Today the Government announced its £160 million Agri-Tech strategy.
The UK has some of the world’s leading agricultural scientists, and we are pleased that the Government has chosen to invest in their work. The challenges facing global agriculture are huge and should not be underestimated. In order to feed a growing population in a changing climate yields will need to increase, as will agricultural knowledge, since existing varieties of crop and livestock may not continue to be suitable for the regions in which they are currently farmed. At the same time as increasing yields, we must work to minimise the negative impacts of agriculture on biodiversity, water, energy and natural resources. The commitment to agricultural developments that the UK Government has shown today is an essential first step. This investment, however, must continue if we are to keep pace with the challenges.
If our agri-tech industry is to maximise its potential, we must provide education and training to build a skilled workforce across the agri-food chain. We welcome the Government’s recognition of technical skills gaps in areas including agronomy and plant pathology, and its dedication to creating demand-led training provisions. However, academic institutions must receive stable funding to maintain the skills needed to deliver a well-rounded education.
It is essential that work done in an academic setting is translated into benefits for farmers and society, and we welcome the strategy’s commitment to making this process more effective. However, if we are to have a continuous flow of developments which have potential for commercialisation, we must also provide stable funding for fundamental research.
Professor Jim Beynon FSB, Chair of the UK Plant Sciences Federation says: “It is excellent that the Government has recognised the importance of the agricultural sector to the UK GDP. The UKPSF enthusiastically supports the investment strategy outlined today to raise the profile and effectiveness of translation of research into practical solutions for the breadth of the food-supply sector. We fully support the investment being made in research, technology and people.
“We would however note that fundamental research provides the underpinning knowledge for this sector and as such we are concerned over the the level funding of basic plant and crop science. It is essential that the Government recognises the role that basic research plays in the agri-tech sector and provides appropriate funding to this section of the fundamental science base.
“A lack of investment over the last two decades has impacted significantly in the efficiency of the sector, and has left us with a skills gap. The university sector is required to train the next generation of scientists specialising in plants. We must motivate top students to study plant-related subjects, so they can contribute to the future cutting-edge research required to drive novel ideas along the agri-tech pipeline.”