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Centre of excellence for UK farming

February 18, 2011 by  
Filed under News & Business

A NATIONAL centre of excellence for agriculture is to have its home in East Anglia.

Aimed at helping the industry meet the increasing challenges in food production and sustainability, the Centre of Excellence for UK Farming (CEUKF) is to be established in Cambridge.

It will provide a network of expertise to help ensure the best information and advice on developments in science, innovation and practical know-how are accessible to provide real benefits across the supply chain.

The two founding institutes are the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University and the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB), in Cambridge.

Supermarket chain Waitrose has agreed to fund the establishment of the centre as part of its commitment to finding long-term solutions to food security, climate change and other issues affecting future agricultural production.

Waitrose managing director Mark Price said:  “Farmers and the food chain are fundamental to our response to the global challenge of feeding more people using fewer inputs and with reduced environmental impact.

“Securing a balance between increased productivity and more efficient use of natural resources will require new thinking and innovative approaches.  That objective is fundamental to the Centre of Excellence.”

CEUKF steering board chairman Don Curry said the centre would provide a practical response to high-level calls for the ‘sustainable intensification’ of agriculture by supporting to farmers and food producers.

“Our ambition is to grow its capabilities and bring together a broadening partnership of farming, research and food chain organisations who share a commitment to sustainable, efficient food production.”

Pilot research programmes are underway to benchmark the efficiency of lamb and wheat production. They are focusing on key sustainability indicators such as greenhouse gas emissions and ecological diversity.

Preliminary results of these foundation projects will be announced later this year.

Tory MP for Mid-Norfolk George Freeman, who is chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Science and Technology in Agriculture, recently called for increased collaboration between the public and private sectors.

“Much of the research taking place in the UK’s life sciences sector requires closer co-ordination to ensure our rapidly advancing knowledge-base is translated into useful products and practices on the ground,” he said.

Mr Freeman met NIAB’s senior leadership team last month to hear first-hand about research aiming to help improve the yield, climate resilience and resource use efficiency of our major crops.

He also toured a new glasshouse complex, growth room facilities and plant genetics laboratory at the Cambridge site – part of a five-year investment programme to strengthen the Institute’s core activities.

The government’s recent Foresight report into food security identified a clear need to support and encourage the UK’s agricultural research and food science sectors, said Mr Freeman.

“Producing more agricultural outputs with fewer inputs is one of the biggest challenges facing us in the 21st century.” The long-term nature of the research involved meant it was important to act now.

With leadership and collaboration – and collaboration in research – the UK’s farming and food sciences industry could be a major driver of economic growth over the next decade, said Mr Freeman.

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