|Prof Sir John Beddington, |
Cabot Institute External Advisory Board Chair
|Prof Jane Memmott, University of Bristol|
The Agri-Tech industry is currently worth just under £100 billion to the UK economy. Last year, we exported £18 billion of food, animal feed and drink, including £3.7 billion of fresh produce and 15 million tonnes of wheat, making us one of the top 12 food and drink exporters in the world. This came with a price tag of around £450 million spent by the government on research and development in agriculture last year. In addition at least a further £100 million was spent by private companies like Syngenta, who opened a state of the art wheat-breeding facility in January of this year. The government hopes to see the UK become a world leader not just in food production but in agricultural technology, innovation and sustainability.
The new Agri-Tech strategy aims to vitalise the farming industry with a cash injection of £160 million. This money will go towards improving the application of research into real gains in farming, and at enhancing the declining infrastructure that supports the livestock industry. For instance, the number of dairy farms in the UK has halved over the last decade. The research funding pot includes £70 million to establish a partnership between the Technology Strategy Board and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. The new Agri-Tech Catalyst organisation will be aimed at translating research into best practice by supporting firms bringing their new technology to market. This builds on the €2.8 billion commitment made by the European Commission in 2011 to establish a Knowledge Innovation Community (KIC) to drive innovation of technology in agriculture and food processing.
The other main investment is £90 million over the next five years that has been ear-marked as funding for several regional Centres for Agricultural Innovation, aimed at bringing cutting edge science like better pesticides and climate adapted crops into the fields. It is hoped that these Centres will lead research into the development and exploitation of new technology and processes, focussing research on sustainable intensification. They will also contribute to educating and training a skilled workforce to bring the results of research into the field.
Not everybody’s reaction to the new plans has been completely positive. Tom MacMillan of the (organic food and farming) Soil Associationhttp://www.soilassociation.org/news/newsstory/articleid/5647/press-comment-governments-new-agri-tech-strategy worried that investment would concentrate on unpopular technologies such as GM farming. Other areas of research such as agroecology (the ecological study of food systems) that do not lead to technology that can be commercialised may lose out on funding. However many groups such as the British Growers Association, the Society of Biology and the UK Plant Sciences Federation have come out in whole-hearted support of the new plans.
This blog has been written by Boo Lewis, Biological Sciences, University of Bristol.
|Boo Lewis, Cabot Institute blogger|