Science & Technology News
Key developments in science and technology in agriculture.
Green light for neonics on sugar beet seed this spring
1 March 2024
Sugar beet growers will have access to seed treated with neonicotinoids this growing season, as scientists have predicted a serious risk of virus yellows infection, based on a burgeoning aphid population.
Defra passed the conditional emergency authorisation to use Cruiser SB, which contains the active substance thiamethoxam, in January. But this was subject to the predicted risk of virus yellows infection in the national sugar beet crop, based on the Rothamsted model, exceeding 65%.
Latest data from the British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO) actually puts that risk at 83% in the absence of any disease controls, triggering the emergency authorisation for a third consecutive year.
Badger culling policy reduces cattle TB by 56%, study shows
1 March 2024
A peer-reviewed scientific analysis of Defra’s badger control policy in England has revealed a 56% fall in bovine TB rates.
Defra started its badger control policy in 2013 to reduce the reservoir of infection in badgers and, in doing so, reduce rates of TB in cattle.
A new study by Colin Birch et al, published in Nature, analysed the effect of badger culling on bovine TB rates across 52 areas in England.
Agritech investment enters a consolidation phase
25 February 2024
The demise of the Small Robot Company has thrown investment into agritech into sharp focus. A lack of funding meant the company was forced to stop work on its trio of crop monitoring and spraying robots with a loss of 30 jobs.
The boom in agritech investment has certainly cooled. Website CropLife calculated that global agritech companies attracted $1.5 billion (£1.19bn) in funding during the third quarter of 2023, which was 6 per cent less than the same three months in 2022 with a 42 per cent drop in the number of deals.
New campaign group No Farmers, No Food warns farming is 'under threat'
21 February 2024
A new campaign group called 'No Farmers, No Food' says it will put pressure on the government to ensure British farming remains viable into the future.
The group, which has attracted thousands of followers on social media after it was launched last month, says it is a "collection of farmers who are concerned that the future of farming is currently under threat."
Some of its asks include a fairer price for farmers, an end to cheaper, lower-quality imports and an end to restrictive legislation. Others include to move away with the government's 'obsession' with net zero, which is having a 'devasting impact' on farming.
Norfolk sugar beet scientists begin £1m gene editing project
Eastern Daily Press
15 February 2024
Norfolk-based scientists have launched a £1m project to explore how "gene editing" techniques could protect sugar beet crops from a devastating virus threat.
British Sugar, biotech firm Tropic and Norwich plant science institute the John Innes Centre (JIC) have jointly been awarded £663,443 towards the total project costs from Defra's Farming Innovation Programme.
The research, also supported by the Norwich-based British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO), aims to develop plants with natural resistance to virus yellows infections - thereby protecting East Anglia's beet farmers from potentially catastrophic crop losses.
Companion plants reduce flea beetle damage on oilseed rape, study says
13 February 2024
Presence of cereal volunteers in oilseed rape fields and direct drilling could lead to a marked reduction in damage caused by cabbage stem flea beetle (CSFB), a new study says.
The results suggest that relatively simple changes in crop management could help control this ubiquitous pest which, in recent years, has led to many famers abandoning the crop altogether.
The trials, conducted by Rothamsted Research on a farm in Hertfordshire, assessed oilseed rape (OSR) crop damage caused by adult CSFB feeding and larval infestation when sown with different companion plants.
UK’s leading agricultural research facility facing funding crisis
8 February 2024
The UK’s leading agricultural research facility is facing a funding crisis with its future work in jeopardy, it can be revealed.
Rothamsted Research in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, is one of the oldest agricultural research institutions in the world, having been founded in 1843, and its research has been credited with preventing crop failures across the globe.
A letter from Rothamsted’s director, Prof Angela Karp, seen by the Guardian, has warned staff they will have to pause “non-essential” work, announcing a hiring pause and warning of pay freezes.
EU backtracks on pesticide reductions in wake of farmer protests
7 February 2024
Protesting farmers on the Continent have scored another victory, with the EU Commission agreeing to shelve plans for draconian cuts in pesticide use in a move that has pleased farmers and angered environmentalists.
Two years ago, as part of its so-called Green Deal, Brussels set out plans to halve the use of pesticides and other hazardous chemicals used in agriculture by 2030.
But addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday (6 February), EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said it was time for a rethink.
New Genomic Techniques: MEPs back rules to support green transition of farmers
7 February 2024
For a more sustainable and resilient food system, MEPs support a simpler process for NGT plants equivalent to conventional plants, while others must follow stricter rules.
Parliament adopted its position for negotiations with member states on the Commission proposal on New Genomic Techniques (NGTs), which alter the genetic material of an organism, with 307 votes to 263 and 41 abstentions.
The objective is to make the food system more sustainable and resilient by developing improved plant varieties that are climate resilient, pest resistant, and give higher yields or that require fewer fertilisers and pesticides.
England's hedges would go around Earth ten times
30 January 2024
England's hedgerows would stretch almost ten times around the Earth if lined up end to end. That's according to a new map - the most comprehensive to date - of these historic features of the landscape.
Ecologists hope the data will lead to better protections for the much-loved lines of trees and shrubs that provide food and shelter for wildlife, and store large amounts of carbon.
Laser scanning from the air reveals a total of 390,000 km of hedges.