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Key developments in science and technology in agriculture.


Take soil as seriously as air and water to protect food supply and environment, MPs urge

House of Commons EFRA Committee

5 December 2023

Today (5 December 2023), on World Soil Day, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) publishes the report to its inquiry into soil health.

Soil is vital to sustaining life on Earth, producing our food and sustaining rich ecosystems. Yet in recent years soil in the UK has become heavily degraded through over-use, erosion, compaction, or pollution. The EFRA Committee’s inquiry examined how the Government can turn the tide on soil degradation.

The Committee’s report calls for soil health to be put on the same footing as water and air quality within government policy, and calls for statutory targets on soil health, alongside the existing water and air quality targets, by 2028. This will need to be underpinned by data, agreed soil health indicators and widely accepted definitions of ‘sustainable soil management’.

British-grown baked beans enter tinning phase after successful farm trials

Farming UK

1 December 2023

British baked beans grown using innovative methods have progressed to the tinning phase, with researchers hailing it as a step towards sustainable, UK-sourced food options.

A specially bred haricot bean, grown in Lincolnshire with the help of Warwick University, are the first UK bean that can be used as baked beans. Previously, baked beans have had to be imported from as far as South America and China.

The beans are now grown on a commercial scale at a farm in Lincolnshire following 12 years of research. Warwick University scientists hope that the baked bean breakthrough will reduce the reliance on imports.

Food prices could see 'further increases' in 2024 due to climate change

Farming UK

27 November 2023

Food price inflation remains at 10% with prices still near record highs, but the situation could worsen next year as El Niño and climate change continues, a report warns.

As energy prices have come down in 2023, climate costs have gone up compared to last year, scientists at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) say.

Climate change now accounts for a third of all food price inflation, according to their new research. The continuing of the El Niño weather phenomenon, on top of climate change, could lead to more severe climate impacts and further increases in food prices in 2024, the report warns.

EU parliament strikes down pesticide law

Financial Times

23 November 2023

EU lawmakers have rejected a proposal to cut by half pesticide use within the bloc after a backlash from rightwing politicians and farmers.

The European parliament on Wednesday voted down the pesticides regulation by a big majority. It was one of the key outstanding pieces of the bloc’s Green Deal climate law, which aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions within the EU by 55 per cent by 2030 as well as improve biodiversity and ecosystems.

The rejection — a highly unusual occurrence — means the European Commission must consider withdrawing the proposal. Votes were 299 against the regulation, with 207 in favour and 121 abstentions.

World-leading scientists to maximise indoor farming’s potential to feed millions

Hort News

22 November 2023

A world-first international research network designed to bring together leading minds in crop and data science as well as multiple engineering disciplines has been established to drive innovation in vertical farming, a technology that can dramatically improve global food security.

Vertical farm infrastructure enables producers to grow crops regardless of climate, weather or environmental conditions such as soil health. It is a crucial tool in helping the world sustainably feed a growing population, improving food security and reducing food miles while catering to local needs and tastes.

Launched by agritech infrastructure business and vertical farm innovator, Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS), the research network so far spans four continents, bringing together the brightest minds in plant science, data science, horticulture, forestry and engineering to continue to broaden the application of vertical farming technology and the range of its applications.

New UK centre launched to tackle food security and climate change

Farming UK

21 November 2023

Scientists will carry out research into plant breeding and animal nutrition to increase agricultural productivity as part of a new centre announced by the prime minister.

The UK-CGIAR centre was launched by Rishi Sunak at a global food security summit hosted by Number 10 on Monday (20 November).

Mr Sunak said: “We’re launching a new UK-CGIAR centre to drive cutting edge research on flood tolerant rice, disease resistant wheat and much more. "These innovations will reach millions across the poorest countries as well as improving UK crop yields and driving down food prices.”

Glyphosate reauthorised for further ten years in EU

Farming UK

16 November 2023

The European Commission has confirmed it will reauthorise the weedkiller glyphosate for another 10 years, subject to certain new conditions and restrictions.

During a vote at the Appeal Committee, member states did not reach the required qualified majority to renew or reject its approval at the Appeal Committee.

In line with EU legislation and in the absence of the required majority in either direction, the Commission decided to renew glyphosate for a further ten years.

UK needs independent food security committee, AIC says

Farmers Weekly

15 November 2023

New government farm support schemes weighted towards the environment and the countryside risk UK food security, a major new report suggests.

The independent report, commissioned by the Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC) and launched at its annual conference, warns that none of the planned or ratified agricultural policies in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are “food-centric”.

Its author, Marcus Bellet-Travers, of Anglia Ruskin University, is concerned it could make them hostile to food security and dietary-health policies.

Land demand set to soar as need for feed, food and fuel grows

Farmers Guardian

10 November 2023

Fields equating to the size of Brazil's arable land will have to be set aside if the world's demand for food, feed, fuel and natural capital is to be reached, a new report has revealed.

According to the study, Striking the Balance: Catalysing a Sustainable Land Use Transition, by 2030 growing feed for livestock may account for around 70 per cent of all incremental arable land while crop production for human consumption will take 20 per cent with biofuel production needing the remaining 10 per cent.

The report, which has been published by global management firm McKinsey & Company, estimated that 70 to 80 million hectares of additional arable land will be required by the end of the decade.

Scientists to freeze six key UK crops to help safeguard food security

Farming UK

6 November 2023

Scientists are deploying cryotechnology to help keep key UK crops secure at very cold temperatures in a bid to safeguard food security and improve yields.

The construction of the UK Crop Microbiome Cryobank (UK-CMCB) – the first publicly available resource of its kind anywhere in the world – is now complete after three years of research.

Scientists from the UK’s agricultural research institutes created the facility to safeguard future research and enable yield improvement for the six crops. The Cryobank hopes to facilitate the sustainable yield improvement of six major crops including barley, oats, oilseed rape, potato, sugar beet and wheat.

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