Science & Technology News
Key developments in science and technology in agriculture.
Lords call for farm advisory service to help achieve net zero
28 January 2022
A House of Lords committee is demanding a national training and advisory service to help farmers and land managers navigate the “new and complex funding landscape” of Defra’s post-Brexit agri-environment schemes.
A report from the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee published on Thursday (27 January) also calls for policy clarity, urgent investment in research, and skills training.
Without these actions, the report warns, government plans for nature-based solutions are at “severe risk of failure”, putting net zero by 2050 at risk as well as undermining the agricultural sector.
Climate change: Key crops face major shifts as world warms
27 January 2022
The parts of the world suitable for growing coffee, cashews and avocados will change dramatically as the world heats up, according to a new study. Key coffee regions in Brazil, Indonesia, Vietnam and Colombia will all "drastically decrease" by around 50% by 2050.
Suitable areas for cashews and avocados will increase but most will be far from current sites of production. The authors say that greater efforts must be made to help farmers adapt.
PM slammed for 'political interference' in farm policy development
26 January 2022
NFU president Minette Batters has hit out at Prime Minister Boris Johnson for his political interference in agricultural policy development.
She said she felt the Government considered competent, technical policy to be ’boring’, and that Ministers preferred emotionally engaging policies which were ’absolutely useless’ in a practical sense.
‘Risk aversion’ in FSA and ‘foot-dragging’ at Defra holding back farming progress
24 January 2022
A culture of ‘total risk aversion’ in the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and ‘foot-dragging’ in Defra is holding back progress in the farming sector, industry leaders have warned.
Easing the regulatory burden on farming businesses was a key Brexit manifesto pledge set out by the Conservative Government, but the National Sheep Association (NSA) said it had failed to follow through on key issues such as splitting sheep carcases which would save the industry about £24 million a year.
EU policies led to collapse of UK's OSR crop, report says
26 January 2022
EU policies led to the collapse of the oilseed rape crop in the UK and Europe, according to a new report released today by Dr Patricia Ortega-Ramos from Rothamsted Research.
The bloc's climate change polices initially rewarded the widespread planting of oilseed rape, the world’s most important vegetable oil after soybean.
But subsequent pesticide laws have ultimately led to very large yield losses across the continent in recent years. This collapse of oilseed rape farming in the UK and Europe had led to a reliance on imported oils – including palm oil.
£25m fund to help farmers invest in productivity boosting agritech
21 January 2022
Farmers and growers in England can benefit from up to £500,000 in Government funding to invest in agritech solutions which could help boost their businesses and shore up food production.
Grants ranging from £35,000 are available to invest in productivity-boosting equipment such as driverless tractors, cutting edge robots that harvest, spray crops and weed, and automated milking systems.
However, with a limited selection of farm-ready robots on the market it is doubtful whether the move will help alleviate some of the major issues facing the industry, such as the labour crisis.
False banana: Is Ethiopia's enset 'wondercrop' for climate change?
21 January 2022
Scientists say the plant enset, an Ethiopian staple, could be a new superfood and a lifesaver in the face of climate change. The banana-like crop has the potential to feed more than 100 million people in a warming world, according to a new study.
The plant is almost unknown outside of Ethiopia, where it is used to make porridge and bread. Research suggests the crop can be grown over a much larger range in Africa.
"This is a crop that can play a really important role in addressing food security and sustainable development," said Dr Wendawek Abebe of Hawassa University in Awasa, Ethiopia.
New powers for gene edited crops
20 January 2022
New legislation in England to cut red tape for gene edited crop research has come into force. Under the simplified rules, scientists will no longer have to seek permission from Defra to carry out field trials using genetic technologies such as gene editing.
However, researchers will still need to notify Defra of field trials, and plants will still be classified as GMOs meaning commercial cultivation of these plants, and any food products derived from them, will still need to be authorised in accordance with existing rules.
'Animal sentience committee' could 'attack' farming, MPs fear
20 January 2022
MPs and rural groups have warned that the proposed 'animal sentience committee' could be used to 'attack' farming, pest control and wildlife management.
The bill, which is only six clauses long, recognises that animals are sentient beings and creates a body to oversee UK ministers’ efforts to take account of their welfare needs when drawing up and implementing policy.
Rural campaigners, peers and MPs have warned that without sufficient safeguards, the committee risks being ‘hijacked’ by animal rights extremists who could use it to attack against farming and pest control.
Defra approves neonics seed treatment for sugar beet crops
17 January 2022
Defra has granted the English sugar beet industry an emergency authorisation to use neonicotinoid-treated seed due to the risk posed by virus yellows.
For the 2022 sugar beet planting season, growers will be allowed to use seed treated with Syngenta’s neonicotinoid Cruiser SB (thiamethoxam) to stave off the threat of virus yellows, which is spread mainly by aphids and can result in yield losses of up to 50%.
Announcing the decision, Defra secretary George Eustice said he had considered the joint application from NFU and British Sugar and decided the emergency authorisation should be granted subject to strict conditions.