New research critical to address future food challenge

FUNDING for new research which will boost farming practices is vital if the UK is to meet the challenges of feeding an expanding population over the next 20 years, a leading scientist told the Institute of Agricultural Management conference in London.

Prof Chris Pollock, who was speaking about the findings of his study - Feeding the Future: Innovation Priorities for Primary Food Production in the UK to 2030 - outlined seven crucial research priorities for the future of food production in the UK.

He said British farmers needed a ‘united approach’ from Government, researchers and industry to develop new knowledge and technologies.

It comes after the 2011 Foresight Report highlighted a lack of research and development in agriculture and the urgent need to increase food production sustainably.

Prof Pollock said it was ‘critical’ the sector maintained scientific research, identified missing links in that research and took steps to replace them.

“The skills we have in higher education are not necessarily the skills we will need in 15 to 20 years’ time,” said Prof Pollock.

“Food producers have tended in recent years to deal with today’s problems. If we want to shift the research agenda to deliver for 2030, we need to make sure primary producers work together and with the funders of more basic research.”

Prof Pollock, who led the study on behalf of NFU, the Royal Agricultural Society of England, AHDB and AIC, added longer-term funding programmes were needed to link different sectors of the industry.  

He said modern technologies to improve precision and efficiency, including genetic and breeding programmes, were also ‘highly important’, as well as Governments working together on issues which affect land use.

United action

Prof Charles Godfray from Oxford University agreed action was needed ‘on all fronts’, adding agriculture needed to rise to the challenge of sustainable intensification.

NFU vice president Adam Quinney added: “This report marks the transition from talking to action. Its strength is in presenting a united message from all sectors of agriculture and horticulture by outlining the industry’s views on priorities for research and technology needed to meet the key food production challenges.

“Crucially, it will require buy-in from across the industry to ensure it gains momentum and achieves real change.”

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