Farming industry outlines research priorities

A GROUP of farming industry bodies have set out agriculture’s research and development priorities focus over the next two decades.

A document launched today (Thursday June 6), ‘Feeding the Future – Innovation Requirements for Primary Food Production in the UK to 2030’, called for a fresh focus on research development that improves the precision and efficiency of key agricultural practices.

It also called on public and private sector research institutions to embrace ‘modern genetic and breeding approaches’ for crops and farm animals.

The report, edited by Professor Chris Pollock of Aberystwyth University, identifies eight research priorities and five recommendations (see below), intended to boost the efficiency and productivity of farming to meet the food security challenges of the next 20 years.

The report will be presented to major funders of research from the private and public sectors, including the Government as it prepares to unveil its new agri-tech strategy.

The project 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).

Professor Pollock said: “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.”

Jim Godfrey, a farmer member of the JCG and initiator of the Feeding the Future process, said: “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.” 

AHDB chief executive Tom Taylor said: “This document has to be the reference manual for our policy makers and funding providers for the next two decades.”

Echoing those comments, NFU president Peter Kendall added: “This report clearly articulates what farmers need science to deliver if we are to achieve productivity improvements on the ground.

NFU Scotland president Nigel Miller said: “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.”

Feeding the Future: Eight research priorities: 

  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 field-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.

And five recommendations 

  • 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.


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