10 Jan 2013
The UK government plans to develop an Agri-Tech Strategy to address the pressure agriculture is under to deliver more food and raw materials in an environmentally, socially and economically sustainable way.
In October 2012, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills put out a call for evidence-based views and information to help shape the strategy, which will promote UK economic growth and international development, making best use of science and technologies relevant to agriculture.
SCI's BioResources Group contributed to the consultation, drawing on the wide-ranging experience of committee members and making reference to the group’s past programme of conferences. The group recommended a particular focus on a number of imperatives. Foremost is the need to change the often negative culture and perceptions embedded in government, consumers, and food processors and retailers with respect to technological developments which would allow the sustainable production of more and better quality food and raw materials. Other key topics to tackle include: enhancing the UK’s ability to nurture research projects to commercialisation and successful implementation in practice; reversing the decline in the UK’s competences and capabilities in education in the agrisciences and in extension services; and reviving the UK’s once world class standing in the fertilizer and crop protection industry sectors. Referring to the latter point, it was noted that a critical threat to crop productivity worldwide is posed by pest resistance to herbicides, fungicides and insecticides on the one hand and a dearth of truly innovative new crop protection molecules on the other.
A vision of successful implementation of the finalised strategy would include more people employed in agricultural R&D in the UK, especially in SMEs, through greater public and private investment to support new ventures; wider adoption of innovations in agriculture on UK and European farms; and a revival of agriscience courses and research in UK universities, including interest from ‘pure’ sciences in agri-tech problems. An example of the latter would be the search for more efficient catalysts for the production of nitrogen fertilizer.
The group felt that key to the strategy’s success would be not only financial incentives, but also interventions to improve the way in which agricultural technologies are portrayed in the media, and to influence EU partners to adopt more appropriate evidence and risk-based policies and regulations.
BioResources Group is now represented on the Government Chief Scientist’s agri-food chain stakeholder group, the Food Research Partnership, which will be providing further input into shaping the Agri-Tech Strategy.