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Key developments in science and technology in agriculture.


Consumers value animal welfare more than green issues, study says

Farming UK

16 May 2024

Animal welfare rates higher than environmental issues when consumers choose meat and dairy products, a new study suggests. While consumers consider sustainability important, other factors such as taste, quality, and animal welfare take precedence in their purchasing decisions.

The study was conducted across five European countries - Czech Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK - to identify the attributes that are most important to consumers buying meat or dairy products.

Across all surveyed countries, consumers consistently prioritised freshness, quality/taste, and animal welfare as the most important attributes. In contrast, environmental factors such as food miles, carbon footprint, and organic production were deemed less important in influencing purchasing decisions.

UK farms must grow more fruit and veg for food security

BBC News

14 May 2024

Farmers need to grow more fruit and vegetables to ensure the UK is not overly reliant on foreign imports, the government has warned. A new national food security index, which tracks overall production - found that just 17% of fruit and 55% of vegetables are grown in the UK.

New funding for growers was announced at a Downing Street food supply summit. Critics say the £80m scheme does not go far enough to support farmers hit by extreme weather and rising costs.The National Farmers' Union (NFU) warned that many of its members feared they would go bankrupt before they received the benefits of the extra funding.

Wet winter could cut UK food self sufficiency by nearly 10%

Farming UK

13 May 2024

UK food production could be reduced by nearly a tenth as farmers across the country have been hit by one of the wettest winters on record, new analysis warns. Estimates show that the projected reduction in key arable crops as a result of lower crop area and poor yields will reduce UK self-sufficiency across all farming sectors by 8% when measured by volume.

According to the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), this is a decline from an average of 86% between 2018 and 2022 to 78% this year. The UK could become dependent on foreign imports for around a third of its wheat, with wheat self-sufficiency estimated to decline from 92% in the same period to 68%.

Agritech expert welcomes new £50m support for horticulture

Farmers Guardian

11 May 2024

The Government's decision to invest £50 million to advance the adoption of automation in crop packing and harvesting in the horticulture sector has been welcomed by a leading name in agri-food technology.

Professor Simon Pearson, founding director of the Lincoln Institute for Agri-food Technology at the University of Lincoln and co-chair of the independent Automation in Horticulture Review in 2022 with Defra Secretary of State George Eustice, said the move was ‘significant' and would ‘drive productivity' in the sector.

In a bid to boost the growing industry, the Government has committed to providing £50 million of further funding for new technology to support fully automated packhouses. It also promised there would be more support to follow to bring robotic crop pickers on a par with human pickers in three to five years.

China approves first gene-edited wheat in step to open up GM tech to food crops


8 May 2024

China has approved the safety of gene-edited wheat for the first time as Beijing cautiously moves forward with commercial growing of genetically modified food crops.

China has in the past year ramped up approvals of genetically modified (GM) corn and soybean seeds that are higher-yielding and resistant to insects and herbicide to secure its food security, but the uptake remains slow and cautious due to concerns about the impact to health and ecology.

The approval for the gene-edited disease-resistant wheat is seen as a milestone, as the ingredient - used to make pasta, noodles and bread - is predominantly grown in China for food consumption. China is the world's largest wheat producer and consumer.

France revamps pesticide reduction plan in wake of farmer unrest


7 May 2024

France unveiled on Monday a revised plan to halve pesticide use in the European Union’s biggest agricultural producer, pledging to adopt an EU indicator and boost research into alternatives in a nod to grievances voiced in farmer protests this year.

Environmental regulation was one of the main factors behind protests that swept France and parts of Europe, unsettling governments in the run-up to European elections. The French authorities have responded with extra aid and plans to simplify environmental rules, echoing steps taken at EU level. Ecology associations have attacked a watering down of European standards.

The new plan aims to halve pesticide use by 2030 compared to the 2011-2013 period on the basis of an EU indicator, called HRI1, which takes into account the chemical’s toxicity. The previous indicator, called NODU, applied by France simply calculated the volume of pesticides per hectare. Under the new indicator, France has already achieved a reduction of about 30 per cent, the government says.

‘Russian fertiliser is the new gas’ for Europe, top producer warns

Financial Times

1 May 2024

Europe is “sleep walking” into becoming dependent on Russian fertiliser, just as it did with gas, says one of the largest producers of crop nutrients.

Nitrogen fertilisers, which are important to plant growth, are made using natural gas and Russia is exporting more of it to Europe, replacing some of the gas banned by the EU, said Svein Tore Holsether, chief executive of Yara International, one of the world’s largest producers of nitrogen-based mineral fertilisers.

“Fertiliser is the new gas,” Holsether said. “It is a paradox that the aim is to reduce Europe’s dependency on Russia, and then now we are sleepwalking into handing over critical food and fertilising power to Russia.”

Scientists work to make healthier white bread

BBC News

1 May 2024

Scientists are trying to create a new type of bread that is just as healthy as wholemeal but looks and tastes like its white counterpart.

Aimed at lovers of white bread, the project has been funded by the government to improve the health benefits of UK food.

The researchers plan to add small amounts of peas, beans and cereals to the bread mix, as well as bran and wheat germ that are normally removed from white flour.

Conservation slowing biodiversity loss, scientists say

BBC News

26 April 2024

Conservation actions are effective at reducing global biodiversity loss, according to a major study.

International researchers spent 10 years looking at measures, from hatching Chinook salmon to eradication of invasive algae.

The authors said their findings offered a "ray of light" for those working to protect threatened animals and plants.

Wet weather drives food security up the political agenda

Farmers Weekly

20 April 2024

Months of relentless rain has moved food security right up the political agenda and put farmers in a stronger position with policymakers, according to former Climate Change Committee chairman and past Defra secretary Lord Deben.

Addressing the recent Future of Farming conference at Plumpton College in East Sussex, he said one of the few certainties in farming was that winters were going to get wetter and summers hotter – which both had implications for food production.

“The consequence is that there is going to be a greater pressure on food production that we have ever seen in our lifetimes,” he said. “The truth of the matter is that food security is absolutely central.”

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