8 Securing food for the future |
133. The Government spends £410
million annually on agri-food research. The Global Food Security
programme, a partnership of the main funders of research in relation
to the provision and use of food, helps to co-ordinate research
in this area through themes set out in the Global Food Security
Government is also building international multi-disciplinary research
links to address food security through a number of EU initiatives.
These include the Joint Programming Initiative on Agriculture,
Food Security and Climate Change, the European Research Area Networks
and Horizon 2020 programme. This latter programme is biggest EU
Research and Innovation programme with nearly 80 billion
of funding available over 7 years (2014 to 2020).
Funding is available for individual research projects as well
as collaborative projects with researchers from at least three
different member states.
The UK also collaborates at the international level through a
Sustainable Agricultural Innovation Network with China, and the
Global Research Alliance.
These are in addition to Agri-Tech Strategy discussed in chapter
134. Research Councils UK told us that
the Global Food Security programme itself accounted for some £350
million of the total Government research spend, and supported
a large portfolio of work which underpins food security, including
programmes relating inter alia to plant, animal and microbial
biology, biodiversity, ecosystem services, climate modelling,
socio-economics and engineering, although not all of these may
directly address food security.
135. We were also told that the research
councils had collectively recognised the need for a more holistic
approach to the science of soils and the services they provide.
Whilst investment in soils research is a welcome new initiative,
the programmes have relatively small budgets, and, as noted in
chapter four, the soil survey information, which enables the monitoring
and longer-term changes to soil properties and function is rather
fragmented and out-of-date.
The Food and Drink Federation commented on the fragmentation of
the research landscape and the proliferation of different reports
which it viewed as symptomatic of this at the policy level.
136. We recommend that the Government,
through its Global Food Security Programme, undertake a themed
mapping of the current scientific research programmes, projects
and reports that are directed specifically towards enhancing our
food security either publicly funded or co-funded, and of those
which might exert a potentially important indirect impact on food
security. This would provide a first line of co-ordinated communication
of research to potential users, and indicate more transparently
where current priorities lie.
137. The shortage of whole or sub-farm
scale research environments remains a constraint on certain types
of agricultural systems research in which livestock and other
farming systems could be replicated.
The importance of systems and holistic approaches for longer term
adaptation to underpin food security was stressed. The RSPB cautioned:
Currently there is an issue
that research is siloed and as such fails to take account of the
multifunctional nature of agriculture. Research should focus on
sustainable production methods which address both farm, farming
system and landscape levels.
The BBSRC told us that it had only one
experimental farm-scale research platform, in North Wyke, Devon,
and that more were needed to measure the effects of different
agricultural regimes in different parts of the country on variables
such as GHG emissions, soil and water properties, but that this
would impact massively on its budget.
138. In a different context Professor
Hartley pointed to the demise of many of the older university
departments of agriculture with consequent loss of university
farms. There are however, a number of specialist land-based universities
and colleges of agriculture with farm facilities which work at
the more applied research and technology transfer ends of the
explained that it too was working with a number of partner universities
and the Soil Association through the Centre for Excellence in
UK Farming, to
apply research and new science in the field.
139. UK research councils should
encourage the research-intensive universities and institutes which
they fund to explore opportunities to extend the scope for farm-level
research through greater co-operation with specialist land-based
sector universities and colleges, thereby bringing the scientific
research closer to application and the farming community, and
ensuring best use of scarce and expensive resources. The Government
should recognise the contribution made by our universities and
research institutes and ensure the long term security of their
140. The NFU said that British farming
needed the following from science to respond to the challenge
of food security:
· a strong science base
engaged in highly-relevant and impactful research
· a clear pipeline to commercialisation
· widespread knowledge-exchange
· effective skills and
141. The Agri-Tech Strategy addresses
issues of commercialisation of research into practice. However
that is mainly about technology transfer for product development
and manufacturing which is only part of the process. There are
areas of knowledge transfer which the agricultural and food sectors
will require in order to prepare for future challenges to food
142. The solution to this is not simply
to throw more money at projects which demonstrate particular advances.
Rather it is to ensure that advances in research are translated
and packaged into actions that can be taken onto the farm. In
addition researchers must engage with farmers, to gain knowledge
of the farm, the aspirations and motivation of the farmer and
therefore the most appropriate way in which changes can be made.
143. At present this does not happen
systematically. For example, some of the more critical comments
regarding basic research into agriculture highlighted the lack
of focus and funding on agro-ecosystems
and organic farming. However, the Natural Environment Research
Council (NERC) has a strong focus on agro-ecosystems and aims
to develop viable management systems that optimise the ecosystem
functions integral to food production.
This highlights that there is a disjuncture and information flow
gap between researchers and those who might usefully benefit from
it. Indeed, much of the evidence on this topic has underlined
the need for improved communication from Government and the research
144. The process of effective knowledge
transfer is complex and subtle. The Agriculture and Horticulture
Development Board told the Committee it spent 45% of its money
on research and knowledge transfer to the farm. Tom Taylor, their
Chief Executive said the budget was designed that way because
"without that knowledge transfer back on to the farm, the
research in how you do this is completely wasted."
The NFU President Peter Kendall acknowledged the challenge for
both the AHDB and NFU was to champion getting the messages across.
145. Whilst it is evident that those
organisations funded by farmers should take a proactive and positive
role engaging transferring knowledge to their members, we also
received evidence suggesting that there was a role for the public
sector. Professor Ian Crute told us that most technical advice
into farming was done on a commercial basis.
Professor Tim Benton went further, explaining:
I certainly share the view that
there is a bit of a valley of death between upstream information
and farmers necessarily getting hold of it. It is not helped by
the fact that they have to pay. There is lots of scope for new
ways of delivering advice, so not reinventing an extension service,
but I do not think that we really have the nuances of where exactly
the cutting edge of advice is and how it should be delivered,
partly because we have not thought enough about it over the last
decade or so.
146. However, Professor Sir John Beddington
highlighted that a Food Research Partnership Study had concluded
that there was a need for a publicly funded organisation with
responsibility for advising farmers.
Dr Little said "there will certainly be a role for Government
funding in enabling knowledge transfer, for example between the
fundamental research that is done and things that will allow farmers
to move ahead."
147. There are gaps in the co-ordination
and flow of knowledge from research institutes to the farmers
who would use and benefit from it. We recommend that the Government
develop an integrated knowledge transfer strategy and action plan,
which can be delivered and co-ordinated within the present funding
frameworks, to ensure engagement between researchers and the relevant
148. We were told that to ensure a vibrant,
forward-looking, agricultural sector for the future, we needed
new farmers to enter the profession. The average age of a farmer
is currently about 60 years. However Henry Robinson of the CLA
told us that age was not the issue but that famers needed to be
good at farming:
Farmers have to work hard and be
technologically good, which is what will happen if the market
makes them do that. It is a market-based system.
149. Peter Kendall told us young farmers
were locating in remoter areas and bringing new techniques and
He said new farmers were better at embracing technologies and
new thinking which was vital to keep the industry competitive.
The AHDB agreed that it was vital to get new farmers, not just
as managers but also performing necessary technical roles.
150. Mr Eustice told us about some work
being carried out as a result of the Future of Farming Review,
to encourage new entrants into farming. The Review highlighted
the figure that only 8% of family farms were farmed by first-generation
farmers. He said
we needed to have "alternative business models to make it
easier for new entrants to come in, earn a stake in the industry
and fulfil their aspirations in the industry."
Peter Kendall agreed:
They are absolutely vital. The most
exciting farmers you will ever meet are first-generation farmers.
I am not sure you can legislate for it. The most important thing
we can do is big up the industry, talk it up and make it an attractive
career choice for young people to go into university and study.
They will not all be primary operators; they may come in as managers,
advisers or specialists in different sectors. It is absolutely,
vitally important that we bring fresh thinking.
151. But in its evidence, the Government
made no reference to the Pillar 2 Rural Development Programme
of the CAP Reform 2014-2020, designed to support young farmers;
nor did it say whether the RDPs will themselves make any specific
provision or allocate resources for new entrants to farming. Mr
Tom Taylor told us about a new AgriSkills Strategy which worked
with industry, land-based training organisations and agricultural
colleges, Harper Adams and the other universities with agricultural
specialist faculties or departmentsto get people into the
food and farming industry.
152. Our food security depends on
a vibrant, innovative and professional UK farming sector. This
in turn requires a regular inflow of new entrants to the sector.
Farming in the UK does not have this and efforts must be made
to encourage new entrants who are willing and able to take advantage
of new technologies in order to ensure the sector is modern and
competitive. We are pleased that the Government is examining ways
to do this in conjunction with the industry which can also help
with the costs associated with entry into farming.
153. We recommend that the Government
update us on its efforts and on the likely actions that will emerge
from the Future of Farming Review. It should also clarify whether
any Rural Development Programme funding will be made available
to support the implementation of the recommendations arising from
the Future of Farming Review.
172 Defra (FSY 0044) Back
European Commission, What is Horizon 2020 Back
European Commission, Research and Innovation: How to participate Back
Defra (FSY 0044) para 57 Back
Research Councils UK (FSY 0016) para 9 Back
Food and Drink Federation (FSY 0027) paras 10-11 Back
Rothamsted Research (FSY 0057) Back
RSPB (FSY 0020) para 4.1; Q12 [Professor
Now called, Farming Futures Back
NFU (FSY 0029) para 18 Back
AIC Ltd (FSY 0033) Back
Friends of the Earth (FSY 0036) para 36 Back
Research Councils UK (FSY 0016), para 16 Back
CLA (FSY 0043) para 147; Q95 [Professor Beddington];Q233 [Nick
von Westenhoz] Back
Defra, Future of Farming Review, 2013, para 2.7 Back