Science & Technology News
Key developments in science and technology in agriculture.
National Food Strategy calls for historic reforms to build a 'better food system for a healthier nation'
15 July 2021
A new National Food Strategy has today called on the Government to invest £1bn in research and development to help improve the national diet, develop sustainable farming practices and protect the environment.
In a landmark report commissioned by the Government in 2019 as the basis for its post-Brexit food strategy, food entrepreneur Henry Dimbleby calls on the Government to commit to a historic package of reforms in order to build a ‘better food system for a healthier nation’.
The strategy highlights how poor diets contribute to around 64,000 deaths every year in England alone, costing the economy an estimated £74 billion, and sets out how diets will need to change over the next 10 years in order to meet the Government’s existing targets on health, climate and nature.
Agriculture prices to ease but hunger and climate goals are far off - FAO/OECD
5 July 2021
Food commodities are likely to become cheaper in the coming decade as productivity grows, but global targets on reducing hunger and emissions are unlikely to be met under current policies, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation and the OECD said on Monday.
Agricultural commodity prices have surged since last year due to a boom in Chinese imports and tightening inventories, leading the FAO last month to forecast record costs in 2021 for food importers.
However, prices of most agricultural commodities should fall slightly in real terms in the decade ahead, reverting to a long-term trend of improving production meeting rising demand from a growing population, the FAO and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said in a joint report.
UK government's 'toothless policies' failing to protect nature
30 June 2021
A committee of MPs has lambasted the UK government's approach to nature, saying it is failing to stem huge losses of plants and species. Their report says that the UK has the lowest remaining levels of biodiversity among the world's richer nations.
The MPs say the government spends far more on exploiting the natural environment than it does conserving it. They're calling for legally binding targets for nature similar to the UK's climate laws.
Insect protein could cut UK’s soya use by one-fifth says Tesco
30 June 2021
Supermarket Tesco is putting pressure on the UK government to accelerate the use of insect protein in animal feed as a way of reducing the agri-food sector’s environmental footprint.
A new report, commissioned by Tesco and environment group World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), estimates that using insect meal to feed fish and livestock could cut the UK’s future soy footprint by one-fifth.
It suggests total demand for insect meal from the UK’s pig, poultry and salmon sectors could reach 540,000t/year by 2050, potentially replacing 16,000t of fishmeal and 524,000t of soya – equivalent to about 150,000ha of land.
Ministers 'should urge public to eat less meat'
24 June 2021
The UK public should be urged by the government to protect the climate by eating less meat and dairy produce, advisers say.
Cattle are a major source of planet-heating gases, but ministers fear a backlash if they ask people to cut down on steak. But the Climate Change Committee (CCC) says people should reduce meat-eating for their health, as well as for the planet.
It says the issue's one of many failings of a government which is delivering only a fifth of its pledges on climate change. People should be asked to eat 20% less meat and dairy produce by 2030, and 35% less by 2050, the CCC insists.
PM's research plan to make UK 'science superpower'
21 June 2021
The prime minister has set out plans to cement the UK's place as a "science superpower". Boris Johnson announced how increases in the research budget would be spent.
He will chair a new National Science and Technology Council to provide "strategic direction" on how research is harnessed for the "public good". And Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser to the government, will lead a new Office for Science and Technology Strategy.
Gene editing is a big opportunity for UK farmers
The Scottish Farmer
20 June 2021
Westminster’s efforts to identify post-Brexit business opportunities have concluded that the UK should embrace gene edited crops now it is no longer party to the European Union's limitations on biotech.
The proposal was one of 120 recommendations contained in a report issued by Prime Minister Johnson's Task Force on Innovation Growth and Regulatory Reform (TIGRR), which argued that Brexit offered a ‘one-off opportunity’ to develop new domestic regulations to 'boost productivity, encourage competition and stimulate innovation'.
TIGRR's report has been welcomed by the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Science and Technology in Agriculture, Julian Sturdy MP, who said it was a 'major step forward' in liberating the UK’s strengths in agricultural science and innovation.
Swiss voters reject plans to ban synthetic pesticides
14 June 2021
Switzerland has rejected proposals that would have made it the first European country to ban the use of synthetic pesticides in agriculture. The provisional results of a nationwide referendum on Sunday (13 June) revealed that 60.6% of voters rejected proposals to outlaw artificial pesticides.
The initiative – For a Switzerland free from synthetic pesticides – was launched by Future 3, a citizens’ group led by a vinter and a soil biology professor from Neuchatel University. It had sought a domestic ban within 10 years, and a ban on imports of food crops grown using such pesticides.
Space technology breaks down farmland use in Scotland
10 June 2021
Space technology has helped create a new interactive map breaking down agricultural land use in Scotland. Crops in every field farmed have been recorded by satellite imagery from the European Space Agency's (ESA) Copernicus Satellite Programme.
The Scottish Crop Map uses data from 2019 to predict the crop types using radar images and to recognise the crops growing in nearly 400,000 fields in Scotland. The map has been developed by the Scottish government working in collaboration with EDINA at the University of Edinburgh.
Turning drinking water into liquid fertiliser
9 June 2021
Scientists have refined a transformational process that allows nitrate to be captured from drinking water for use in agriculture as a liquid fertiliser.
The NTPlus project, focuses on how nitrates can be efficiently removed from drinking water for use as a resource, rather than disposal as a waste.
In doing so, this can decrease agriculture’s dependence on the carbon-intensive Haber-Bosch and Mannheim fertiliser manufacturing processes.
'Machine learning' to help predict dairy cow intakes
7 June 2021
A new project is looking at how machine learning could help predict the intakes of dairy cows - a key research objective for many years.
Scientists in the UK are examining a 'precision feeding' approach for dairy cows as part of a new machine learning project.
Being able to improve the accuracy to predict the intakes of dairy cows, either for the whole herd or for individual cows, has been a key research objective for years.
Scientists call for international investment to tackle major wheat losses
27 May 2021
Leading scientific experts are calling for governments around the world to come together and fund a new international research platform, to reduce the impact of major wheat pathogens and improve global food security.
The John Innes Centre is calling for an internationally coordinated approach to deliver a new ‘R-Gene Atlas’, which would help identify new genetic solutions conferring disease resistance for crops that could be bred into commercial wheat varieties.
Globally, we lose one fifth of the projected wheat yield annually to pests and pathogens totalling losses of 209 million tonnes, worth £22 billion, according to JIC.
New bovine TB policy will jeopardise ability to control disease
27 May 2021
The government has today responded to its consultation on the future bovine TB (bTB) strategy and confirmed it will no longer license new intensive badger culls after 2022, alongside shortening and restricting supplementary badger cull licensing.
The NFU does not support the measures because it goes against the science and evidence, which shows badger culling is an effective measure to control the spread of bTB, alongside other controls.
Prince Charles: small-scale family farms must be at heart of sustainable future
23 May 2021
The Prince of Wales has called for small family farmers in the UK and across the world to come together in a cooperative movement using sustainable farming methods, and for their plight to be at the centre of environmental action.
Small farmers, in the UK and EU, are facing their biggest upheavals in more than a generation, with the loss of farm subsidies and new post-Brexit trade deals in the UK, and sweeping reforms to the EU’s common agricultural policy to be announced this week in Brussels.
Researchers apply for licence to grow gene edited wheat
17 May 2021
Researchers in the UK have applied to the government for a licence to carry out field trials of gene edited (GE) wheat. The plan is for a five-year project ending in 2026, with plants being sown in September or October each year and harvested the following September.
This application follows previous GM wheat and camelina trials carried out by Rothamsted Research across two sites in Hertfordshire and Suffolk over the last 10 years.
The new project involves wheat in which the concentration of an amino acid called asparagine has been reduced in the grain using CRISPR, a GE technique
Plant breeding 'vital for sustainable agriculture'
17 May 2021
Plant breeding has a pivotal contribution to make for sustainable agriculture across Europe in the coming years as pressure ramps up to reduce chemical inputs, a major new report has claimed.
The 327-page report, released in Brussels by independent scientific consultancy HFFA Research, concludes that innovation in European plant breeding has also contributed significantly to wider socio-economic and environmental goals such as improved farm incomes, food price stability, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and conservation of key natural resources such as land, water and biodiversity.
UK scientists develop climate-resilient low-water beans
5 May 2021
British scientists have engineered beans that could use up to 40% less water and are able to grow better in droughty conditions.
The team of researchers working at the University of Sheffield’s Institute for Sustainable Food said it was a “huge step forward” in the search for climate-resilient crops.
The Pod Yield Project examined the differences between the common bean and the tepary bean, a variety which has been naturally grown in Mesoamerica and Mexico for thousands of years.
EU confirms sustainability benefits of gene editing
3 May 2021
New genomic techniques (NGTs) can contribute to sustainable food systems with crops more resistant to diseases and climate change, a long-awaited EU study concludes. The European Commission said the techniques - which alter the genome of plants and animals - also had the potential to make farming more climate-friendly.
At the same time, the study found that the current bloc's GMO legislation, adopted in 2001, 'is not fit for purpose for these innovative technologies'. The Commission will now start a consultation process to discuss the design of a new legal framework for the biotechnologies.
British plant breeders have welcomed the findings of the study, with crop science organisation NIAB calling it 'great news' for farmers and growers.
EU calls for rethink of GMO rules for gene-edited crops
29 April 2021
The European Commission launched a review of EU rules on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on Thursday, opening the door to a possible loosening of restrictions for plants resulting from gene-editing technology.
Prompted by a 2018 ruling from the European Union's top court that techniques to alter the genome of an organism should be governed by existing EU rules, the Commission concluded that its 2001 legislation was "not fit for purpose".
A 117-page Commission study found that new genomic techniques (NGTs) had the potential to contribute to sustainable food, while acknowledging there were concerns about safety, the environmental impact and the issue of labelling.
RAGT and Bayer announce joint plan to develop hybrid wheat
27 April 2021
RAGT and Bayer have entered an exclusive collaboration to jointly develop state-of-the-art hybrid wheat varieties suitable for UK and Ireland markets.
The new partnership aims to provide arable farmers in the UK and Europe with new high-potential wheat varieties to enhance sustainable agricultural practices and climate-friendly farming.
Securing the wheat harvests through hybrid wheat production systems that help increase yield and robustness of the crop “will help meet the expected increase in food consumption to feed a growing world population”, said Bayer and RAGT, announcing the collaboration.