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Key developments in science and technology in agriculture.


Major farm carbon calculators commit to harmonisation

Farmers Weekly

23 June 2024

Three leading carbon calculator providers have agreed to harmonise their different methodologies for monitoring greenhouse gas emissions on farm.

Farm Carbon Toolkit, Agrecalc, and Cool Farm Alliance have all signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU), which will see the companies work closer together on their carbon calculation products.

NFU president Tom Bradshaw took to social media to welcome the initiative. He said: “Harmonisation of carbon calculators is absolutely essential in delivering accurate, repeatable and representative results.”

Plant breeders fear gene editing could be “derailed” by election

Farmers Weekly

18 June 2024

Plant scientists are demanding the next government prioritise the introduction of gene editing, to help accelerate the development of crops with increased yields, improved climate resilience and reduced environmental footprints.

Niab chief executive Mario Caccamo told a Westminter Forum on Monday (17 June) that, despite the Precision Breeding Act being passed more than a year ago, the required secondary legislation had not yet been implemented.

Even though Defra and Food Standards Agency officials had prepared the necessary implementing rules, the “unexpected hiatus” caused by the early general election announcement had derailed the process. Prof Caccamo said that was “hugely disappointing”. Without the secondary legislation, the Act remains an “empty shell” and serves no functional purpose.

New permit paves way for drone pesticide applications

Farming UK

6 June 2024

Applying plant protection products from drones has moved a step closer after a regulator granted a trials permit for a slug pellet product.

The decision paves the way for an Extension of Authorisation for Minor Use (EAMU) and the first commercial application of a pesticide to food or feed crops in the UK by drone.

The development is off the back of two years’ work by Staffordshire-based tech firm AutoSpray Systems, which first identified a market for heavy lift drones in farming back in 2019.

Frontier Agriculture invests in CCm Technologies' 'carbon negative' fertiliser

Business Green

3 June 2024

UK-based crop production giant Frontier Agriculture has today announced it has invested in CCm Technologies, a technology company which has developed a low-carbon fertiliser to help farmers across the country reduce their emissions.

CCm Technologies' technology combines captured carbon dioxide from the atmosphere with recycled nutrients from other agricultural waste, such as livestock manure and digestates to produce "organo-mineral fertiliser".

Its fertiliser - CCm Growth - contains nitrogen, phosphate, and potash which are found in typical fertilisers, but also contains fibre which helps to deliver organic matter and carbon back to the soil, so as to improve soil health and sustainability.

UK is falling behind China in the race to eradicate crop diseases, British scientists warn

The Telegraph

29 May 2024

British scientists have warned the UK is falling behind China in the race to eradicate crop diseases after Beijing granted a milestone approval this month for the country’s first ever edited wheat genome.

The fast-tracked go ahead for the genome edit, which gives wheat resistance to a common fungal infection called powdery mildew, has been hailed by the science community as a “massive step” towards improving food security in the world’s largest wheat producer and consumer.

Experts say the gene editing process, which is distinct from genetic modification as it does not insert foreign DNA, also promises significant environmental benefits as it would allow farmers to cut back on agro-chemicals.

‘A catastrophe’: Greenpeace blocks planting of lifesaving golden rice

The Observer

25 May 2024

Scientists have warned that a court decision to block the growing of the genetically modified (GM) crop golden rice in the Philippines could have catastrophic consequences. Tens of thousands of children could die in the wake of the ruling, they argue.

The Philippines had become the first country – in 2021 – to approve the commercial cultivation of golden rice, which was developed to combat vitamin-A deficiency, a major cause of disability and death among children in many parts of the world.

But campaigns by Greenpeace and local farmers last month persuaded the country’s court of appeal to overturn that approval and to revoke this. The groups had argued that golden rice had not been shown to be safe and the claim was backed by the court, a decision that was hailed as “a monumental win” by Greenpeace.

Belgium makes last-ditch bid for deal on GMO deregulation


21 May 2024

Belgium is looking to break a deadlock among EU governments over a proposed easing of regulation for GMO crops produced using the latest gene editing techniques, by addressing concerns over the patenting of novel seed varieties by agribusinesses.

Belgian officials have proposed that patented plant strains should be excluded from light-touch regulation for genetically modified crops produced using modern DNA editing technology, as the current holder of the EU Council presidency seeks to clinch agreement on new rules before its term expires at the end of June.

Under the compromise suggested by Belgium, to be discussed by government delegates on 22 May in an agriculture working group, applicants would have to demonstrate that a strain created with new genomic techniques (NGT) is not protected by any patents in any EU member states, and “commit not to exercise their rights on the NGT plant in the European Union as long as it is declared category 1 NGT plant status”.

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%.

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