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Scientists join forces on food production and agriculture resilience

Posted on 3 February 2014

Four influential scientific institutions in North Yorkshire have joined forces to decide how the region can contribute to the delivery of the UK Government’s Agricultural Technologies strategy.

Scientists from the University of York, the Food & Environment Research Agency (Fera), Askham Bryan College and the Stockbridge Technology Centre are involved in the new venture.

An inaugural workshop involving 50 scientists covered a range of topics including the socio-economics of food, healthy soil, biodiversity, climate change, how to breed more resilient crops and the extraction of valuable raw materials from crop waste.

The four institutions combine the capacity to identify and model new threats to the food chain and the natural environment with the ability to design, develop, test and deploy appropriate solutions.  These could include crops that are more resilient to drought and other extremes in weather and new ways of detecting and controlling crop diseases.

The partners are committed to providing better scientific and technical support to farmers and to agricultural technology and food businesses, large and small, across the region and beyond. Focusing on crops and food, internationally recognised academic excellence, and knowledge transfer skills, the four institutions are located in some of the best agricultural land in the country and at the centre of a concentration of food, bioenergy and chemicals companies.

Ideas for new collaborations included the extraction of valuable waxes from waste straw, breeding drought resistant crops and producing biofuel from woody waste. The scientists will also seek funding to look at new ways to tackle herbicide resistance, develop better tools that ensure food authenticity, safety and quality and to quantify the economic and environmental impact of increased field margins.

Fera and the University of York’s York Environmental Sustainability Institute (YESI), have recently established a joint initiative on agri-food resilience and jointly hosted the workshop. It focuses on food and non-food crop production systems, to address the key issues of food security and environmental sustainability both to benefit the rural economy and sponsor innovation in agritechnology.

Fera’s Chief Scientist and Chair of the Agri-Food Resilience Initiative, Professor Rob Edwards, said: “This is an exciting time for the sector. Government has recognised the need to feed a growing population without damaging the natural environment through efficient and more sustainable agricultural production.”

Professor Sue Hartley, Co-Chair of the Agri-Food Resilience Initiative and Director of YESI added: “The agri-food resilience initiative and the new Agricultural Technologies strategy are fantastic opportunities to capitalise on the research excellence in the region. It was really exciting to see so many innovative research ideas emerging from the workshop.”

Notes to editors:

  • Located in Sand Hutton and celebrating their centenary in 2014, Fera’s seven hundred applied scientists have the skills, technology and expertise to tackle plant pests and diseases, food safety, environmental impact and sustainability along the whole agri-food supply chain.
  • Now in its 51st year, the University of York has one of the best biological science departments in the UK, with strengths in plant breeding, crop protection, biodiversity and soil ecology, whilst its environment department specialises in the fate of chemicals in the environment and understanding the impact of pollutants, climate change and land management on biodiversity and ecosystem services. Moreover, expertise in renewable raw materials, bioenergy and the ability to extract value from waste is combined with strong analytical and method development skills and numerical and qualitative methods for modelling complex systems. Building on this outstanding record in environmental research, the University has established the York Environmental Sustainability Institute, a pioneering interdisciplinary partnership spanning the social, natural and physical sciences. YESI aims to generate the evidence base for sustainable solutions to environmental change with a clear focus on innovation and collaboration.
  • An independent centre of excellence, the Stockbridge Technology Centre delivers technological developments to the horticultural industry. With over 80ha of good quality irrigated land capable of growing most horticultural and arable crops, the site also has over 40 modern glasshouses (ranging from 12 to 1000m2) suitable for both small-scale studies and commercial demonstration trials.
  • The fastest growing specialist agriculture and land management college in the UK, Askham Bryan College runs courses in agriculture, animal and equine management, engineering, horticulture and many other topics. The college farm is 1,022 acres (414 ha) and it supports three further farms nearby.