Government adviser admits farming research in 'crisis'

The Government's top scientific adviser has admitted a crisis in funding for science and research at the launch of the NFU's Why Science Matters campaign at the House of Commons.

John Beddington, the Government's chief scientific adviser, said that by 2030 demand for food production will rise 50 per cent, water by 30 per cent and energy by 50 per cent - adding that more research and development (R&D) is, therefore, crucial.

Money needs to be spent on research into crop improvement, stemming losses due to pests and diseases, reducing post-harvest losses and improving irrigation, he explained.

Beddington also condemned the move from a risk-based to hazard-based culture on issues like pesticides as "significantly retrograde" and said the potential losses were "frightening".

Launching the campaign, NFU president Peter Kendall said: "We are calling for a shift in Government policy on research and development. Regulation needs to be scientifically backed, not just focused on protecting the environment."

He added: "China aims to double spending on biotech to $400m (£228m) in five years. We spend £20m on R&D, which would hardly buy the left leg of (footballer) Steven Gerrard."

The report Why Science Matters for Farming said science investment is at a "dangerously low level" - and the "pipeline" connecting research to application on the ground is "broken".

National Horticultural Forum chairman Andrew Colquhoun said: "Government should invest not so much on near-market research, which is covered by levy payers. It needs to spend on upstream research into strategy.

"No commercial entity is going to be large or noble enough to put in enough money. It has to be the Government."

Grower Mark Leggott added: "We are faced with a one per cent annual increase to yields, but productive capacity must increase by four per cent.

"Public-service agreements are heavily slanted towards air and water quality and biodiversity. Is it not time to rip up the agreements and look at productive capacity?"

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