Over 135 plant scientists, policymakers and educators from across the UK and further afield came together for the fourth annual UK PlantSci conference, held at Harper Adams University on 14th and 15th April.
The meeting hosted a diverse programme of talks and discussions addressing issues such as: how we will produce enough food to feed the world’s growing population; how to stop the introduction and spread of new plant pests and diseases; and how to preserve biodiversity and other natural resources.
The first day opened with a lively keynote lecture by Guy Smith, Vice President of the National Farmers Union and – according to Guinness World Records – farmer of the driest farm in the British Isles. He discussed the increasing volatilities and uncertainties that farmers now face, including unpredictable weather conditions and the loss of crop protection products from the European market. He emphasised the importance that farmers understand biodiversity on farms and work intelligently with science and technology to improve agricultural productivity and sustainability.
That afternoon featured a panel debate chaired by Anthea McIntyre, MEP for the West Midlands and member of the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee. The panel, comprised of representatives of four UKPSF working groups, summarised their recommendations for addressing priorities in relation to: (1) plant science training and skills, (2) translating plant science knowledge into applications, (3) regulatory frameworks and (4) investment in plant science.
McIntyre said, “Plant science is absolutely central to the challenges facing the 21st century, and UK plant sciences in particular are well positioned to respond to these challenges. The UK is internationally recognised for its excellence in this field but, given the magnitude of the challenges we face, there is now a pressing need to drive a step change in the benefits that plant sciences can offer society and the environment.”
The second day of the meeting began with a keynote talk by Professor Caroline Dean from the John Innes Centre, about her pioneering work on the seasonal control of flowering. She described how her interest in environmental cues had been inspired by her experience buying tulip bulbs in California, where she had worked as a postdoc.
The afternoon’s highlights included a Future generations session which featured six excellent presentations by early career researchers. Prizes for the best talks were awarded to Dr Ruth Le Fevre from the Sainsbury Laboratory in Cambridge, for her talk on “Plant traits underpinning microbial colonisation in barley” and PhD student Kirsty McInnes from the University of Glasgow, for her talk on “The molecular basis of herbivore resistance in Brassica napus.”