David joined NFU Chief Science and Regulatory Affairs Adviser Helen Ferrier and NFU regional colleagues on visits to showcase the innovations and developments being worked on at the JIC (John Innes Centre) in Norwich and NIAB (National Institute of Agricultural Botany) in Cambridgeshire.
The tour began at the JIC, where the group were welcomed by internationally renowned pioneer of wheat research, and newly appointed Director of the centre, Professor Graham Moore.
He described the history of the institute and the role it plays internationally in plant science, genetics and microbiology. This was followed by a crucial discussion around progress on avian influenza vaccine research and the potential for genetic editing to produce disease-resistant birds.
A whistle stop tour of the labs demonstrated genetic improvements for sustainable agriculture and an opportunity to see theory put into practice in glasshouses and climate-controlled environments.
The group also saw one of the most impressive seedbanks in the world, Germplasm Resource Unit, where millions of seeds are stored at between 4 to 8 degrees C across a 600-metre purpose-built site.
“Being able to see first hand the expertise and passion that goes into plant and microbial science helps give farmers and growers cause for optimism that solutions to the challenges we face today and in the future are in safe hands.”
NFU Vice President David Exwood
How can members benefit?
At NIAB in Cambridge, CEO Professor Mario Caccamo outlined NIAB’s position in the agricultural and horticultural research arena, including funding models and differences to core BBSRC-funded institutes.
He emphasised NIAB’s unique position in knowledge exchange in the British agricultural sector through its membership and field-based engagement.
Issues discussed during the visit included the potential for gene-editing technologies and ways in which the industry can benefit from these advances, as well as some of the ways in which the NFU can work with NIAB to support these aims for the benefit of our farmer and grower members.
From the lab to field trials
One highlight was a tour of the new Crop Science Centre, a collaboration between NIAB and University of Cambridge, led by Professor Giles Oldroyd who outlined some of the scientific advances being made towards sustainable agriculture globally and how the partnership allows a flow of research all the way from lab to field trials, which is unique in the agricultural science landscape.
Reflecting on the visits, Dr Ferrier said: “British farmers and growers need every tool in the box and the brightest minds to be focussed on climate change, pests and diseases, resource use efficiency, nutrition.
“The research we saw on both visits is fascinating and world-leading, but even more importantly it can and does have impact in farmers’ fields.
“The more dialogue and engagement we can facilitate between scientists and farmers, the greater the impact and the more resilient British farming can become.”
Future in safe hands
NFU Vice President, David Exwood said, “Strengthening the relationship between the NFU and JIC at such a critical time for the industry has never been more important and being able to see first hand the expertise and passion that goes into plant and microbial science helps give farmers and growers cause for optimism that solutions to the challenges we face today and in the future are in safe hands.”
“We will look to continue working together and supporting where we can the advances in technology such as with the precision breeding bill in our lobbying work and engagement with key decision makers.”