New report seen as a ‘game-changer’ for future UK food production

New report seen as a ‘game-changer’ for future UK food production

Faced with the need to find a ‘game-changing’ solution to secure the future competitiveness of UK farming, a number of leading industry organisations have come together in an unprecedented move to establish the joint innovation priorities for the primary production sector for the next 20 years.

A document launched today (6th June) called Feeding the Future – Innovation Requirements for Primary Food Production in the UK to 2030 sets out, for the first time, what should be the industry’s chief research and development focus over two decades.

Identifying gaps in current research while scanning areas across agriculture and horticulture in need of further innovation, the report will be taken to major funders of research and development from both the public and private sectors. This includes the Government as it prepares to unveil its new agri-tech strategy.

The report was led by a Joint Commissioning Group (JCG) representing the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), NFU Scotland, the Royal Agricultural Society of England (RASE) and the Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC). The JCG was supported by the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), with Professor Chris Pollock of Aberystwyth University acting as independent editor of the report.

“This report paves the way for funding for longer-term, applied research that links different sectors of our industry. Food producers have tended to deal with today’s problems but we need to shift the research agenda to deliver for 2030,” said Professor Pollock.

Eight research priorities and five recommendations have been shaped through a series of workshops and parallel consultations with key industry stakeholders. The research priorities are put forward as a suite of proposals on which to focus future concerted action from funders:

1. Utilisation of modern technologies to improve the precision and efficiency of key agricultural management practices
2. Apply modern genetic and breeding approaches to improve the quality, sustainability, resilience and yield-led profitability of crops and farm animals
3. Use systems-based approaches to better understand and manage interactions between soil, water and crop/animal processes
4. Develop integrated approaches to the effective management of crop weeds, pests and diseases within farming systems
5. Develop integrated approaches to the management of animal disease within farming systems
6. Develop evidence-based approaches to value ecosystem service delivery by land users and incorporate these approaches into effective decision support systems at the enterprise or grouped enterprise level
7. Extend the training, professional development and communication channels for researchers, practitioners and advisors to promote delivery of the above targets
8. Improve the use of social and economic science to promote development, uptake and use of sustainable, resilient and profitable agricultural practice that can deliver affordable, safe and high-quality products.

The report’s five recommendations are focused on promoting a long-term programme of strategic and applied research:

· Levy bodies and other producer groups should look to encourage joint innovation programmes and attract additional investment from research councils, government departments, TSB, the EU and other funding agencies
· Producers should be given greater influence in the decision-making of government departments, research councils and, where appropriate, higher education institutes and research institutes to find integrated approaches to industry challenges rather than to promote narrow sectoral interests
· There needs to be a greater integrated approach to providing advice, training and skills – both for producers and the R&D and consultancy base – that acknowledges the increasing policy emphasis given to land-based issues of food production, alternative land use, climate change, adaptation and mitigation and the protection of natural capital
· The report’s implications for policy and strategy should be considered by both government and the funders of basic and strategic research. There needs to be consistency of policy and approach across different government departments with an interest in land and water use, food and energy production and the protection of natural capital
· Research funding decisions need to protect the UK’s capacity for scientific excellence while addressing skills shortages in key areas, such as soil science and applied crop sciences. There also needs to be a better balance between fundamental and applied research and closer contact between science, advisory and farmer communities.

Feeding the Future – How they see it

“This is the first time in my lifetime that UK primary producers have come together to identify their research and development priorities for the next 20 years. It is timely because government is developing its own agri-technology strategy to be launched in June and will be drawing on this report.”
Jim Godfrey
Farmer, member of the JCG and initiator of the Feeding the Future process

“With limited research funding available and with the clock ticking we believe it is vital to spell out the industry’s view on the research priorities for UK agriculture. This document has to be the reference manual for our policy makers and funding providers for the next two decades.”
Tom Taylor
Chief Executive

“From the supply industry’s perspective, I believe that identifying longer-term priorities for primary production will ensure that investment in research is made to deliver real benefit to the whole of UK Agriculture plc”
David Caffall
Chief Executive

“This report clearly articulates what farmers need science to deliver if we are to achieve productivity improvements on the ground. It must become a key reference document for both policy makers and funders over the coming years and we look forward to a boost in applied research and knowledge exchange making a major contribution to the performance of our farms.”
Peter Kendall

“Looking 20 years ahead into an era when food security and climate change will be pressing priorities shows that scientific and technological progress will be vital if we are to meet the challenges of securing production. Investment in the right R&D will open the door to the levels of precision that will be needed at farm level to drive both output and carbon efficiency.”
Nigel Miller
NFU Scotland

“This report clearly lays out the research requirements of famers. We hope that it will become a key reference document for both policy makers and funders over the coming years and we look forward to new applied research making a major contribution to the performance of our farms.”
David Gardner
Chief Executive

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