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Farming professionals welcome advent of new Agri-tech Strategy

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: July 24, 2013

By Peter Hall

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Farming Editor

After decades of complaint from the farming sector that its research-and-development base was lacking in this country, a new initiative could put matters right.

Cost savings under the Thatcher administration were blamed for the closure of research establishments, pushing Britain off the top slot as the home of farm innovation.

But now a new Government strategy aimed at bringing science and agriculture closer together could lead to a step-change in efficiency, profitability and resilience of our domestic farm businesses.

Unsurprisingly the Agri-tech Strategy, launched this week, has been widely welcomed by the industry. It includes plans to review private and Government funding available for agricultural research to make it more accessible for users and help ensure it is aligned with the sector's priorities.

A £160 million pot will be invested establishing Centres for Agricultural Innovation and an Agri-Tech Catalyst fund to improve the translation of research into practice – overseen by a Leadership Council.

Welcoming the move, the NFU said it believed it was very significant that agricultural science and technology were finally being recognised right across Government as essential to the success of the farming industry and its ability to contribute to the economic growth of the nation.

NFU President Peter Kendall said: "The strategy resonates strongly with existing developments and initiatives involving many food, farming and research organisations and will catalyse lots of further activity.

"Skills and training for farmers are absolutely critical so that knowledge generated through agri-science can be adopted at a commercial scale. It is essential that the science is translated into activity and behaviour change on-farm."

He said that showing agriculture as an innovative, rewarding and business-focussed sector would make it a career of choice for the next generation of farmers, advisers, engineers, vets and scientists.

Mr Kendall added: "The NFU is committed to working with the Government and the Leadership Council to ensure this strategy can contribute to a step-change in productivity, competitiveness and resilience of UK farm businesses. Profitability and confidence to invest are vital if farmers are to adopt innovative approaches.

"We shall also hold Government to account and urge action when policy and decision-making here and in Europe contradicts the aims of the Strategy. We want to see the Strategy encourage strong collaborations in research and development across the science community and with the industry."

The Leadership Council must engage proactively with the farming industry and have a strong, challenging voice into the Government, he insisted.

The British Society of Plant Breeders said the Strategy was a clear recognition by the Government of the need to boost the production efficiency of agriculture, to forge stronger links between the science base and industry, and to accelerate the transfer of research into practical on-farm application.

Having set out a broad vision and policy framework to unlock the potential of the agri-food sector, implementation of the Strategy must now recognise the importance of investment in a functioning crop-improvement pipeline, said BSPB chairman Dr Richard Summers. "The Strategy is in itself symbolic of a resurgent interest in modern, science-based agriculture," he said. "When setting priorities for the Strategy's implementation, Ministers and members of the Leadership Council must recognise that while renewed investment in areas such as precision farming, remote sensing and hi-tech robotics is important, it cannot substitute for the need to ensure that advances in basic plant science can be readily translated into market-ready traits, germ plasm and breeding tools.

"Access to improved crop varieties – delivered to the market by the commercial plant-breeding and seeds sector – is the foundation for successful, productive agriculture. Over the past 30 years more than 90% of the yield gains in our major crops is due to plant-breeding innovation."

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