shutterstock_1586704555.jpg

    Science & Technology News    

Key developments in science and technology in agriculture.

 

Study: Agri-environment schemes boost wildlife without damaging food production

Farming UK

2 August 2022

Agri-environment schemes can significantly increase local bird and butterfly populations without damaging food production, a long-term research project has found.

Scientists from the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) spent a decade monitoring the impacts of a large-scale Defra-funded experiment at Hillesden, a 1,000-hectare arable farm in Buckinghamshire.

Beginning in 2005, this involved creating several wildlife habitats, including seed-bearing plants for birds, wildflowers for pollinators and tussocky grass margins to support a range of birds, insects and small mammals.

Oxford scientist wants bold action on crop genetic research

The Scottish Farmer

29 July 2022

Faced with an urgent need to drive improvements in the productivity, resilience and climate impact of British agriculture, leading plant scientist, Professor Jane Langdale, from the University of Oxford, has called on government to prioritise investment in crop genetic research as a primary driver of productivity in agriculture.

Writing on the Science for Sustainable Agriculture website, Professor Langdale – who led and authored a major review of UK plant science last year – asked why, in its plans for R and D funding, the UK Government was spending 20 times more on digital and precision farming projects, such as robotic harvesters, AI and sensor technology than it planned to invest in long-term, strategic crop genetic research.

“These agri-tech innovations are incredibly important in driving efficiency improvements at individual farm level, but they will prove to be relatively worthless without supporting corresponding gains in genetic potential," she argued.

Defra launch 'sustainable' protein competition

Farmers Guardian

29 July 2022

Defra has launched a £12.5 million competition to help accelerate the development of technologies to create new sources of resource efficient, low-emission proteins.

Farmers, growers, foresters, businesses and researchers can apply with projects to help increase domestic production of healthy and sustainable protein, such as methane reducing animal feeds and high protein crops.

Experts to develop photonic 'nose' to monitor crops for pest infestations

Farming UK

28 July 2022

Agri-science experts are starting a new project to develop a photonic ‘nose’ to monitor crops for pest infestations and plant disease. Aston University is collaborating with land-based college Harper Adams University to develop technology using light to monitor crop health.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, up to 40% of global crop production is lost to pests annually. Each year, plant diseases cost the global economy over $220 billion, and invasive insects at least $70 billion.

The research will be using strawberries to test the new technology, a fruit worth £350m to the UK economy, but vulnerable to potato aphid which has the potential to wipe out an annual harvest.

Defra publishes review into on-farm automation amid labour shortages

Farming UK

28 July 2022

Defra has published the results of a review exploring how the horticulture sector can make use of innovative tech such as packhouse automation, AI enabled robotics and autonomous guided vehicles.

With labour shortages affecting the sector due to the impacts of the pandemic and Brexit, the review of automation was launched to help reduce the sector's reliance on migrant workers.

The review brought together experts across horticulture and technology to understand what would be required to accelerate the development of automation technologies.

Supercharged biotech rice yields 40% more grain

Science

22 July 2022

By giving a Chinese rice variety a second copy of one of its own genes, researchers have boosted its yield by up to 40%. The change helps the plant absorb more fertilizer, boosts photosynthesis, and accelerates flowering, all of which could contribute to larger harvests, the group reports today in Science.

The yield gain from a single gene coordinating these multiple effects is “really impressive,” says Matthew Paul, a plant geneticist at Rothamsted Research who was not involved in the work. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like that before.” The approach could be tried in other crops, too, he adds; the new study reports preliminary findings in wheat.

MP says tackle climate change through tech - not by harming economic growth

York Press

22 July 2022

A York MP has called for climate change to be tackled through new technology and science - NOT measures which would harm economic growth and living standards.

York Outer Tory MP Julian Sturdy asked in the Commons if the President of the COP 26 climate change conference, Alok Sharma, agreed “that net zero should be achieved through rolling-out low carbon technology and scientific solutions, such as the gene editing Bill, rather than measures that dampen economic growth and depress living standards?"

Alok Sharma replied that this was “absolutely right. Green technologies and innovations are what is going to help us achieve the net zero target.” He agreed that gene editing, which allows for more food to be produced from crops and animals using fewer resources, was a good example of this.

Call for Wales gene-edited crops to fight 'food crisis'

BBC News

21 July 2022

Some farmers claim the Welsh government should drop its opposition to gene-editing crops to help tackle a looming food crisis.

Legislation is proposed for England to allow gene-edited plants and animals to be grown and raised for food.

There are no similar plans in Wales, and one farmer in Pembrokeshire said the technology could help produce crops that can withstand extreme weather.

Thousands of hectares of farmland lost to development since 2010

Farming UK

20 July 2022

England’s future food security has been called into question after losing productive farmland capable of feeding two million people their five a day.

New research by CPRE, the countryside charity, found almost 14,500 hectares of farmland has been permanently lost to development since 2010.

The lost farmland could grow at least 250,000 tonnes of vegetables a year based on typical yields. There was an exponential rise in Best and Most Versatile (BMV) farmland set aside for housing and industry between 2010 and 2022, from 60 hectares to more than 6,000ha per year.

Top Oxford plant scientist calls for bold Government action on crop genetic research

AA Farmer

20 July 2022

Faced with an urgent need to drive improvements in the productivity, resilience and climate impact of British agriculture, leading plant scientist Professor Jane Langdale CBE FRS, University of Oxford – who led and authored a major review of UK plant science last year – has called on the next Prime Minister to prioritise investment in crop genetic research as the primary driver of productivity gains in agriculture.

Writing on the Science for Sustainable Agriculture website, Professor Langdale asks why, in its plans for R&D funding, the UK Government is spending 20 times more on digital and precision farming projects such as robotic harvesters, AI and sensor technology than it invests in long-term, strategic crop genetic research.