 March 2021

Researchers map entire genome of canola crop

The entire genome of the canola crop has been mapped by an international consortium of researchers looking to advance the globally important industry.

The results of the consortium’s research is expected to have immense economic value for the world's leading producers and exporters of the crop.

Canola is an oilseed considered to be a high-quality vegetable oil and commonly used in food production and various industrial applications, including biofuel. more

Farming UK, 5 March 2021

Rothamsted scientists to apply for GE wheat field trial

UK researchers plan to apply to Defra for consent to grow the first trial crop of gene-edited wheat in Europe this coming autumn.

Scientists at Rothamsted Research have used gene editing (GE) to develop a type of wheat that is less likely to produce acrylamide, a natural chemical which forms in bread when it is toasted

Acrylamide has been proven to cause cancer in rats and mice and it is a likely carcinogenic in humans. more

Farmers Weekly, 1 March 2021

Farmers could reduce emissions by growing peas, study says

Growing peas and beans and precision farming are among the most effective measures in reducing emissions on farms, new research has found.

Various farm technologies and practices which can reduce GHG emissions were studied as part of the government’s plans to meet its net-zero target.

Researchers from Scotland's Rural College (SRUC) found that while increased grain legume cultivation is the most effective measure, providing on average 553 kg CO2e per hectare savings annually, it is also the most expensive option with a net average cost of £406 per hectare per year. more

Farming UK, 1 March 2021

Co-op onboard with gene editing

Despite widespread media coverage claiming that the Co-op would refuse to stock foodstuffs made from gene edited crops or animals, the supermarket this week made it plain that this was not the case.

Steve Murrells, chief executive of the Co-operative Group, said that the news release which had resulted in the coverage “did not reflect the supermarket’s views or approach” - and had been issued without its approval, giving the false impression that it had signed up as a supporter of the #NotInMySupermarket campaign, which is lobbying against the Defra consultation on gene editing. more

Edinburgh Evening News, 27 February 2021

England's sugar beet sector needs gene-editing - minister

Gene-editing could play a key role in England's sugar beet sector, Britain's farming and environment minister George Eustice said on Tuesday, reiterating his support for easing regulations covering the technology.

Eustice told the annual conference of the National Farmers Union that the sugar beet sector has faced major problems this year with virus yellows which is spread by aphids and can severely cut beet yields and decrease sugar content.

"A lot of the solution to some of the technical challenges like virus yellows do lie in using faster more targeted breeding techniques where you can take a trait that might exist in a non-commercial variety of sugar beet or even a fodder beet and move it across into sugar beet so you've got natural resistance," Eustice said. "I know that is something the sugar industry is keen to explore and we want to support them in that." more

Reuters, 23 February 2021

Protein-rich potato bean could be grown in UK, study says

A plant native to America could be grown in the UK bringing huge benefits for a balanced, sustainable diet, new research has found.

Potato bean - Apios Americana – is commonly found in Florida, Texas and Colorado and was once a staple foraged food source.

UK researchers investigated whether the plant - which is high in protein – could be used as part of a healthier and biodiverse diet. more

Farming UK, 22 February 2021

Defra to launch £12m Farming Innovation Pathways fund

Defra will launch a new research and development competition looking to create new farm-focused innovations to make the industry greener. The £12m initiative will bring together farmers and businesses to develop novel technological solutions to address the challenges of productivity and sustainability.

Farming Innovation Pathways, delivered by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and Defra, is the first competition of its kind following the UK’s departure from the EU. Both bodies say the competition will pave the way for research and development (R&D) to spearhead future innovation in the British agricultural sector. more

Farming UK, 16 February 2021 

Growers reject continuation of AHDB's horticulture levy

A majority of growers have voted against the continuation of AHDB's statutory horticulture levy, casting further doubt on its future. The ballot looked at the future existence of AHDB Horticulture and the work it sets out to deliver on behalf of UK growers.

It asked levy payers: 'Do you agree that the statutory horticulture levy should continue?', offering a simple 'yes' or 'no' answer. The overall voter turnout was 69 percent. By individual votes cast, the No vote was 61% versus the Yes vote of 39%. more

Farming UK, 16 February 2021

New discovery paves way for crops to grow in damaged soils

Scientists have discovered a signal that causes roots to stop growing in hard soils which can be ‘switched off’ to allow them to punch through, a finding which may have ‘huge implications’ for agriculture.

Researchers from the University of Nottingham have discovered that roots do not stop growing in hard soils because of physical obstruction, but instead as a reaction to the plant hormone ethylene.

Ethylene is given off by plant roots, but in compressed soils is more likely to stay concentrated around the root, triggering a response by the root to stop growing. The scientists believe that developing varieties that are less sensitive to ethylene will allow roots to continue growing in harder soils and potentially punch through to untapped resources. more

Farming UK, 11 February 2021 

Prosperity comes at 'devastating' cost to nature

A landmark review has called for transformational change in our economic approach to nature. The long-awaited review by Prof Sir Partha Dasgupta, of the University of Cambridge, says prosperity has come at a "devastating" cost to the natural world.

The report proposes recognising nature as an asset and reconsidering our measures of economic prosperity. It is expected to set the agenda on government policy going forward. more

BBC News, 2 February 2021 

New UK centre to help farmer resilience amid climate change

A new centre has been launched in Norfolk to develop solutions to enable farmers worldwide to build resilience in the face of climate change. The Norwich Institute for Sustainable Development will help food producers affected by variability in rainfall, periods of drought and more extreme weather events.

Research shows that yields of major staple foods like grains, fruits and vegetables are expected to decrease by between 3% and 10% per degree of warming. With global temperatures increasing year-on-year, it is hoped the work of the new centre can help to mitigate these stark predictions. more

Farming UK, 1 February 2021

Government accused of failing to protect UK food supplies

Leading food experts have accused the government of failing to adequately protect food supplies against the backdrop of the pandemic and Brexit.

The three academics have sent an open letter to the prime minister pressing the case for urgent investment in 'food defence' measures. They say this would ensure adequate infrastructure is in place to protect the population from insecure food supplies.

Professors Tim Lang, Erik Millstone and Terry Marsden argue that while emergency provisions to smooth post-Brexit trade have been taken, there has been no parallel attention to improving consumer preparedness for food emergencies. more

Farming UK, 29 January 2021 

Wildlife Trusts threatens legal action over neonics

The Wildlife Trusts has threatened to take legal action against the UK after it approved the emergency use of a banned pesticide for sugar beet crops.

Earlier this month, Defra approved an emergency application from the NFU for sugar beet growers to use a neonicotinoid seed treatment against virus yellows, which is spread by aphids and is a threat to emerging beet crops.

The authorisation is for the use of Syngenta’s Cruiser SB on sugar beet only and covers use in 2021 in England. more

Farmers Weekly, 28 January 2021 

Pandemic slows down 'flexitarian' trend

Covid-19 has curbed the move to eat less meat as people looked for comfort foods during lockdown, with a resurgence in processed meat sales.

According to Mintel, the number of Brits limiting or reducing meat in their diet dropped from 51 per cent to 41 per cent in 2020. But sales of processed meat products grew 18 per cent.

More cooked breakfasts boosted sales of bacon and sausages while increased homeworking meant more people bought cooked meats such as ham. more

Farmers Guardian, 26 January 2021 

EU view change on gene editing may impact Scotland

While Scottish government rural affairs minister, Ben Macpherson yesterday re-iterated his administration’s intention to continue a precautionary approach to the growing of gene-edited crops in line with EU rules, signs were emerging that Europe might be set to change its views.

In 2018 the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that New Breeding Techniques (NBT) such as gene editing should fall under the rules which applied to transgenic genetically modified organisms (GMOs) which incorporated DNA from a different species.

However France looks set to accept that crops developed using gene-editing techniques – which introduce no new DNA – differ from GMOs and could oppose the ruling which sees strict restrictions placed on the commercial growing of gene-edited crops. more

The Scotsman, 22 January 2021

France backs non-GMO regulation for crop gene-editing in EU

France sees crops developed using gene-editing techniques as different to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and opposes a European Union court decision to put them under strict GMO regulations, the country’s agriculture minister said.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled in 2018 that mutagenesis, among so-called New Breeding Techniques (NBT) based on targeted editing of genes, fall under rules applying to GMOs that incorporate DNA from a different species. The decision was welcomed by some environmentalists who have long opposed GMOs as a threat to ecosystems, and criticised by seed makers and scientists as penalising Europe’s agricultural research capacity.

“NBTs are not GMOs,” Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie said in an interview published by several farming news outlets, including Agra Presse on Friday. “This (NBT) technology allows much quicker development of a variety that could have emerged naturally at some point, and that is a very good thing,” he said, calling for NBT not to be regulated like GMOs. The agriculture ministry confirmed the comments on Monday. more

Reuters, 19 January 2021

Genetic insights into chickens could help tackle food bug

Researchers have identified regions in the genetic makeup of chickens that are linked to resistance to Campylobacter - the leading bacterial cause of food poisoning.

Data obtained in the study informs the extent to which parts of the genetic code can be linked to the prevalence of Campylobacter in the chicken gut.

A study led by researchers from the Roslin Institute, alongside poultry breeding company Aviagen, investigated the genetic make-up of 3,000 chickens bred for meat. more

Farming UK, 18 January 2021

Study paves way for compaction-resistant crops

New opportunities to create compaction-resistant crops that are able to grow in the hardest of soils could be on the horizon thanks to a scientific breakthrough.

Researchers discovered how the plant signal ethylene causes roots to stop growing in hard soils. But this signal can be “switched off” to allow roots to punch through compacted soil.

The research team was led by scientists from the University of Nottingham’s Future Food Beacon and Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Their study has been published in the latest Science journal. more

Farmers Weekly, 16 January 2021

What could gene editing offer the arable sector?

Genetically edited crops have long been talked about in the arable sector, but growers could be one step closer to having them in their fields, following the launch of the Government’s consultation.

Disease resistance, climate change resilience and lower fertiliser requirements were all benefits of the plant breeding technique mentioned by Defra chief scientific advisor, Prof Gideon Henderson during the Government’s press briefing on the potential changes to regulation.

“Gene editing could also increase productivity of land use and free up land potentially for rewilding, tree planting or other public goods,” he said. more

Farmers Guardian, 14 January 2021

Gene editing could unlock benefits for livestock sectors say industry bodies

A potential roll out of gene editing could bring opportunities for the livestock sector if the technology is used ethically and responsibly, industry bodies have said. 

Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference, environment secretary George Eustice announced the launch of a consultation into future regulation on gene editing.

Mr Eustice voiced his support for gene editing technology regulation to be reviewed in England, saying it could unlock substantial benefits to the environment, produce healthier food and help farmers with crops resistant to pests, disease or extreme weather. more

Farmers Guardian, 11 January 2021

Gene-editing will boost UK crop yields, scientists say

Scientists have welcomed Defra's new consultation on gene editing as the technology will lead to increased crop yields and improved resilience to pests and diseases.

Rothamsted Research, one of the oldest agricultural research institutions in the world, says gene editing technologies will soon be contributing to a more sustainable and productive farming sector.

"We’ve already seen the huge benefits genome editing brings to areas such as medicine – it’s now time to apply the same sort of innovation, together with responsible regulation, to our food production," Director Professor Angela Karp said. more

Farming UK, 8 January 2021  

‘No scientific justification’ for EU ban on seed potatoes, says Eustice

Defra Secretary George Eustice has said there is ‘no scientific justification whatsoever’ for the EU’s ban on UK seed potato exports.

The Secretary of State told attendees of the opening session of the online Oxford Farming Conference that the UK Government had applied ‘on the first available day’ for recognition of equivalence, which would overturn the ban.

The EU introduced the prohibition on the product, deemed to be a plant health risk, after the UK Government refused to dynamically align itself with the bloc’s regulations. more

Farmers Guardian, 8 January 2021 

Sugar beet seed treatment gets emergency approval

The government has approved an emergency application for sugar beet growers to use neonicotinoid treated seed to combat virus yellows in 2021.

It follows a devastating season for the crop – which has seen major losses to the disease. Neonicotinoid seed treatments were banned in 2019 over concerns that the chemicals are harmful to bees and other pollinators.

In a statement, Defra said it had carefully considered all the issues and would let growers use the “Cruiser SB” seed treatment subject to a number of conditions. more

Farmers Weekly, 8 January 2021 

Consultation launched over gene edited food in England

The UK government has launched a consultation on using gene editing to modify livestock and food crops in England.

Gene editing alters the DNA of organisms and, until now, its use had been tightly restricted under EU law.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said the approach could be used to develop crops that are more resistant to disease and extreme weather. more

BBC News, 7 January 2021 

UK to look at changing rules to allow gene editing in farming

The U.K. is looking at changing regulations to allow gene editing in farming, in a sign of shifting agricultural policy following the nation’s departure from the European Union.

The government plans to consult on whether to regulate certain gene-editing organisms differently from genetically modified products, it said in a statement ahead of a speech by Environment Secretary George Eustice.

Allowing gene editing could unlock substantial benefits to the environment and help farmers with crops that are resistant to pests, disease or extreme weather, he said. more

Bloomberg, 7 January 2020 

NASA to help 'transform' future of global agriculture

NASA has agreed to help develop space technology and utilise scientific experience to 'transform and bolster' the future of agriculture.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has signed a memorandum of understanding aimed at strengthening its partnership with NASA.

Researchers will explore gaps of importance to the agricultural community that could be addressed through innovative Earth observation systems and technologies developed over the next decade. more

Farming UK, 4 January 2021

MPs recognise critical vet shortages as end of transition looms

A cross-party group of MPs have highlighted serious concerns regarding the UK's veterinary capacity after the end of the Brexit transition period.

The new report, produced by the House of Commons EFRA Committee, outlines the essential role of veterinary surgeons throughout the food chain. more

Farming UK, 28 December 2020 

Healthier food, healthier planet: transforming food systems

Projects seeking to transform the UK food system, by placing healthy people and a healthy natural environment at its centre received a £24m boost today.

Four interdisciplinary research projects have received funding through the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Strategic Priorities Fund (SPF). These five-year programmes will address issues such as obesity, sustainable agriculture and global warming. more

UKRI, 28 December 2020 

MPs warn food prices may rise due to new curbs on workers

Food prices may increase as a result of new curbs on workers in the UK food supply chain post-transition period, cross-party MPs have warned.

The government must be ready to make changes to its new immigration policy, or risk increased food prices, according to their new report.

The House of Commons' Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee has published the conclusion to its Labour in the Food Supply Chain inquiry. more

Farming UK, 24 December 2020  

'Smart labelling' to provide consumers with direct line with farmers

Consumers could have a direct line to food producers through the use of ‘smart labelling’ which would increase trust, according to new research.

The Smart Tags project is working with consumers, farmers and retailers to develop smart labelling similar to QR codes.

These active and intelligent labels will allow shoppers to get rapid and better information about food and drinks they consume. more

Farming UK, 23 December 2020 

Tomato crop enriched with Parkinson's disease drug created

Scientists want to create a production pipeline of a tomato crop enriched with the Parkinson's disease drug L-DOPA, giving patients new access to one of the world's most essential medicines.

The development of the genetically modified (GM) tomato, led by British researchers, has implications for developing nations where access to pharmaceutical drugs is restricted.

This novel use of tomatoes as a natural source of L-DOPA also offers benefits for people who suffer adverse effects, such as nausea, of chemically synthesised L-DOPA. more

Farming UK, 9 December 2020 

Vertical farming site launches in South East London

A new vertical farm is being launched in South East London by Vertical future, which could mark a giant leap forward in food production efficiency for the sector.

The innovative farming method requires no pesticides, herbicides or fungicides, and minimal human interaction, and, when implemented correctly uses far less of the planet’s resources and significantly less water, while producing much closer to the point of consumption.

Vertical Future’s new 1,500mfarm provides a yield increase of 172% per m3 and approximately 60% less energy consumption compared to other vertical farms, making it one of the most efficient in the world. more

Farm Business, 9 December 2020 

New virtual centre to focus on future agri research

A new virtual centre will see five agricultural universities work together to address the gap between scientific research on innovation and real-life farming experience.

The Centre for Effective Innovation in Agriculture (CEIA) will look at how research and development investment can best support innovation to be adopted by farmers.

The centre will create practical guides for government and policy makers about effective agricultural research and how to target research funds effectively. more

Farming UK, 7 December 2020

Beer and crisps used to help tackle climate change

The much-loved combination of beer and crisps is being harnessed for the first time to tackle climate change. Crisps firm Walkers has adopted a technique it says will slash CO2 emissions from its manufacturing process by 70%.

The technology will use CO2 captured from beer fermentation in a brewery, which is then mixed with potato waste and turned into fertiliser. It will then be spread on UK fields to feed the following year's potato crop. more

BBC News, 7 December 2020 

Climate change: UK aim of 68% emissions cut a 'colossal challenge'

Meeting the UK's world-leading climate change target will be a "colossal challenge", a government spending watchdog has warned. The National Audit Office says it will affect the way we work, travel, heat our homes - even how much meat we eat.

In a report it says the cost of cutting CO2 is highly uncertain, but the cost of allowing temperatures to rise would probably be greater. The PM has vowed to cut emissions by 68% by 2030 based on 1990 levels. more

BBC News, 5 December 2020 

Africa becomes first continent to chart soil fertility in every single field

A map depicting soil fertility every 30 metres across Africa could boost the livelihoods and human health across 54 nations, international scientists have said.

Produced by iSDA, a social enterprise founded by Rothamsted Research, World Agroforestry and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, the map charts 3.4 million square miles of potential agricultural land and has gathered data on acidity, organic content and nutrient levels from every field.

A world first, it is hoped the map will help improve harvests and target nutrients as well as advise farmers about yield forecasting, crop suitability and fertiliser application. more

Farmers Guardian, 4 December 2020 

Existing guidance appropriate for assessment of genome editing in plants

Genome editing techniques that modify the DNA of plants do not pose more hazards than conventional breeding or techniques that introduce new DNA into a plant, an EFSA assessment concludes.

The scientific opinion focuses on plants produced using different genome editing techniques: site-directed nuclease-1 (SDN-1), site-directed nuclease-2 techniques (SDN-2) and oligonucleotide-directed mutagenesis (ODM). These differ from site-directed nucleases-3 (SDN-3), which was assessed by EFSA in 2012, because they modify a specific region of the genome without introducing new DNA. more

EFSA, 24 November 2020 

Brazil looks to showcase sustainability credentials

European and UK legislation on deforestation is a ‘huge opportunity’ for Brazilian agriculture with the industry confident it can increase production and efficiency without damage to the Amazon.

But industry leaders, speaking at a round-table by Apex-Brasil, the Brazilian trade and investment promotion agency, said communicating its sustainability credentials would be key.

Celso Moretti, president of the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), said Brazil had made a ‘fantastic transformation’ over the past 50 years driven by science and technology. more

Farmers Guardian, 22 November 2020 

Sugar industry applies for emergency use of neonicotinoid seed treatment

The sugar industry has submitted an application for emergency authorisation of Cruiser SB (thiamethoxam) as a neonicotinoid seed treatment, to be used to protect the English sugar beet crop in 2021.

This comes as sugar beet growers faced ‘unprecedented’ challenges in 2020 as the impact of virus yellows saw some yields fall by 70 per cent. more

Farmers Guardian, 20 November 2020 

AHDB launches on-farm carbon footprinting

The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB)’s Farm Excellence network will launch its first wave of on-farm carbon footprinting this month.

Chosen to represent a range of regions, systems and sectors, a total of 40 strategic and monitor farms will be the first to be assessed to determine their carbon footprint.

The assessments will be carried out by SAC Consulting and ADAS between November 2020 and March 2021, with results leading to bespoke mitigation measures in detailed carbon action plans. more

Farming Online, 18 November 2020

UK must spend as much on food research as health research

Defra’s former chief scientist Professor Ian Boyd has called on Government to spend as much on food research as it does on health research.  

Prof Boyd said food was so important to humanity, and so interlinked with public health, that the budgets should be the same. At the moment, the UK’s food research spend stands at less than 10 per cent of the heath research budget.

According to Prof Boyd, the money should be spent on research on three transformative technologies – genetics, robotics and process engineering – in order to boost UK agriculture’s productivity. more

Farmers Guardian, 15 November 2020 

Farmer-funded film tackles glyphosate mistruths

A Dutch scientist turned film maker has teamed up with a group of European farmers to produce a crowd-funded documentary film which will dispel the mistruths surrounding glyphosate.

The Glyphosate Chronicles aims to address myths spread by the anti-glyphosate lobby around the safety of the herbicide, its role in sustainable farming and what the consequences of a ban would mean for European agriculture.

Molecular biologist, Hidde Boersma of Sugar Rush Films who is making the documentary said the film will ‘unearth the fraudulent activity, shoddy science, unscrupulous lawyers and hardcore ideological activists which make up the powerful anti-glyphosate lobby.’ more

Farmers Guardian, 10 November 2020 

New plan launched to help farmers tackle climate change issues

Scottish farmers have been told they could become the champions rather than villains of climate change if prepared to follow a new path of “transformative” measures advocated by an independent group.

The Farming for 1.5°C Inquiry – made up of farmers, scientists and researchers, environmentalists, policy experts and campaigners –has published an interim report it believes will meet the challenge of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, will lead to net-zero for Scottish farming and ensure the future of a robust industry,

The interim report makes it clear success will require more than tinkering at the edges of current support schemes, but rather an ambitious “emissions reduction plus sequestration pathway” which would have targets and whole-farm plans of action for each of the three key greenhouse gases. more

Press and Journal, 10 November 2020 

Governments launch plan to boost honey bee health

A plan to protect and improve the health of honey bees in England and Wales has been published by Defra and the Welsh Government.

Four key outcomes include effective biosecurity and a good standard of husbandry to minimise pest and disease risk, enhanced skills and production capability, the use of science and evidence to support bee health and increased opportunities for knowledge exchange and partnerships with wider pollinator needs. more

Farmers Guardian, 6 November 2020

UK farmers set to access new CPPs quicker than their EU counterparts post-Brexit

UK farmers should be able to access new crop protection products quicker than their EU counterparts post-Brexit, the chief executive of the Crop Protection Association (CPA) has said.

Dave Bench, who headed up the UK regulatory authority for plant protection products before taking up the reins at the CPA, explained that the UK vastly outperforms other EU member states when it comes to assessing and authorising new substances.

And he pointed out EU farmers would suffer as a result of losing the UK’s regulatory capacity after Brexit, with other member states unwilling to provide the resource necessary to meet legal deadlines for assessing new active substances and reviewing existing ones. more

Farmers Guardian, 2 November 2020 

Cryotechnology to freeze key UK crops as part of project

British scientists are using cryotechnology that will keep key UK crops secure at very cold temperatures in a bid to improve sustainability and yield.

The UK Crop Microbiome Cryobank will facilitate the sustainable yield improvement of six major crops including barley, oats, oilseed rape, potato, sugar beet and wheat.

The five-year project is being spearheaded by CABI, along with researchers from Rothamsted Research, Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and the John Innes Centre. more

Farming UK, 2 November 2020 

New hub will speed up wheat breeding

The International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP) has launched its European Winter Wheat Hub which aims to accelerate research discoveries from the UK and globally into commercial plant breeding.

The hub will combine novel traits discovered by collaborative international teams into a range of high performing European winter wheat genetic backgrounds for assessment and use in winter wheat breeding programmes.

BASF, KWS, RAGT and Syngenta have entered a collaboration with NIAB to provide a translational pipeline supporting European winter wheat improvement. more

Farmers Guardian, 30 October 2020

Wrinkled ‘super pea’ could be added to foods to reduce diabetes risk

A type of wrinkled ‘super pea’ may help control blood sugar levels and could reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, suggests a new study.

The research, from scientists at Imperial College London, the John Innes Centre, Quadram Institute Bioscience and University of Glasgow, suggests incorporating the peas into foods, in the form of whole pea seeds or flour, may help tackle the global type 2 diabetes epidemic.

The work, published in the journal Nature Food and funded by the BBSRC, focused on a naturally occurring type of pea. Unlike regular (smooth) peas, they contain higher amounts of ‘resistant starch’, which takes longer for the body to break down. more

John Innes Centre, 28 October 2020 

Barclays opens farm to encourage agri-tech innovation

A farm-lab experimenting with some of the latest agri-tech has been opened by Barclays as part of its network of co-working spaces to help start-ups develop.

The farm, located at Lincoln University's Riseholme research campus, will offer entrepreneurs and researchers access to some of the latest technology.

The partnership between Barclays and the university aims to support farmers as they tackle ongoing challenges in applying agri-tech. more

FarmingUK, 20 October 2020

Academic institutions unite to transform the UK’s food systems

A consortium of nine UK universities and research institutes, including Rothamsted, are to create a joint PhD training centre focused on developing the next generation of interdisciplinary food systems experts.

Part of £47.5 million of UK Government funding earmarked to transform the UK’s food chains, the £5 million Centre for Doctoral Training will be led from the National Resources Institute at the University of Greenwich. more

Rothamsted Research, 16 October 2020 

US warns global adherence to EU Farm to Fork Strategy would double world food prices

US Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has warned global adherence to rules set out in the EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy would double world food prices and plunge millions more people into food insecurity.

The EU strategy is part of the European Green Deal, which sets out a roadmap to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050.

It includes targets to reduce the use of pesticides by 50 per cent, fertiliser by 20 per cent and sales of antimicrobials for farmed animals by 50 per cent by 2030. more

Farmers Guardian, 13 October 2020  

France announces partial ban on glyphosate

A partial ban on the use of the weedkiller glyphosate has been announced in France. The French government plans to phase out the use of glyphosate-based products by 1 January, 2021 – except where there are no viable alternatives to the herbicide.

The French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES) published the rules of its assessment of non-chemical alternatives on Friday (9 October).

ANSES said glyphosate will be banned for use on arable crops, including cereals, oilseed rape and sunflowers, when the land has been ploughed between crops. more

Farmers Weekly, 12 October 2020 

Gene editing expected to gather momentum after Brexit

Moves to facilitate the development of gene editing once the UK is free from EU regulation at the end of the year will provide a real boost to researchers and farmers, says the British Society of Plant Breeders (BSPB).

The government is due to launch a consultation on the subject in the next few weeks, but recent comments from Defra secretary George Eustice suggest he is keen to encourage such new breeding techniques (NBT). more

Farmers Weekly, 11 October 2020 

New study reveals the overlooked health benefits of wheat and maize

Cereals offer greater health and nutrition benefits than commonly acknowledged, despite often being considered ‘nutrient-poor’, a study has found. Cereal crops like maize and wheat deserve greater consideration as part of a healthy, nutritious diet, according to the authors of a new paper.

A review of agri-nutrition research and dietary guidance found that the potential health benefits provided by cereals were often overlooked or undervalued as part of nutritious diets, including their role in reducing non-communicable diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. more

Farmers Guardian, 8 October 2020 

EU is stifling gene editing tools, plant breeding firms warn

Potential investment in new breeding techniques such as gene editing is being stifled by current EU rules, plant breeding firms say.

The survey of 62 European and UK companies confirmed very strong commercial interest in using new techniques across a wide range of crop species and traits.

However, it also showed the negative impact on EU-based research and investment of a July 2018 European Court ruling which classified varieties developed using these techniques as GMOs. more

Farming UK, 9 October 2020 

Argentina becomes first country to approve genetically modified wheat

Argentina has become the first country to approve the growth and consumption of genetically modified wheat, the Agriculture Ministry announced Thursday.

In a statement released by the portfolio, the Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas de Argentina (National Commission for Science and Technology, CONICET) said that it had approved a drought-resistant variety of wheat in the world's fourth-largest exporter of the crop.

CONICET said the genetic modifications to Argentina's wheat crop would have to be approved in Brazil, historically the country's biggest export market, to be commercially viable. Some 45 percent of Argentina's wheat exports in 2019 went to Brazil. Other key markets are Indonesia, Chile and Kenya. more

Buenos Aires Times, 9 October 2020 

Scientists win historic Nobel chemistry prize for 'genetic scissors'

Two scientists have been awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing the tools to edit DNA. Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna are the first two women to share the prize, which honours their work on the technology of genome editing.

Their discovery, known as Crispr-Cas9 "genetic scissors", is a way of making specific and precise changes to the DNA contained in living cells. Biological chemist Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede commented: "The ability to cut DNA where you want has revolutionised the life sciences." more

BBC News, 7 October 2020 

Australian project trials drones as a shepherding aid

The extent to which drones could be helpful as a monitoring aid when checking sheep is being investigated as part of a trial in Australia. 

Seeking to establish the value of drones in a sheep farming system, the Boort BestWool/BestLamb Group in Australia is trialling their use on a number of sheep farms.

While there is evidence to suggest drones are being used more frequently in agriculture for monitoring crops and pasture to using them to herd sheep in some parts of the world, project coordinator Erica Schelfhorst felt there was little information about their use for checking livestock. more

Farmers Guardian, 3 October 2020  

New Crop Science Centre opens in Cambridge

A new Centre in Cambridge, designed to fast-track technologies to sustainably improve farmers’ yields worldwide, has been launched.

The Crop Science Centre is an alliance between the University of Cambridge’s Department of Plant Sciences and NIAB.

The Centre will serve as a global hub for crop science research and a base for collaborations with research partners around the world, to ensure global agricultural impact from the ground-breaking science happening in Cambridge. more 

Farming Online, 1 October 2020 

Two-fifths of plants at risk of extinction, says report

Two-fifths of the world's plants are at risk of extinction, scientists have warned. Researchers say they are racing against time to name and describe new species, before they disappear.

Plants hold huge promise as medicines, fuels and foods, says a report by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. But opportunities are being lost to use plants and fungi to address global issues such as food security and climate change. more

BBC News, 30 September 2020 

Public concern grows over UK farming's resilience to threats

Calls have been made for farmers to have increased access to new technologies as public concern rises over the impact of the pandemic on UK food supplies.

The public have highlighted their worry over the fragility of the food system in the face of Covid-19, climate change and possible trade interruptions.

More than two thirds (66%) of adults are worried about the impact that a second wave would have on food supplies, a new YouGov survey has shown. more

Farming UK, 22 September 2020 

World split on urgency of tackling rising temperatures, poll suggests

There's growing concern among citizens all over the world about climate change, according to a new global poll. But respondents had very different attitudes to the level of urgency required to tackle the problem.

Big majorities in poorer countries strongly agreed with tackling climate change with the same vigour as Covid-19. However in richer nations, the support for rapid action was far more muted.

Meanwhile, the Prince of Wales has warned the climate crisis will "dwarf" the impact of coronavirus. more

BBC News, 21 September 2020 

Research shows potential of gene editing in barley

An international team of plant scientists have shown the potential to rapidly improve the quality of barley grain through a genetic tool known as CRISPR or gene editing.

Published in The Plant Journal, researchers from the University of Adelaide's Waite Research Institute working with the James Hutton Institute in Scotland and other colleagues in the UK and Melbourne, describe how the levels of beta-glucan in barley grain can be influenced through gene editing.

Joint senior author Associate Professor Matthew Tucker, Deputy Director of the Waite Research Institute, says: "The research has given us further insight into key genes responsible for barley grain composition and, by using CRISPR gene editing, plant breeders will have the potential to accelerate plant breeding and deliver new crop varieties that are best suited to their target markets." more

Science Daily, 17 September 2020 

Extinction: Urgent change needed to save species, says UN

Humanity is at a crossroads and we have to take action now to make space for nature to recover and slow its "accelerating decline".

This is according to a report by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

It sets out a bullet point list of eight major transitions that could help stop the ongoing decline in nature. more

BBC News, 15 September 2020 

Gene-edited livestock ‘surrogate sires’ created

Scientists have produced gene-edited livestock using a technique which they say could lead to healthier animals and more sustainable meat production.

The researchers from universities in the UK and the US used the Crispr-Cas9 gene-editing tool to remove a male fertility gene in the embryo in pigs, goats, cattle and mice.

The male animals were born sterile, but otherwise healthy, and they began producing their own sperm after being injected with stem cells that produce only desired sperm from the donor’s genetic material. more

Farmers Weekly, 15 September 2020 

Defra may ease neonics ban on sugar beet, says Eustice

Defra secretary George Eustice has left the door open to the emergency use of neonicotinoids on sugar beet crops, which are being ravaged by yellows virus.

“The government recognises that sugar beet growers face yield losses this year because of the difficulties in controlling aphids,” said Mr Eustice.

“We do support the restrictions on neonicotinoids to protect pollinators, but we’ve also always been clear that we remain open to applications for emergency authorisations under the current rules.” more

Farmers Weekly, 14 September 2020  

Climate change: Global water and food shortages ‘to cause new European migrant crisis’

A significant rise in climate refugees will seek asylum in Europe as more than 1.2 billion people are displaced by ecological threats over the next three decades, a report has predicted.  

Water and food shortages are set to cause mass migration from 31 countries which are unable to cope with looming environmental crises, the Institute of Economics and Peace (IEP) warned.

The resulting displacement will “be on a vastly larger scale” than the 2015-16 migrant crisis if nothing is done to tackle the ecological breakdown, the think tank’s founder Steve Killelea told The Independent. more

The Independent, 9 September 2020 

Impact study: NIAB research delivers 18 fold return to the wider UK economy

An independent assessment of the value of research taking place at crop science organisation NIAB has revealed an 18-fold return on investment to the wider UK economy.

The economic impact report, by Donald Webb of Brookdale Consulting, concluded that for every £1 spent on research at NIAB, at least £17.60 is returned to the UK economy through improved production efficiency, economic growth, import substitution, export earnings and inward investment. more

NIAB, 7 September 2020 

Reversal of pesticide ban sparks criticism of French government

Ministers say neonicotinoid exemptions needed to save sugar industry, but ecologists are aghast

France has moved to reverse a ban on a class of pesticides only weeks after it came into force, reigniting a bitter dispute between environmentalists and farmers and embarrassing politicians who have championed ecological causes under President Emmanuel Macron. 

The French cabinet’s approval on Thursday of a draft law allowing sugar beet growers to use neonicotinoids was portrayed by ministers as essential to save the country’s sugar industry, the EU’s largest. more

Financial Times, 5 September 2020 

Bread price may rise after dire UK wheat harvest

The price of flour and bread is set to rise after what could be the worst UK wheat harvest in 40 years, the industry is warning. Farmers say that the extreme weather over the last year is likely to mean wheat yields are down by up to 40%.

As a result, some millers have already increased the price of flour by 10% and they warn a no-deal Brexit could push up prices even further. And we're likely to see more of the same weather in future, experts say. more

BBC News, 26 August 2020 

Climate change: New UK law to curb deforestation in supply chains

UK businesses will have to show that their products and supply lines are free from illegal deforestation, under government plans.

A proposed law would require larger companies operating in the UK to show where commodities such as cocoa, soy, rubber and palm oil originated from.

It would be illegal to use products that fail to comply with laws to protect nature in those origin nations. more

BBC News, 25 August 2020 

Cloned stem rust resistance genes offer glimpse of future crop protection

Genes which confer resistance to the deadly fungal disease stem rust have been successfully transferred from wheat into barley.

In an advance which could lead to wider use of resistance genes from other wild relatives of elite crops, the John Innes Centre team used genetic modification (GM) techniques to fortify barley plants with genes proven to have defensive activity in wheat.

The research is seen by researchers as a model for future efforts to protect crops against the growing threat of virulent fungal pathogens. more

John Innes Centre, 17 August 2020 

UK to uphold sugarbeet neonic ban as France grants three-year derogation

The UK Government has said it plans to keep the ban on using neonicotinoids to protect sugar beet, as France granted a three-year derogation to begin in the 2021 campaign.  

The lifting of the ban in France is part of a package of measures designed to support beet growers, who are facing an ‘unprecedented crisis’.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Food will also set up a €5m (£4.5m) fund to find alternatives to neonicotinoids, and will offer compensation to producers for crop losses, which are estimated to reach 50 per cent in some areas. more

Farmers Guardian, 11 August 2020 

Gene manipulation using algae could grow more crops with less water

Tobacco plants have been modified with a protein found in algae to improve their photosynthesis and increase growth, while using less water, in a new advance that could point the way to higher-yielding crops in a drought-afflicted future.

The technique focuses on photosynthesis, the complex process by which plants are able to use sunlight and carbon dioxide to produce nutrients that fuel their growth. Enhancing photosynthesis would produce huge benefits to agricultural productivity, but the complexities of the process have stymied many past attempts to harness it.

In research published in the journal Nature Plants, scientists used genetic manipulation processes to increase an enzyme that already exists within the tobacco plant, introduce a new enzyme from cyanobacteria, and to introduce a protein from algae. more

The Guardian, 10 August 2020 

Supply industry’s 30-year sustainability vision unveiled

The agricultural supply industry has set out a 30-year plan to help make its part of the food chain more sustainable and meet carbon neutrality targets.

Included in the roadmap from the Agricultural Industries Confederation are targets for a 60 per cent increase in input efficiency by 2050, a 40 per cent increase in the recovery of resources used in the making of inputs and the meeting of zero carbon emission goals by using more green energy and decarbonising production.

There is also a commitment for the sector to invest £1.5 billion innovation and research and development over coming years. more

Farmers Guardian, 7 August 2020 

Vertically farmed wheat could be a ‘major player’ in food security

A research project in the USA exploring the feasibility of vertically farmed wheat has found yields of 39 tonnes per hectare could be achieved within just 70 days when grown under optimum artificial conditions.

The crops were grown at Princeton University, New Jersey, in collaboration with the University of Florida and NASA using two crop models to simulate the growth of wheat in an indoor hydroponic system, taking into account CO2, light intensity, nutrients and temperature. more

Farmers Guardian, 4 August 2020 

MPs urge government to appoint food security minister

A cross-party group of MPs is demanding urgent action from the UK government to tackle food insecurity amid the coronavirus pandemic, Brexit and climate change.

MPs from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) select committee have warned that a second wave of coronavirus and possible disruption to the food supply chain caused by a “disorderly Brexit” is likely to increase the number of people at risk of food shortages and hunger.

After the use of food banks in the UK almost doubled during the lockdown, with a significant spike in demand from families with children, the MPs have called on the government to urgently appoint a minister for food security. more

Farmers Weekly, 3 August 2020 

Scientists to speed creation of pig vaccines

British scientists are developing a method to speed the creation of vaccines for devastating pig diseases, such as African swine fever. Researchers are aiming to establish a reliable, large-scale system to develop and test vaccines for viral infections.

Stem cell technology will be used to develop a source of white blood cells, identical to those affected by disease in pigs, which can be used to develop vaccines containing live virus.

The team, involving scientists from the Roslin Institute and the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), are particularly investigating control strategies against African swine fever virus. more

Farming UK, 30 July 2020 

Consultation to look at UK rules on gene editing

The government has announced an autumn consultation on the future regulation of precision breeding techniques in the UK.

The consultation will look at post-Brexit regulation of precision breeding techniques, such as gene editing.

Defra Minister Lord Gardiner of Kimble said there was a strong case for taking these techniques out of the scope of GM regulation. more

Farming UK, 29 July 2020  

Government announces Autumn consultation on future regulation of precision breeding techniques

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Science and Technology in Agriculture has welcomed a commitment from Defra Minister Lord Gardiner of Kimble that the Government will launch a public consultation in the Autumn on post-Brexit regulation of precision breeding techniques such as gene editing.

Responding to an amendment led by the APPG during yesterday’s Committee Stage debate on the Agriculture Bill, Lord Gardiner acknowledged the very strong case for taking simple gene editing techniques out of the scope of GM regulation, and he thanked Lord Cameron of Dillington, a vice-chair of the APPG and current chair of the advisory board of the Government’s Global Food Security programme, for raising the issue. 

Announcing the consultation, Lord Gardiner reiterated the Government’s longstanding objection to the ‘unscientific’ European Court ruling of July 2018 classifying gene editing techniques as GM, highlighting the urgent need for a more scientific approach to regulation to reap the economic and environmental benefits of these technologies, and re-confirming the Government’s view that gene edited products whose DNA changes could have occurred naturally or through traditional breeding techniques should not be regulated as GMOs. more  

Farm Business, 29 July 2020 

'Once-in-a-lifetime' opportunity for more sustainable food

An independent review of UK food policy is calling for "a gold standard level of scrutiny" to ensure new trade deals do not undermine the environment. Verification schemes should address concerns such as imports of beef reared on land recently cleared of rainforest. And the government should press on with plans to pay English farmers to improve the countryside.

The report aims to ensure a food system that is healthy, affordable, sustainable, resilient, and productive. It was commissioned by the government in 2019.

Author of the first report of the National Food Strategy, food entrepreneur Henry Dimbleby, said the UK had a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to decide what kind of trading nation it wanted to be when the transition period ends. more

BBC News, 29 July 2020 

Breeders back gene-editing move

Support is growing for an amendment to the Agriculture Bill to encourage new plant-breeding techniques in the UK. The British Society of Plant Breeders (BSPB) is urging members of the House of Lords to support the amendment which could give Britain’s scientists and breeders access to the latest gene-editing techniques. This would mark a step change in prospects for crop improvement, says BSPB, resulting in more sustainable, productive and climate-resilient agriculture.

Amendment 275, tabled by Lord Cameron of Dillington and supported by Baroness Hayman, Lord Krebs and Lord Rooker, will be debated by Peers during Committee Stage currently taking place in Parliament. The amendment paves the way for the Government to consult on and, if appropriate, make a simple change to the Environmental Protection Act which would reverse EU rules classifying gene-edited products as GMOs. more

Crop Production Magazine, 21 July 2020 

UK agri-tech projects receive £24m government boost

Innovative agri-tech projects, including fruit picking robots and autonomous crop systems, are set to benefit from a £24 million government fund.

The nine projects benefiting will apply big data, artificial intelligence and robotics to UK farming, with the aim of creating a more efficient system of food production. more

Farming UK, 17 July 2020  

Blight fungicide given emergency approval

A copper-based blight fungicide has been given emergency approval following lobbying of Defra minsters by the Soil Association to retain its use.

The Chemicals Regulation Division (CRD) has approved the use of Funguran Progress to control late blight in organic potato crops.

This follows advice by the Expert Committee on Pesticides (ECP) not to authorise the copper hydroxide product in line with recommendations from the CRD risk assessment due to environmental concerns, in particular aquatic toxicity. more

Crop Production Magazine, 16 July 2020 

Farm-trial uses precision tools to predict tuber size

A recent farm-trial used new precision tools to predict tuber size of seed and salad potatoes for growers to maximise yield and profit margin.

SAC Consulting, part of Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), partnered with precision farming company SoilEssentials and farmer-owned cooperative Grampian Growers. more

Farming UK, 16 July 2020 

Virus yellows infection at ‘unprecedented levels’

Concerns are mounting about the impact of virus yellows on the future viability of the UK sugar beet crop.

Independent agricultural consultant Robin Limb says there are reports of up to 60 per cent of virus yellows in crops in the Yorkshire area.

“This could have a big impact on yield. Virus yellows could be the death knell for the industry without neonics and other chemicals to control aphids in future.” more

Farmers Guardian, 15 Jul 2020

EU still reflects over agri-innovation as UK mulls moves forward

While the EU considers the potential role of new innovative techniques to protect harvests from pests and diseases, on the other side of the Channel, the UK is getting ready to open the door to new gene-editing technologies post-Brexit.

Asked about the potential for biotech and gene editing in the Farm to Fork strategy (F2F), the EU’s new flagship food policy, EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides told EURACTIV that the bloc needs to develop innovative ways to cope with its dependency on pesticides. more

Euractiv, 13 July 2020 

Report calls for pesticide reduction target to boost insects

Environmentalists are calling for the UK government to match the European Union in reducing pesticide use by 50 percent by 2030.

The target has been called for in a new report by the Wildlife Trusts, which urges the government for more action in boosting insect populations.

The report, entitled ‘Reversing the Decline of Insects’, explained that reducing 'insect-harming' pesticides would help them become 'abundant once more'. more

Farming UK, 13 July 2020  

Soil survey shows 40% of arable soils 'degraded'

Nearly 40 percent of arable soils across England and Wales are 'degraded', according to a newly-developed soil health index developed by British scientists.

The index, developed by Rothamsted Research, shows for the first time that 38% of arable soils in England and Wales are degraded.

This is compared with less than 7 percent of grassland and woodland soils being given the same rating. more

Farming UK, 11 July 2020 

NZ farmer breaks world record for highest wheat yield

A New Zealand farmer has broken the world record for the highest wheat yield with a massive 17.398 tonne per hectare wheat crop.

Eric Watson has achieved the Guinness World Record for the highest wheat yield for the second consecutive time.

The Ashburton-based farmer produced 17.398 tonnes per hectare wheat crop, beating his previous record crop grown in 2017 of 16.791t/ha. more

Farming UK, 8 July 2020  

UK and US scientists decode pig genome

Scientists have decoded the whole genetic make-up of pigs in a development that could facilitate the discovery of genetic variations linked to key traits.

The findings could help improve selective breeding and enable more accurate use of gene-editing technologies.

This would help breeders develop pigs with desired characteristics, such as resistance to infectious diseases, the researchers say. more

Farming UK, 2 July 2020 

Government plans new office to attract scientists to UK

A new body, called "Office for Talent", will be set up in No 10 to encourage scientists, researchers and innovators to come to the country, the government has said.

It will be tasked with making immigration "simple, easy and quick" for those wanting to move to the UK. The initiative comes as the UK seeks to recover economically from coronavirus. Some scientists have warned that uncertainty over Brexit could lead to researchers leaving the UK.

In addition, the government says its new Research and Development Roadmap will cut "unnecessary red tape" in a bid to encourage scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs to work and study in the UK. more

BBC News, 1 July 2020 

Artificial Intelligence solves the problem of seed germination tests

A new tool, SeedGerm - based on machine learning-driven image analysis – is able to test seed samples to ensure a certain germination rate is met in a low-cost, high-throughput and semi-automated way.

The product is the result of a collaboration between the Earlham Institute (EI), the John Innes Centre (JIC), Syngenta and NIAB. Details have been published in the New Phytologist, along with the open-source software and data.

Carmel O’Neill, research assistant in the Penfield Group at John Innes Centre says: “Currently most seed germination is still recorded manually. Against this, SeedGerm presents fast, accurate, high throughput screening and will be of major interest to crop seed production companies and research programmes screening large germplasm collections.” more

Farmers Guardian, 30 June 2020 

Coloured light could boost crop yields, scientists say

Scientists have found a way to control different plant processes using nothing but coloured light in a finding which could help boost crop yields.

The development reveals how coloured light can be used to control biological processes in plants by switching different genes on and off.

University of East Anglia scientists said it could lead to advances in how plants grow, flower and adapt to their environment, ultimately allowing increases in crop yields. more

Farming UK, 30 June 2020 

Scientists develop genetically modified rice that could help treat high blood pressure

Scientists have developed a genetically modified strain of rice that could help fight against cardiovascular diseases and strokes.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, can serve as a major risk factor when it comes to heart problems — and are often treated by a type of synthetic drugs known as ACE inhibitors, carrying a number of side effects including dry cough, headache, skin rashes and kidney impairment.

However some naturally-occurring ACE inhibitors can be found in certain food items like milk, eggs, fish, meat and plants — showing fewer side effects but proving to have been too expensive and time consuming to merit purifying them on their own. more

The Independent, 25 June 2020 

UK Environment secretary offers support for gene editing, diverges from EU stance

In an environmental audit meeting on Thursday (18 June), UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, George Eustice offered his support for gene editing after Brexit, saying that the UK government disagrees with the EU stance on the matter.

Addressing MPs via video call, Eustice said that “gene editing is an area that we ought to be considering if we want to reduce our reliance to pesticides,” highlighting that improved genetic resistance will be important for pest and disease challenges.

He stated that the UK government thinks “gene editing techniques like CRISPR are really a more targeted form of conventional plant breeding, allowing to move or modify a particular gene within a certain species,” adding that he considered some of these techniques as “an extension of conventional plant breeding.” more

Euractiv, 18 June 2020 

German Green faction pushes for gene editing, overhaul of regulation

In an unprecedented move, a group of German Green MPs, including one EU lawmaker, have backed the use of gene editing technologies in a new paper, diverging from the party’s general position and saying genetic engineering could play a key role in improving sustainability.

The paper, published last Wednesday (10 June), calls for a “modern’ approach to regulation of genetic engineering. In general, the Greens, as well as most environmental groups, have been vocally opposed to the use of genetic engineering technologies. 

This paper is the first time that there has been such a dissenting position from within the party, although support for genome editing has been growing in recent years, notably among the younger Greens. It states that gene-editing technology could have an important role to play in improving sustainability, highlighting that it offers opportunities “for a healthy planet and thus for the good of people and the environment”. more

Euractiv, 16 June 2020 

British farmers need all the help science can offer. Time to allow gene editing

Sir David Baulcombe

The agriculture bill, now going through parliament, could influence whether we use gene editing on our farms. At present, this country is out of line with the USA, Argentina, Brazil, Australia and Japan in that our regulatory framework prevents gene editing in crops and farm animals. A proposed amendment to the bill will not lead to unregulated use of gene editing but, if passed, it would give the secretary of state at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) the power to consult widely and make appropriate changes to the regulatory process.

Is it important that we edit the genes of our crops? This answer is a definite “yes”. Agriculture faces huge challenges due to Covid-19, climate change and, for the UK, post-Brexit. Farmers have delivered admirably until now – there are more well-fed people on the planet than at any time in history – but, to help them meet the future challenges, they will need all of the help that science can offer. Gene editing is one powerful part of that help.

[....] Is gene editing more or less safe than conventional plant breeding? The answer, unusually for a scientific question, is clear and unequivocal: gene editing is at least as safe as plant breeding. more

The Observer, 14 June 2020 

Lords seek to allow gene-editing in UK 'to produce healthy, hardier crops'

Changes could introduce gluten-free wheat and disease-resistant fruit and vegetables, say peers

Peers are preparing plans to legalise the gene-editing of crops in England, a move that scientists say would offer the nation a chance to develop and grow hardier, more nutritious varieties. The legislation would also open the door to gene-editing of animals.

The change will be proposed when the current Agriculture Bill reaches its committee stages in the House of Lords next month, and is supported by a wide number of peers who believe such a move is long overdue. At present, the practice is highly restricted by EU regulations.

The plan would involve introducing an amendment to the bill to give the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs the power to make changes to the Environmental Protection Act, alterations that would no longer restrict gene-editing in England. The rest of the UK would need separate legislation. more

The Observer, 14 June 2020 

Farmers to trial new robot-based systems amid labour shortage

Farmers are set to trial several new robot-based systems this season on farms producing strawberries, apples, blueberries, lettuce and broccoli.

A UK agri-food consortium has been formed to address labour shortages by accelerating the use of robotics and automation (R&A) for picking soft fruit and vegetables. The aim is for approved technologies to be manufactured at scale and fully implemented for the 2021 season.

The effort is being co-ordinated by the NFU, University of Lincoln, Agri-EPI Centre, the Manufacturing Technology Centre, and the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN), with the backing of more than 100 food producers. more

Farming UK, 12 June 2020 

Norwich firm to begin field trials of gene-edited bananas

Norwich food-tech firm Tropic Biosciences is set to push the development of its gene-edited bananas and coffee into field trials after raising $28.5m from investors. 

The start-up, led by a former Israeli naval commander, uses gene editing technology known as CRISPR to cut away sequences of DNA in crops that might make them susceptible to diseases and pathogens. 

To date, the company has had a particular focus on Cavendish bananas, a variety of the fruit which has come to dominate the global export market of bananas worth more than $13.6bn but is at risk of wipeout from the Panama disease caused by a deadly fungus. more 

The Telegraph, 8 June 2020 

Farmers must take control of the climate change debate

The debate on climate change is something farmers have to take control of, otherwise they will just be pushed around. That is the central thought that has encouraged former NFU Scotland president Nigel Miller to take on the joint chairmanship of the independent Farming for 1.5 Degrees group.

With 10 members, including four farmers as well as scientists and environmentalists, the Edinburgh- based group is to explore how a low carbon landscape can support a bright future for farming and food.

In an interview with Farmers Guardian, Mr Miller said: “Unless we can change mindsets, we will not have the freedom to farm in the future. I want to see ideas that farmers can get behind to help keep average temperatures rising by more than 1.5degC while at the same time meeting the Scottish Government’s net zero carbon emissions by 2045 (the Westminster’s Government’s target is 2050).” more

Farmers Guardian, 7 June 2020 

Climate impact of grass-fed cattle 'overestimated'

British scientists have shown that direct emissions of a powerful greenhouse gas from certain pasture types are lower than previously thought. The climate impact of grass-fed cattle herds may be 'overestimated', according to research team at Rothamsted Research.

They found urine from animals reared on pasture where white clover grows – a plant commonly sown onto grazing land to reduce the need for additional nitrogen fertiliser – results in just over half the amount of nitrous oxide previously assumed by scientists to be released.

Nitrous oxide is a potent greenhouse gas that is 265 times more harmful than CO2 and can account for 40% of beef supply chain emissions, and the group say these findings may help farming achieve its ‘net zero’ ambition by 2040. more

Farming UK, 5 June 2020 

Ribena invests half a million in climate resilient blackcurrants

The makers of Ribena have invested over half a million pounds in a five-year project to develop new varieties of climate-resilient blackcurrants.

Lucozade Ribena Suntory (LRS), which uses 90% of the blackcurrants grown in Britain to make Ribena, has teamed up with the James Hutton Institute. Around 10,000 tonnes of blackcurrants are harvested from British fields each year to keep up with consumer demand for the soft drink.

Previous research from the institute, based in Dundee, has highlighted the threat that climate change poses to blackcurrant farming. more

Farming UK, 5 June 2020 

NFU tells EU judges neonics ban was 'not lawful'

The NFU has told EU judges that the European Commission’s 2013 neonicotinoids restrictions was 'not lawful' and has had a 'real impact' on British farmers.

The union attended an appeal by chemical manufacturing giant Bayer on the judgement of the EU General Court from May 2018. The Court dismissed the challenges and upheld the lawfulness of the European Commission’s action on restricting neonicotinoids in 2013.

A moratorium on three kinds of neonicotinoids was placed seven years ago, forbidding their use in flowering crops that appeal to honey bees. more

Farming UK, 4 June 2020 

Coronavirus: Soil Association calls for shorter food supply chains

Shorter food supply chains could make the UK more resilient in the face of pandemics and climate change, a new report by Soil Association says.

With Covid-19 exposing cracks in the UK food system, the charity said sustainable sourcing would increase resilience as well as boost the environment.

It said government has 'key roles' to play in incentivising regional and more sustainable production through redirecting the £2bn spent annually on public sector food. more

Farming UK, 3 June 2020  

EU pledges to learn lessons from coronavirus pandemic with new food security plan

The EU has promised to learn lessons from the coronavirus pandemic by developing a new food security contingency plan.

The plan, designed to ensure a continued supply of safe, affordable and nutritious food during crises, will be put together by the Commission alongside a broader Farm to Fork Strategy.

The Farm to Fork Strategy aims to make food systems fairer, healthier and more environmentally friendly, and is part of the European Green Deal which sets out a roadmap to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. more

Farmers Guardian, 2 June 2020 

UK farmers group backs call for allowing access to gene editing technology

The UK National Farmers Union (NFU) has backed calls made by a cross-party group for the new Agriculture Bill to allow British farmers access to gene-editing technology post-Brexit.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on science and technology in agriculture, chaired by MP Julian Sturdy, wrote to George Eustice, the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, earlier this month urging the government to introduce an enabling amendment during the Lords stages of the Bill in order to boost the genetic innovation after Brexit.

The proposed amendment would provide new powers for ministers to consult on and, where deemed appropriate, make alterations to the UK Environmental Protection Act. This could then give Britain’s scientists, farmers, plant breeders and animal breeders access to new gene-editing technologies. more

Euractiv, 28 May 2020  

MPs call for Ag Bill to boost precision breeding post-Brexit

A cross-party group of MPs and Lords have called for the government to boost the British farming industry by ditching EU rules which block the access to precision breeding tools. Amendments to the Agriculture Bill have been put forward which would provide new powers for ministers to make changes to the UK Environmental Protection Act.

Ministers are seeking to change the EU definition of GMO in the Act for a definition compatible with the Cartagena Protocol – to which the UK is a signatory. The move would give the UK's scientists, farmers, plant breeders and animal breeders the same access to new gene editing technologies as countries outside the EU have.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Science and Technology in Agriculture, chaired by MP Julian Sturdy, has now written to Defra Secretary George Eustice. The APPG has urged the government to introduce the enabling amendment during the Lords stages of the Agriculture Bill. more

FarmingUK, 24 May 2020

EU plans to cut pesticide use by 50% and boost organic

The European Union is aiming to cut pesticide use by 50 percent by 2030 as part of a new environmentally-friendlier 'farm to fork' strategy.

The European Commission presented the food and farming plans on Wednesday (20 May) as part of the bloc's wider European Green Deal policy.

The strategy set out targets to transform the EU's food system, including a target to reach 25% of agricultural land under organic farming by 2030. The Commission wants to reduce the use of fertilisers by at least 20%, and slash the sales of antimicrobials used for farmed animals by half. more

Farming UK, 21 May 2020 

Launch of new centre will help ‘unlock the potential of UK’s rural economies’, say experts

A new National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise (NICRE) by Newcastle University and partners is hoped to foster innovation, resilience and enterprise among rural firms through research and knowledge exchange.

Led by experts from Newcastle, Warwick, Gloucestershire and the Royal Agricultural Universities, the centre will launch in September 2020 and has been awarded £3.8 million by Research England.

Centre director, Jeremy Phillipson, professor of rural development at Newcastle University, said ‘a thriving rural economy is crucial to the future prosperity, well-being and resilience of communities across the UK’. more

Farmers Guardian, 21 May 2020 

Food Strategy will have renewed focus on food security after pandemic, plan chief says

The National Food Strategy will have a renewed focus on food security because of the issues caused by the coronavirus pandemic, its lead Henry Dimbleby has said. But he did raise concerns that with the pandemic so fresh in people’s minds, policy makers could make the mistake of ‘preparing again for this war, instead of a future war’.

“What we see here is a crisis where local areas are systematically shut down, but harvests have been good, so food has continued to move around to the places where it has been required,” he said. “However, that looks very different from a climate crisis. A simultaneous harvest failure in Russia and China where you had a massive shortage of supply would be very different from this. This crisis is going to help in that people will be able to think more deeply about these big, existential risks, but we are going to have to ensure people realise this is not the only possible crisis.” more

Farmers Guardian, 4 May 2020 

New British-made camera detects crop disease quickly

A new camera that will detect crop disease quickly and at a significantly lower cost has been developed by British researchers.

The technology, developed by scientists at the University of the West of Scotland (UWS), could potentially save farmers worldwide thousands of pounds in lost produce, while increasing crop yields. more

Farming UK, 30 April 2020 

Ancient Britons 'pioneered dairy farming 7,000 years ago'

Prehistoric farmers located in what is now Britain pioneered dairy farming around 7,000 years ago, archaeologists say.

Molecular remains of food left in pottery used by Europe's first farmers was analysed by scientists from the University of York.

They report evidence of dairy products in 80% of the pottery fragments from the Atlantic coast of what is now Britain. more

Farming UK, 28 April 2020

Climate change: 2019 was Europe's warmest year on record

Europe is heating faster than the global average as new data indicates that last year was the warmest on record.

While globally the year was the second warmest, a series of heatwaves helped push the region to a new high mark.

Over the past five years, global temperatures were, on average, just over 1C warmer than at the end of the 19th century. In Europe, in the same period, temperatures were almost 2C warmer. more

BBC News, 22 April 2020 

UK crop scientists benefit from next generation research computing platform

A High-Performance Computing (HPC) platform that will increase the pace of crop science and climate change research has been established by six leading UK research organisations.

The new HPC cluster is dedicated to the study of crop genetic diversity. It will enable crop researchers to share data, develop new methods of analysis and deliver training, and act as the basis for establishing new collaborative programmes of innovative science.

Funded by BBSRC, and with support from the Scottish Government, the project has been led by the crop research organisation NIAB, in partnership with the James Hutton Institute, the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Scotland’s Rural College, the Royal Botanical Garden Edinburgh and the Natural History Museum. more

NIAB, 20 April 2020 

Agriculture ‘part of the solution’ to climate change as UK sees major drop in air pollution

NFUS vice-president Martin Kennedy has highlighted the drastic fall in air pollution in UK cities as a result of Covid-19 lockdown measures has confirmed agriculture as ‘part of the solution’ to mitigating climate change.

According to data collected by the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS), a 50-60 per cent reduction in the use of transport during the crisis has resulted in a major drop in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, particularly nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM2.5)

With emissions from agriculture accounting for just 10 per cent of the UK’s GHG emissions, Mr Kennedy said the data was useful in highlighting how agriculture had been unfairly demonised for its contribution to climate change. more

Farmers Guardian, 14 April 2020 

Scientists make gene breakthrough in fight against weeds

Scientists have made a gene breakthrough in the fight against weeds, allowing - for the first time - a chance to study the genetics responsible for herbicide resistance.

Since the invention of weed killers, farmers have been caught in a never-ending arms race with weeds – from the moment of first spraying weeds start to develop resistance to the chemicals – and year on year, the armoury is shrinking.

Now scientists have reported they have used plant viruses to switch weed genes off, or alternatively, ramp up the production of specific proteins by weeds in the laboratory. more

Farming UK, 14 April 2020 

'Fitbits for cows' to help detect disease in livestock

Wearable sensors are being developed to help monitor the health of dairy cows with the aim of identifying the disease brucellosis at an earlier stage.

The 'fitbit' product is non-invasively placed on livestock monitoring daily activities 24/7, according to developer IceRobotics, a British agri-tech company.

Advanced processing of this information will help vets to monitor any changes in behaviour which could be early indicators for illness and allow them to shortlist livestock at an early stage. more

Farming UK, 10 April 2020 

White flour is healthiest it’s been in '200 years'

A study comparing historic and modern wheat varieties grown side by side has shown an increase in dietary fibre and other benefits to human health.

This is contrary to concerns that the push for higher yields has made today’s wheat less “healthy” than older types.

The 39 wheats varieties, spanning a period of 230 years, were grown three years running at Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire. more

Farming UK, 7 April 2020 

Soils should take 'centre stage' in Brexit farm policy, report says

Rewarding British farmers for looking after their soil should take 'centre stage' in post-Brexit agricultural policy, a Royal Society report has said.

Farmers who focus on the quality and structure of their soil could help the United Kingdom meet its climate commitments.

The society's new Soil Structure and its Benefits report brings together evidence on the functions soils can perform. more

Farming UK, 3 April 2020 

Novel chemistry protects crops from fungal disease, UK scientists find

British researchers have discovered a novel chemistry to protect crops from fungal diseases that threaten global food security.

The growing threat of microbial resistance against fungicides means scientists are racing to find new developments to safeguard food production.

In a new study published in Nature Communications, University of Exeter researchers report the identification of novel mono-alkyl chain lipophilic cations (MALCs) in protecting crops against Septoria tritici blotch in wheat and rice blast disease. more

Farming UK, 2 April 2020 

Huge knowledge gap over soil health

A vital knowledge gap about England’s environment has been uncovered by soil campaigners. They have discovered that just 0.41% of the cash invested in environmental monitoring goes on examining the soil.

That’s despite the fact that soils round the world – including in the UK – are said to be facing a crisis. The figures are startling: £60.5m goes to monitoring water quality, £7.65m to checking on air – but just £284,000 to auditing soil. The mismatch was revealed in a Freedom of Information (FoI) request by the Sustainable Soils Alliance (SSA). more

BBC News, 16 March 2020 

New £25m livestock research facility opens in Edinburgh

A new £25 million facility that aims to enhance both food security and the health and welfare of livestock has opened in Edinburgh.

The Large Animal Research and Imaging Facility will research ways to produce livestock that are genetically more resistant to disease.

The new centre, operated by the University of Edinburgh, will also research and develop improved vaccines for farmed animals. more

Farming UK, 12 March 2020 

Chancellor pledges big increase to research spend

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has pledged to more than double spending on UK government research and development (R&D) by 2024.

Mr Sunak promised an increase of 15% for next year with further increases in successive years.

The pledge means that the government may exceed its target of boosting the proportion of private and public R&D spend from 1.7% to 2.4% by 2027. more

BBC News, 11 March 2020 

More studies needed on viability of vertical farming, scientists say

Scientists say further research should be undertaken to determine the viability of vertical farming as 'little information' is available on pest and disease management.

New methods of food production - including vertical farming - have offered hope for optimising the productivity of agriculture as the world population continues to grow.

But scientists warn there is currently insufficient information on the cons of adopting this novel approach to farming. more

Farming UK, 6 March 2020 

Badger cull to be replaced by vaccines in bovine TB fight

Badger culling to tackle the spread of TB in livestock is to be phased out to be replaced with a cattle vaccine, the government has announced.

Defra, the environment department, said trials of a vaccine will take place over the next five years, and there are plans to vaccinate more badgers. more

BBC News, 5 March 2020 

European GMO laws no longer fit

The current EU rules on genetically modified organisms (GMO) are not fit for purpose anymore, leading scientists warn in a newly released EASAC commentary. They call for a radical reform of the legal framework.

“There is a societal cost of not using new genome editing techniques or being slow in adoption. We have no time to lose in resolving our shared problems for food and nutrition security,” says Robin Fears, Director of EASAC’s Biosciences Programme. more

EASAC, 4 March 2020  

Neonic hypocrisy highlighted

Neonicotinoids were a key point of discussion at the NFU Conference, following the high number of imports from countries that still use the chemical.

Since July 2019, the UK has imported almost 100,000 tonnes of oilseed rape from Ukraine, where neonicotinoid insecticides are still used, costing UK arable farmers almost £95 million in lost opportunity and mass crop failure, according to the NFU.

When questioned over the differing standards, Defra secretary George Eustice said Brexit had created the opportunity to ‘look afresh’ at legislation, but Government will not take risks with public health or the environment. more

Farmers Guardian, 1 March 2020

Clear conversation needed on gene editing in order to convince public

The industry needs to make ‘absolutely clear’ that gene editing (GE) is very different to genetic modification (GM) if it is to sell the technology to the UK public.

Speaking during the plant health session at NFU Conference, Tom Bradshaw said: “GE is very different to GM. We need to be absolutely clear that GE is speeding up plant breeding. It could be done by current plant breeding methods. If we confuse that discussion, then we are going to confuse the public and we won’t win [the debate]. It’s critical we’re absolutely clear that GE should be allowed.” more

Farmers Guardian, 29 February 2020  

PM gives green light to post-Brexit EU research deal

The UK will endeavour to continue within a €100bn (£85bn) EU science programme after Brexit. The news was revealed within a document setting out the government's approach to negotiations with the EU.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave the green light for the UK to negotiate its continued participation within the Horizon Europe research programme. Horizon Europe provides funding to scientists, students and industry for research. more

BBC News, 27 February 2020 

New tech could convert wastewater into 'super fertiliser'

Severn Trent is working in collaboration with a UK tech firm to adopt a new treatment process and convert wastewater sludge into a 'super fertiliser'.

The project has the potential to combine carbon dioxide with otherwise hard-to-treat ammonia and make a commercial fertiliser for farms.

It focuses on a new process, developed by 'cleantech' company CCm Technologies, which uses captured carbon dioxide to stabilise chemicals held within waste streams, turning them into sustainable plant nutrients. This gives the potential to develop an enhanced fertiliser product for agricultural application, potentially creating new commercial opportunities for Severn Trent. more

Farming UK, 19 February 2020 

Productivity the key to unlocking future opportunities in agriculture

The industry and government must together seize the opportunities presented by new policy frameworks and technology to lead a transformation in our farming industry.

Driving a massive step change in productivity growth is the key to unlocking a successful future highlights a major report published today by the Food & Drink Sector Council (FDSC).

With the UK leaving the EU, imminent changes to agricultural policy and the pressure to achieve net zero emissions, the report, prepared by industry experts for the FDSC, highlights the steps that together, industry and government can take to overcome the productivity challenge that has long faced the British farming industry. more

Farming Online, 17 February 2020  

Understanding soil biology to build future farming resilience

DNA analysis is highlighting valuable differences in soil biology under different soil management regimes, offering the opportunity to secure real and lasting improvements in crop and environmental health. 

As part of the Achieving Sustainable Agricultural Systems (ASSIST) programme, researchers from Agrii and the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) are working to achieve a far better understanding of soil biology to inform future agricultural and environmental policy and practice. more

Farmers Guardian, 15 February 2020 

We're worse with food waste than we think

Common estimates for global food waste are too low, according to Dutch researchers, who suggest every person in the world is wasting about 500 calories of food a day.

Without waste, we could feed five people instead of four, they said. The study found food waste goes up with the increase of money in our pockets, possibly reaching more than twice the levels we thought previously.

Reducing food waste is a key challenge in fighting climate change. Wasted and lost food accounts for almost 10% of all our greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN. more

BBC News, 12 February 2020 

France must put gene-edited crops under GMO rules this year – court

The French government must in the coming months change its policy on crops developed using a breeding technique called mutagenesis to adhere to stricter rules for genetically modified organisms (GMOs), a court ruled on Friday.

The decision by France’s top administrative court follows a ruling by the Europe Union’s highest court in 2018 that mutagenesis, often called gene-editing, should be subject to GMO regulations. more

Reuters, 10 February 2020 

App uses satellite tech to abolish need to measure grass

Grassland farmers can now use a pasture management tool that uses satellites to help predict grass covers instead of having to measure grass using plate meters.

Grass Sat uses a grass growth model that monitors more than 20 different parameters, including daily weather, soil and earth observation from satellites. Alongside this, farmers enter management activities into the tool.

The model makes hundreds of complex calculations every hour, which produces information on soil properties, grass characteristics and grass growth rates (kg dry matter/ha). more

Farmers Weekly, 9 February 2020

High fibre wheat genes identified for healthier white bread

An international group of scientists, led by Rothamsted Research and the John Innes Centre, has opened its door to healthier wheat varieties, after pinpointing genes responsible for the dietary fibre content of flour.

The high fibre white flour produced has as much as twice the fibre of traditional white flour, but is otherwise identical and makes a good quality white loaf with all the added health benefits which come from eating wholemeal bread. more

Farmers Guardian, 5 February 2020 

NIAB opens new headquarters following multi-million pound redevelopment project

NIAB has opened its new Cambridge headquarters following a two-year, £25 million redevelopment and construction project.

The new Lawrence Weaver Road headquarters includes offices, state-of-the-art laboratories, growth room facilities and meeting rooms, all improving and modernising NIAB’s facilities in Cambridge.

It is also the base for the Crop Science Centre - a partnership between NIAB and the University of Cambridge – working with industrial partners to translate the University’s strong fundamental plant research into outputs for the farmer, processor and consumer, both in the UK and across the world. more

Farmers Guardian, 4 February 2020

Glyphosate is safe and not carcinogenic, US says

US authorities have concluded that glyphosate is safe for use and herbicides containing this active ingredient are not carcinogenic. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reaffirmed the safety of glyphosate based on the agency’s expert review over a 10-year period.

In its review, released on Friday 31 January, the government regulator concluded that it “did not identify any human health risks from exposure to glyphosate.” It also said that “it used the most current science policies and risk assessment methodologies to prepare a risk assessment in support of the registration review of glyphosate.” more

Farming UK, 3 February 2020 

New visa system to keep UK 'open to talented scientists'

The Government has announced that a fast-track visa will open next month to attract the world's leading scientists.

The visas will have no cap on the numbers of suitably qualified people able to come to the UK.

The announcement follows a pledge last year by the PM to turn the UK into a "supercharged magnet to attract scientists like iron filings". more

BBC News, 27 January 2020

UK climate report: Cut red meat by 20% and plant more trees

Reducing the number of ruminants and increased tree planting on farmland are key to meeting the UK’s “net zero” carbon ambitions, says the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).

Launching its latest report, Land Use: Policies for a Net Zero UK, committee chairman Lord Deben said the time for discussion was over and the time for delivery had arrived, backed by legislation if necessary. more

Farmers Weekly, 23 January 2020 

UKRI announces new Quality and Food Loss Network

Globally, over one third of food produced across the whole food chain is wasted. In the UK, 51% of the food wasted is lost before it even reaches consumers, during either the agriculture, post-harvest, distribution or processing stages.

A significant proportion of food loss relates to the inherent physiology of the crops, poor control of post-harvest biology, and the efficacy and appropriateness of the control systems applied.

A new UK network that aims to use bioscience research to address this significant food loss is launched today by UKRI’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). more

UKRI, 22 January 2020 

New study to aid livestock farming in challenging landscapes

Researchers are seeking to improve the breeding of sheep and goats in challenging environments such as hills and uplands.

The £7m study will aid farmers in challenging landscapes, where small ruminants, such as sheep and goats, can thrive.

The international project aims to develop ways to apply genetic selection to improve resilience and efficiency in livestock. more

Farming UK, 21 January 2020 

Could seaweed hold the answer to producing sustainable animal feed?

Seaweed is on track to become a potential replacement for some ingredients in the production of ruminant animal feeds, thanks to claims of offering associated benefits from improved meat quality to a reduced carbon footprint.

With seaweed already being successfully utilised by some ruminants in specialist cases, a new Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) involving Davidsons Animal Feeds and the James Hutton Institute, funded by Innovate UK, is exploring the possibilities seaweed could offer to commercial livestock producers. more

Farmers Guardian, 17 January 2020 

Agriculture Bill to boost environment & food production

A future where farmers are properly supported to farm more innovatively and protect the environment is a step closer today following the introduction of the Agriculture Bill.

The landmark legislation introduced today will provide a boost to the industry after years of inefficient and overly bureaucratic policy dictated to farmers by the EU.

It sets out how farmers and land managers in England will in the future be rewarded with public money for “public goods” – such as better air and water quality, higher animal welfare standards, improved access to the countryside or measures to reduce flooding. more

Farming Online, 16 January 2020 

Climate change: Last decade confirmed as warmest on record

The 10 years to the end of 2019 have been confirmed as the warmest decade on record by three global agencies. According to Nasa, Noaa and the UK Met Office, last year was the second warmest in a record dating back to 1850.

The past five years were the hottest in the 170-year series, with the average of each one more than 1C warmer than pre-industrial. The Met Office says that 2020 is likely to continue this warming trend. more

BBC News, 15 January 2020 

UK crop production 'will fall dramatically' if Atlantic circulation collapses

British crop production will fall dramatically if climate change causes the collapse of a pattern of ocean currents in the Atlantic, a new study claims.

The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) brings heat from the tropics, making Britain warmer and wetter than it would otherwise be. University of Exeter scientists show that, while warming Britain is expected to boost food production, if the AMOC collapses it would not just wipe out these gains but cause the “widespread cessation of arable farming” across the country.

Such a collapse – a climate change “tipping point” – would leave Britain cooler, drier and unsuitable for many crops, the study, published in Nature Food, says. more

Farming UK, 14 January 2020 

New plant breeding method for better photosynthesis

Researchers at the Netherlands-based Wageningen University and Research (WIR) have described a method that can completely replace the organelles (cell internal structures), of one plant with those of another, while the chromosomes remain unchanged.

The organelles comprise chloroplasts, which are essential for photosynthesis, and mitochondria, which generate energy.

There is interest in whether the research, which was conducted using the thale cress plant, leading to improvements in photosynthesis, could be applied more widely to agricultural crops. more

Farmers Guardian, 13 January 2020 

UK ban on US chlorinated chicken 'to continue after Brexit'

Chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-treated beef will be kept out of the UK under any trade deal with the US, the environment secretary has promised.

Theresa Villiers told the BBC the current European Union ban on the two foods will be carried over into UK legislation after Brexit.

Until now the UK has been wavering on the issue. But she told BBC Countryfile: “There are legal barriers to the imports and those are going to stay in place.” more

BBC News, 9 January 2020 

Food 'made from air' could compete with soya

Finnish scientists producing a protein "from thin air" say it will compete with soya on price within the decade. The protein is produced from soil bacteria fed on hydrogen split from water by electricity.

The researchers say if the electricity comes from solar and wind power, the food can be grown with near-zero greenhouse gas emissions. If their dreams are realised, it could help the world tackle many of the problems associated with farming. more

BBC News, 8 January 2020 

Leaving 'bureaucratic' CAP will boost productivity, minister says

Farmers will boost productivity and protect the environment post-Brexit as the UK moves away from the 'bureaucratic' Common Agricultural Policy, the Defra Secretary has announced today.

Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference, Theresa Villiers confirmed that the agriculture bill will be introduced to parliament this month.

The bill will highlight how a new approach is to be adopted once the UK leaves the EU, where farmers and land managers are rewarded with public money for ‘public goods’. At the same time, farmers will have 'greater opportunities' to boost their productivity, leading to 'more successful and resilient' farm businesses. more

Farming UK, 8 January 2020 

Scottish farming could 'slash emissions by 38% by 2045'

Scotland could be at the forefront of climate-friendly farming as a new report has found Scottish farmers could slash emissions by 38% by 2045.

The report by WWF Scotland said Scotland's agriculture sector could 'comfortably' reduce its greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) within the next few decades.

It highlights the most important mitigation measures which can be made on a farm level require 'little or no land use change'. These include measures to improve nitrogen fertiliser use, improvements to animal health and breeding, rotational grazing, feed additives and using legumes to fix nitrogen. more

Farming UK, 8 January 2020 

Time to give GMOs a chance?

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

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

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

Scottish Farmer, 5 January 2020 

Plan unveiled for national farm advice service

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

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

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

Farmers Weekly, 3 January 2020

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

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

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

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

Farmers Guardian, 2 January 2020 

Why ‘vertical’ farming is growing in the UK

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

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

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

Farmers Weekly, 18 December 2019 

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

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

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

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

Farmers Weekly, 12 December 2019 

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