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

Group News

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

APPGSTA Annual Report 2012/13
January 2014

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

VIDEO: MP hails agri-tech project

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

UK Agri-Tech Strategy published

22 July 2013


APPGSTA Annual Report 2011/12

December 2012


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


George Freeman MP hails £250m bio-economy boost

24 May 2012


House of Lords Debate -

Innovation in EU Agriculture

February 2012


APPGSTA Annual Report 2010/11

December 2011



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


2014 Archive


2013 Archive


2012 Archive


2011 Archive

2010 Archive

2009 Archive

2008 Archive

Science & Technology News


Scientists create GM cows ‘more resistant to TB’

Scientists claim they have created genetically engineered cows more resistant to bovine TB. A team of researchers from China inserted a protective mouse gene, called SP110, into the genome of Holstein-Friesian cattle to create animals more resistant to TB. To estimate their ability to resist the disease, researchers inserted the Mycobacterium bovis bacterium, which causes TB, into the immune system of the cows.

Three randomly selected transgenic cattle and three experimental control cattle, derived from the same cells but without the mouse gene, were infected with M bovis. The animals were killed 16 weeks later and analysis of organs, such as lungs, spleen and liver, showed the protective mouse gene “significantly reduced” the disease. more

Farmers Weekly, 3 March 2015 

Scientists find evidence of wheat in UK 8,000 years ago           

Wheat was present in Britain 8,000 years ago, according to new archaeological evidence.

Fragments of wheat DNA recovered from an ancient peat bog suggests the grain was traded or exchanged long before it was grown by the first British farmers.

The research, published in Science, suggests there was a sophisticated network of cultural links across Europe. more

'Warrior’ fungus could wipe out a quarter of British wheat crop

An aggressive fungus could wipe out a quarter of British wheat crops this harvest season, scientists have warned. The virulent ‘Warrior’ strain of yellow rust has been found in many crops in the UK and experts warn it could present a serious threat to wheat production.

The National Farmers Union warned that around a quarter of British crops could be affected and said that European pesticide bans were making it more difficult to control.

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

The Telegraph, 26 February 2015 

MPs call for reform of EU’s ‘flawed’ rules on GM crops

Europe's approval system for genetically modified (GM) crops is "fundamentally flawed", say MPs.

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

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

BBC News, 26 February 2015 

‘Alarming’ decline in UK food production, new report warns

A new report published by the NFU today has revealed disturbing new figures relating to the UK’s self-sufficiency in food. 

It states that at current rates, just 53 per cent of the nation’s food needs will be produced from home farms in the next 25 years, with potential for serious implications for the British economy, food security and employment.

With the population expected to boom over the coming decades, there will be around 13 million extra mouths in the UK by the time the country’s self-sufficiency in home-grown food is predicted to hit dwindling new lows. Currently, the figure stands at 60 per cent – following a 30-year downward spiral. The NFU says action is needed now, and from successive governments, to reverse this current negative trend.

Farming UK, 24 February 2015 

Agriculture must change, says FAO Director-General

The model of agricultural production that predominates today is not suitable for the new food security challenges of the 21st century, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said. While the numbers of the chronically hungry have been reduced by 100 million over the past decade, 805 million still go without enough to eat on a regular basis, he noted in remarks to ministers, scientists, farmers, and representatives of civil society gathered in the French capital for a government-organized International Forum on Agriculture and Climate Change.

Increasing production has long seen as the natural pathway to ending hunger - but today, even though the world produces enough food to feed everyone, hunger remains a problem, he pointed out.

"Since food production is not a sufficient condition for food security, it means that the way we are producing is no longer acceptable," said Graziano da Silva. "What we are still mostly seeing is a model of production that cannot prevent the degradation of soils and the loss of biodiversity - both of which are essential goods, especially for future generations. This model must be reviewed. We need a paradigm shift. Food systems need to be more sustainable, inclusive and resilient," he added. more

Farm Business, 22 February 2015 

UK agricultural output ‘not being harmed’ by solar panels

Food output in the UK 'is not being harmed' by the spread of solar panels across the countryside, according to new documents from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

"Given the small areas of land covered by solar farms, currently, it is not possible to argue that, at the national level, there is yet a serious impact on agricultural output," the CAP Direct Payments team told Defra in September last year. But Environment Secretary Liz Truss told farmers one month after that British agricultural output was being affected by 'ugly' solar panels.

Truss said: "English farmland is some of the best in the world and I want to see it dedicated to growing quality food and crops. I do not want to see its productive potential wasted and its appearance blighted by solar farms.”

Farming UK, 18 February 2015 

Agchem firms to apply for neonics ban exemption

Agrochemical companies are expected to apply for emergency permission so farmers can use banned neonicotinoid treatments this year. NFU policy director Andrew Clark said the union was encouraging agchem firms to apply for emergency authorisation so growers could use neonicotinoid seed treatments when planting oilseed rape from this summer onwards.

“It is absolutely clear that neonicotinoids are going to be critical this summer and into the autumn,” Dr Clark told Farmers Weekly. Growers had seen rape crops devastated by cabbage stem flea beetle in 2014 and it was important that the situation did not repeat itself.

Neonicotinoid seed treatments have been banned by Brussels for two years over fears that the chemicals damage bee populations, which are vital for pollination. But the NFU continues to argue that the findings are based on unsound science. more

Farmers Weekly, 16 February 2015 

Deal struck to part privatise Defra science agency

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

Defra says the £14.5m investment “will expand the agency’s world-leading scientific capability and strengthen its role in food research”.

The venture, which will start from 1 April, will enable Fera to play an “even greater role in helping to drive growth in our £100bn agri-food industry”. more

Farmers Weekly, 11 February 2015 

Scientists create barley variety more resistant to flooding

Scientists in the UK have bred a barley variety which is better able to tolerate flooding and waterlogged conditions.

Researchers at the University of Nottingham have identified the mechanism used by plants in stress conditions to sense new oxygen levels. This breakthrough has helped them use advanced breeding techniques to breed barley cultivars that reduce yield loss in waterlogged fields. more

Farmers Weekly, 9 February 2015 

UK scientists’ breakthrough could stop septoria spread

Scientists have found a genetic mechanism that could stop the spread of a "devastating" disease threatening wheat crops.

Septoria leaf blotch (STB) is caused by a fungus and is seen as the most significant threat to wheat yields in Europe, and most other wheat growing regions, as STB infection can claim up to a third of wheat yields and currently available fungicides are becoming less effective against resistant strains of the disease.

Researchers at Durham University, working with partners from Newcastle University and Rothamsted Research, have now found a way that could potentially be used to stop extensive spreading of STB disease. more

Farming Online, 6 February 2015 

UK industry bodies call for balanced EU approach to pesticides

UK farming and agri-chemical organisations have urged EU policymakers to look at the bigger picture in determining the future availability of key pesticides in Europe. The NFU, Crop Protection Association (CPA) and Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC) presented their Healthy Harvest campaign to representatives from the European Commission and European Parliament in Brussels on Wednesday.

Richard King, head of research at the Anderson’s centre, outlined the findings of his report, commissioned by the three organisations, which showed EU policies threaten 87 out of about 250 approved pesticides in the UK.

Of these, about 40 are considered to have a high likelihood of disappearing or being restricted within the next five to seven years, with potentially serious consequences for crop yields, including a 12 per cent drop in winter wheat yields and massive impacts on ‘minor crops’ like carrots and onions. more

Farmers Guardian, 5 February 2015 

Oat growers to benefit from huge research funding boost

The oat breeding team at Aberystwyth University has secured £2.76m of public funding for research aimed at improving the crop’s genetics. The project will use the latest genetic tools and resources to improve traits to benefit both farmers and consumers, including grain yield, quality and composition.

The UK grows about 750,000t of oats annually, with about two-thirds destined for human consumption. Demand for food-grade oats has been increasing in recent years, driven by the grain’s health benefits and product innovation by millers and cereal manufacturers to make meals such as porridge more convenient to eat. Despite the growing market, it is often put in the shade by heavy investment made in other crops, so news of the funding will be a major boost for the oat industry. more

Farmers Weekly, 4 February 2015 

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

The technology behind GM crops is safe, according to scientific consensus, says the outgoing science adviser to the European Commission.

In her first full broadcast interview since leaving Brussels, Prof Anne Glover defended her stance on GMOs. And she denied reports that she was "sacked", saying she intended to leave.

She told the BBC programme Hardtalk that criticism from environmental groups over her role was unjustified. Prof Anne Glover, a former chief scientific adviser to the Scottish government, was accused by NGOs in July of presenting "one-sided, partial opinions" in the debate over GM crops. She had argued opposition to GMOs was "a form of madness". more

BBC News, 3 February 2015 

Agricultural sciences GCSE mooted in Welsh education review

The Welsh Government has accepted all 15 recommendations contained in a review of agricultural education provision in Wales put forward by former Harper Adams University principal, Professor Wynne Jones.

They include the possibilities setting up an apprenticeship scheme, encouraging greater co-operation between existing further education agricultural colleges, development of management and entrepreneurial skills of those already engaged within the industry and an increased involvement of the Farming Connect business development agency.

For schools there is the suggestion of establishing a GCSE in agricultural sciences within the annual curriculum and the setting up of an agricultural ambassador programme to showcase people who have developed a successful career within the industry. more

Farmers Guardian, 2 February 2015 

Fish oils from GM crop fed to Atlantic salmon

British scientists have genetically engineered camelina plants to produce high levels of omega-3 oils in their seeds which were successfully fed to Atlantic salmon. The breakthrough could eventually provide a more sustainable source of omega-3-producing crops to substitute fish oil in fish feeds.

In a joint research project between the University of Stirling and Rothamsted Research, scientists developed GM plants that can produce up to 20% of the omega-3 oil eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). The extracted oils from the plants grown in the glasshouse were used as a replacement for marine fish oil in feeds for Atlantic salmon.

The results of the study demonstrated that growth performance, feed efficiency, fish health and nutritional quality for the human consumer were unaffected when dietary fish oil was substituted with oil from the GM plants. more

Farmers Weekly, 29 January 2015 

Europe lagging behind all other continents on GMs, report shows

Plantings of genetically modified crops declined slightly across Europe last year amid concerns over their impact on the environment and human health. Limited choice for farmers in the EU caused by a lack of product authorisations and national bans meant fewer European farmers grew GM crops in 2014.

According to figures released by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), GM crop plantings grew globally for the 19th consecutive year.

Last year, 18 million farmers planted 181.5ha of GM crops in 28 countries, up from 175.2m ha in 27 countries in 2013. However, in Europe farmers in five EU countries – Spain, Portugal, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania – planted 143,016ha of insect resistant biotech maize, down marginally by 3% on 2013. This figure represents less than 1% of global GM crop production. more

Farmers Weekly, 29 January 2015 

UN's pro biofuels stance an 'important milestone' for agriculture

Sustainable biofuel production can offer additional incomes for farmers as well as helping to achieve energy security, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) chief has said.

Speaking at the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture, the organisation’s director general José Graziano da Silva recognised the need for biofuels to address oil reliance and climate change and argued debate needed to focus on how biofuels can positively contribute to food production.

He said: “We need to move from the food versus fuel debate to a food and fuel debate…biofuels should not be simply seen as a threat or as a magical solution.” more

Farmers Guardian, 27 January 2015 

Scientists collaborate to combat crop rusts

Seven scientific teams from the John Innes Centre (JIC), The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL) and The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC), have joined forces in the fight against rust fungi which can cut crop yields by up to 80 percent.

The newly formed Norwich Rust Group (NRG)aims to develop improved resistance in crops. Exploiting advances in genomics, scientists will investigate how parasitic rust fungi invade and feed off plants. They will also use the new knowledge and techniques to locate genes in some varieties of crops that can resist invasion. more

Farming Online, 26 January 2015 

UK asparagus production ‘under threat’ from pesticide laws

Britain’s biggest asparagus grower believes producing the crop in the UK will become “almost impossible” if the EU passes laws to ban key crop protection products.

EU policymakers are seeking to implement new legislation on endocrine disruptor chemicals (EDCs), which could result in the loss of key products. A consultation on the proposals for an EDC definition closed last week.

Herefordshire grower John Chinn farms 500ha of asparagus at Cobrey Farms, Ross on Wye, Herefordshire, equivalent to about 25% of the country’s total asparagus production. Mr Chinn said further reductions to the list of permitted active ingredients would jeopardise current British asparagus production and curtail the expansion so urgently needed to replace imports from Peru. more

Farmers Weekly, 23 January 2015 

UK wheat yields have potential to double

UK wheat yields have theoretical potential to more than double over the next 10-20 years if every aspect of agronomy is fine-tuned and technological advances are embraced. That was one of the key messages at Hutchinsons’ winter technical conference in Newmarket last week (14 January), where speakers urged growers to focus on the many ways to build, not just protect, wheat yields in order to break through the current “yield plateau”.

Average UK yields increased rapidly during the 80’s and 90’s, yet the past decade had seen hardly any tangible gain, with yields remaining close to 8t/ha. While that compared well to other countries globally it was far below the 19-21t/ha genetic potential of the crop, speakers said.

“We don’t believe a 20t/ha target is that extravagant,” said Malcolm Hawkesford of Rothamsted Research, which has launched its 20:20 Wheat initiative that aims to help growers meet this target within the next 20 years.

Farming UK, 23 January 2015 

British produce vital for food security, say MPs

MPs have called on the government and retailers to do more to encourage shoppers to buy home-grown produce because it forms a vital part of a secure food supply system.

The recommendation was made in the Food security: Demand, Consumption and Waste report published on Thursday, 22 January by the cross-party Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee.

Committee chairwoman Anne McIntosh MP said climate change and rising world populations meant ensuring everyone could access affordable, healthy food was a growing challenge for the UK. more

Farmers Weekly, 22 January 2015 

EU pesticide crackdown ‘must be based on sound science’

Pesticides must only be identified as endocrine disruptors following a sound scientific and full risk assessment, says the NFU.

The European Commission’s consultation to help define the criteria for endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) closed for responses on 19 January. The consultation aims to help the commission define chemicals that might interfere with hormone systems, which may harm human health and the environment.

An independent report by farm consultant Andersons has warned up to 40 active substances are at risk of being lost. This could result in a yield penalty of up to 50% depending on the crop, and farming income could take a £1.73bn hit, equivalent to a 36% fall in overall profits. more

Farmers Weekly, 21 January 2015 

Doubts raised over neonic ban as bee scientists clash

Concerns are mounting over the scientific backing behind a ban on neonicotinoid seed treatments as two researchers at the same university row over possibly flawed experiments.

The two scientists at the University of Sussex disagree on whether neonicotinoids were to blame for a decline in bee populations, which was the main factor behind the ban on the pesticide. Bee researcher Norman Carreck is accusing his colleague Dave Goulson of feeding bumblebees unrealistic high levels of the neonicotinoid imidacloprid in the laboratory to show an adverse effect on bees.

“This shows that there are significant questions over the science. Full field trials have not shown the levels of harm compared with artificial doses,” says Chris Hartfield, bee and pollinator expert at the NFU. more

Farmers Weekly, 20 January 2015 

The food systems of the future need to be smarter, more efficient 

Increasing competition for natural resource and emerging resource bottlenecks mean that global agriculture can no longer operate using a "business as usual" approach – the input-intensive agricultural development model used for the past 40 years is no longer sustainable, and a "paradigm shift" in food production is needed.

This was the key message of a speech delivered by FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva at the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture taking place this week in Berlin. The topic of the forum is The Growing Demand for Food, Raw Materials and Energy: Opportunities for Agriculture, Challenges for Food Security?

"Business as usual would mean a huge and simultaneous increase in the need for food, energy and water in the next decades: 60 percent more food, 50 percent more energy and 40 percent more water by 2050," Graziano da Silva said during his remarks. FAO estimates point to the need to increase food production by 60 percent by 2050 to feed a population that will top the 9 billion mark. more

Farm Business, 17 January 2015 

Restrictions on plant protection products would have detrimental effect on land management, says CLA 

The CLA has said vital products needed for land management may be lost as a result of the EU’s attempt to redefine how hazardous they are.

Responding to a European Commission consultation to help determine criteria for endocrine disruption - chemicals contained within products which could alter the hormonal system - the CLA said it was necessary to identify the potential risk of pesticides and biocides by taking into account potency and exposure as well as hazard.

CLA President Henry Robinson said: “Seventeen active substances in herbicides, fungicides and insecticides could be lost as a result of the endocrine disruptor classification. Such a loss would have significant consequences for agriculture and land management. more

Farm Business, 16 January 2015 

MEPs vote to give member states more powers on GM crops

MEPS have overwhelmingly endorsed a significant change to EU legislation today, giving member states a much greater say over whether they grow genetically modified (GM) crops.

The European Parliament voted in Strasbourg on Tuesday by 480 votes to 159 to make it easier for member states to ban GM crops and, potentially, to push ahead with approvals on a national scale, prompting speculation about possible approvals in England within the next few years.

After today’s vote, the new legislation is expected to be in place by this spring. more

Farmers Guardian, 13 January 2015 

Truss wants UK powers to decide on GM approvals

DEFRA Secretary Liz Truss has stressed her desire for the UK to be allowed to make its own decisions on GM crops, ahead of a key vote in Europe next week.

The vote could go a long way to moving control over GM approvals away from the Commission into the hands of member states. This follows a vote by MEPs in November.

Mrs Truss said GM crops should ‘have a role to play’ in the UK and farmers should have the opportunity to grow GM crops. She said the UK was pushing at EU level to break down the barriers to growing them. She called for decisions on issues like pesticides and GM cultivation to be ‘made on science alone’. “Ultimately we want to see decisions on GM crops taken in Britain,” she said. more

Farmers Guardian, 8 January 2015 

OFC report highlights UK sector must improve productivity

The UK farm industry is lagging behind other countries and must work to improve efficiency.

The Oxford Farming Conference’s annual report, compiled by Andersons, identified key issues within the UK’s agricultural industry which have seen it fall behind several other countries’ farm sectors.

According to the report, ‘The Best British Farmers: What gives them the edge’, the UK is hampered by a loss of technology but must work harder to implement tools to improve competitiveness. more

Farmers Guardian, 7 January 2015

Global warming threat to wheat yields

New research in the UK has predicted global wheat yields will drop by 6% for each degree of centigrade of global warming.

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

An international group of agronomists, including scientists from Rothamsted Research, used computer modeling technologies, field and artificial heating experiments to focus on responses of wheat to high temperatures. more

Farmers Weekly, 5 January 2015 

'Broadband to boost rural job migration over next decade’

Faster internet and better transport links could help the rural economy grow faster than urban areas over the next decade, say government analysts.

A Defra report on rural productivity claims rural workers are 83% as productive as those in urban areas. However, increased connectivity, spread of innovation and growth in knowledge-based industries, including agriculture, could allow the countryside to gain ground on towns over the next decade.

Defra estimates a rise in rural jobs, thanks to a high-tech boost from speedier broadband and better transport links, could increase economic output in rural areas by £35bn by 2025. During this time, the government predicts an additional 300,000 rural jobs could be created – a 6% increase in rural employment – with more people leaving cities in search of a rural idyll. more

Farmers Weekly, 5 January 2015 

Bee-friendly pesticide research among Agri-Tech winners

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

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

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

Farmers Guardian, 24 December 2014 

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

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

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

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

Farm Business, 19 December 2014

NFU issues 'call to arms' on EU pesticide legislation

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

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

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

Farmers Guardian, 17 December 2014 

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