Science & innovation crucial to farming's future says NFU

Minette Batters standing ringside at the Great Yorkshire Show being interviewed by Radio York

Attracting more than £24m of funding last year alone, and working on projects ranging from soil health and crop protection to sustainable and resilient supply chains, Yorkshire’s world-beating research scientists have a crucial role to play in helping Britain’s agri-food sector respond to some its biggest challenges.

But, says the NFU, long-term commitment is needed from government to ensure that essential investment in scientific advancement continues beyond Brexit.

Speaking on the first day of the Great Yorkshire Show, NFU President Minette Batters, will set out just how important innovation is to the food and farming industry in the face of a growing population, finite resources and climate change.

She will also remind government that a significant amount of the funding for this work currently comes from European research programmes that may not be accessible post-Brexit.

“We believe that the next 30 years will be the most important in the history of global agriculture, with farmers needing to produce 60-100% more food, using less land, less water and fewer agricultural inputs,” she said.

“Combine that with the challenges of climate change and it’s easy to see that science must be at the heart of our response.

“While our drive to achieve net zero agricultural emissions by 2040 may seem daunting, it is so inspiring to see the cutting-edge research being carried out right here in Yorkshire by a research community that has the potential to significantly stack the odds in our favour.

“What’s more, we are seeing Yorkshire establish itself as a lead region in the UK – hosting two national ‘agritech’ centres for crop health and livestock plus a range of specialist research institutes.”

Mrs Batters will also pay tribute to initiatives such as Yorkshire Agricultural Society’s Farmer Scientist Network and the planned state-of-the-art £1.7m livestock centre at York’s Askham Bryan College. Both seek to engage current and next generation farmers and explore how the latest developments can be embraced.

“While it is crucial that ‘blue sky’ research is undertaken, it is just as important that scientific advances deliver practical benefits on the ground,” she added.

“Getting this right will be fundamental in achieving our climate change aspirations – when we expect up to 25% of the net zero target to be achieved through productivity and efficiency gains.

“We need government to help us create the right economic and commercial conditions for scientists and farmers alike to flourish – ensuring for example that food and farming makes up a key strand in the nation’s evolving industrial strategy.

“Aside from driving our climate change response, productivity improvements also have the potential to deliver important economic gains – helping deliver more highly skilled and attractive jobs in farming, increased output and improved export performance.”

Adding his voice to the debate is Professor Duncan Cameron, Co-Director of the new Institute of Sustainable Food at Sheffield University. He said: "Yorkshire is leading the world in pioneering solutions to feed our growing population while protecting and restoring our environment.

“Cutting-edge academic research directly informs the development of technologies and practices that will help us address future challenges and underpins the development of products and services that will be available on farm in the next 10, 20 or 30 years.

“To build strong research, engagement with diverse end users from the farming community is crucial. This helps amplify their concerns and ambitions, and develop solutions that are fit for purpose, desirable, and ready to deploy in solving real world problems."

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