NFU Feeding the Future report update calls for innovation to tackle challenges posed by Brexit

NFU's new Feeding the Future, Four Years On report calls for investment in agricultural and horticultural research and development.

NFU vice president Guy Smith - image: HW
NFU vice president Guy Smith - image: HW

A list of the key innovation needs that will enable British agriculture and horticulture to boost its competitiveness, resilience and profitability have been identified in the Feeding the Future, Four Years On report.

Launched this week by the National Farmers' Union (NFU) at its annual conference, the report is an updated version of the original Feeding the Future report that was published in 2012. With new political developments such as the decision to leave the European Union in mind, the refreshed report calls for decision-makers, research funders, and providers to help create a funding and regulatory environment in which new technologies and innovative practices can be adopted on farms as quickly as possible."

NFU vice president Guy Smith said: "Farming and agriculture is already an incredibly innovative industry but it remains very important that farmers recognise new opportunities for better returns, such as those developed from the Agri-Tech Strategy. The priorities listed in this report show the desire to continue building on what the industry already has."

He added: "In the current climate of political uncertainty, there are many challenges out there for farmers, but with this comes real opportunities. For example, the Government’s new Industrial Strategy offers the opportunity to strengthen the food and drink sector as well as farming’s unique position in providing environmental goods and services."

The reports states that the following areas should be a priority for the horticulture sector:

- the use of innovative technologies to ease labour and skills shortages

- the need to explore and quantify the value and impact of farming on the human health and wellbeing agenda

- the application of genetic technologies to high priority challenges facing crop producers. Such challenges include yield, climate change, ease of harvest, (pest and disease) resistance, and enhanced nutritional quality

- enabling durable integrated management of crop pests, diseases and weeds in the face of regulatory restrictions and limited availability of crop protection, and

- the development of new breeding techniques, such as gene editing, and accelerating their application to agriculture

Furthermore, farmers and growers across agriculture and horticulture have set out eight general research priorities that would boost the sector’s contribution to the economic and environmental performance of the UK food production system.

These eight priorities are:

  • Digital, data-driven and engineering technologies
  • Crop and livestock genetics and breeding technologies
  • Interactions between air, soil, water and crop/animal processes within farming systems
  • Integrated approaches to management of crop weeds, pests and diseases
  • Integrated approaches to management of animal disease within farming systems
  • Evidence-based management and valuation of ecosystem service provision from farming systems
  • Skills, training and KE
  • Use of social and economic sciences

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