UK's agricultural resilience strengthened by new initiative in York

News | Posted on Friday 26 July 2013

The Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) and the University of York have today announced a new joint venture: an Initiative in Agrifood Resilience. This announcement comes on the same day as the Government launches its new UK Agri-Technology Strategy, which sets out how investment will back the technologies of the future allowing our agricultural industries to grow and flourish.

The Initiative in Agrifood Resilience brings together scientific expertise from Fera and the University of York to focus on food and non-food crop production systems, in an holistic approach that will address the key issues of food security and environmental sustainability in a way which will ultimately benefit the rural economy and sponsor innovation in agritechnology.

The creation of an Initiative for Agrifood Resilience recognises the shared ambition of Fera and the University of York to develop a unique strategic relationship in related science and social research

Rob Edwards

The Initiative is part of the University of York’s recently launched interdisciplinary research partnership, the York Environmental Sustainability Institute (YESI) and will be the focus for several new “centres of excellence” in basic and applied technologies in the UK, including the Centre for Crop Protection (CCP), unveiled at the Cereals 2013 event earlier this year.

Fera Chief Scientist and Chair in Crop Protection at the University of York, Rob Edwards, welcomed the new developments commenting “The agri-food supply chain faces unprecedented challenges in the coming years from the increasing complexity of food supply chains, climate change and the global movement of pests and diseases. One way in which these challenges can be overcome or mitigated is to build in greater resilience and make our environment and production systems more robust.

“The creation of an Initiative for Agrifood Resilience recognises the shared ambition of Fera and the University of York to develop a unique strategic relationship in related science and social research.

“Fera’s science base includes around 200 applied crop protection specialists, making it one of the UK’s largest groups in this area. Fera’s unique combination of skills, technology and expertise along the entirety of the agri-food supply chain complements the University’s strengths in natural and social sciences, which means we are well placed in helping to tackle the twin global challenges of food security and sustainability.” 

Professor Brian Cantor, the Vice-Chancellor of the University, said: "This ground-breaking new initiative will bring together world class researchers to address the key challenge of feeding a growing population in the face of climate change while protecting our environment and its increasingly scarce resources. Solutions to this challenge will require a willingness to cross boundaries between disciplines and innovative collaboration between academics, applied researchers and industry.

“This initiative capitalises on the University's outstanding record in sustainability research and builds on the success of the York Environmental Sustainability Institute, a pioneering inter-disciplinary partnership spanning the social, life and physical sciences. The University, in partnership with Fera, is able to combine a unique range of capabilities in agricultural resilience, spanning crop genetics, the discovery of novel crop protection agents and the economics of food supply chains."

A Centre for Chemical Safety and Stewardship (CCSS) will also be part of the Initiative in Agrifood Resilience. This Centre will offer unrivalled expertise on the risk assessment of agrochemicals and pharmaceuticals in the environment.

The Initiative will also benefit from the University’s excellent track record in developing links with industrial partners, through the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products within the Biology Department and Biorenewable Development Centre, which provides industry with new processes to convert plants and biowastes into products.

This announcement underpins broader plans to develop Fera’s Sand Hutton site as an innovation campus. These plans will be taken forward by Defra, working very closely with the University of York, following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding to support collaborative working. This collaboration benefits from the planned new developments at the University of York’s Heslington West campus, where a £70m investment in environmental and life sciences is underway.

Notes to editors:

The Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) is an Executive Agency of the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Its remit is to provide robust evidence, rigorous analysis and expert professional advice to government, international organisations and the private sector, in order to support and develop a sustainable and secure food chain, a healthy natural environment, and to protect the global community from biological and chemical risks.