Agricultural universities team up on research plan

  • More than a dozen universities, which offer courses in agriculture and carry out agricultural research, are getting together to agree on joint agricultural research priorities, working with farmers and others who have a stake in the industry’s future

With farming in the UK currently going through a rapid transition, the initiative responds to calls for more joined-up research and to ensure public investment in agricultural innovation makes a difference on the ground.

Sixteen universities recently came together to form the Agricultural Universities Council (AUC) which will engage with all four Governments in the UK in its ongoing work. The Council’s first project will be to map existing agricultural research capacity across the UK for the first time in a decade, and work with farmers, as well as environmental, welfare and community groups, food businesses, and other stakeholders, to shape future research priorities.

This new research initiative was announced on 27 January by Defra Secretary of State The Rt Hon George Eustice MP who will speak at the launch of the UK Agriculture Partnership taking place at the Royal Agricultural University, which is one of the members of the AUC.

Professor Rob Edwards, Head of the School of Natural and Environmental Sciences at Newcastle University, who chairs the AUC, said: “We already have a wealth of expertise and facilities for agricultural education and research across the UK but we can make even more of it, with more benefit for farming and the public, if we coordinate our efforts.

“That’s why this group of universities, from across the four nations of the UK, has decided to work together as the Agricultural Universities Council. Universities, like all sectors, are faced with a whole range of competing demands and pressures and I’ve been heartened by the huge goodwill and commitment our members have brought to working together.”

The AUC’s work to agree joint research priorities is being supported by the Centre for Effective Innovation in Agriculture (CEIA). Professor Tom MacMillan, from the Centre and who is also the Elizabeth Creak Chair in Rural Policy and Strategy at the Royal Agricultural University, attended today’s UK Agriculture Partnership launch event.

He said: “Farmers, industry, and public interest groups have longstanding concerns about the impact of publicly-funded research. Some of this frustration is shared by scientists, particularly when they find themselves competing for research grants when it would make more sense to collaborate. At this hugely challenging time for farming, it is really refreshing that so many leading research institutions are teaming up to help address this.”