Norfolk farmers must forge closer ties with region’s researchers, says environment secretary Liz Truss

PUBLISHED: 10:11 22 July 2014

Fertiliser being spread on a potato field. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Fertiliser being spread on a potato field. Picture: Matthew Usher.

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Environment secretary Liz Truss has issued a clarion call to Norfolk’s farming community to step forward and be counted in the fight to boost global food production.

South West Norfolk MP Liz Truss. Picture: Matthew Usher. South West Norfolk MP Liz Truss. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Embracing her new cabinet post, Ms Truss urged producers across the county to forge closer ties with leading researchers to ensure the region remains a “world leader” in agricultural science.

Her rallying cry follows yesterday’s announcement that £18m of government money would now be ploughed into innovative projects designed to increase yields.

But the South West Norfolk MP has been warned that she must be quick to grasp the nettle on her food and farming brief to prevent businesses being derailed by unnecessary legislation.

“If we are to feed our population, improve our health and conserve our precious resources like water – science is crucial,” she said.

“When I visited the John Innes Centre in Norwich I saw for myself their world-leading research and how it is benefiting farmers on the ground. Norfolk’s reputation for scientific excellence is further enhanced by the work of MPs such as George Freeman who played a key role in drawing up the government’s Agri-Tech Strategy and is now our first-ever Minister for Life Sciences.

“But in Norfolk it’s not just thinking – it’s doing. British Sugar’s Wissington plant exemplifies this – using its waste carbon dioxide and heat to grow tomatoes – in fact it’s England’s largest producer. As part of an integrated approach to crop management, the tomatoes are pollinated by more than 8,500 bumblebees, living in 170 hives.

“Today, the UK’s agri-food industry is worth £97 billion and employs nearly four million people. It is our largest manufacturing sector. That’s why boosting food production is vital to the growth of our economy and why this government is putting agriculture at the heart of its long-term economic plan.”

Yesterday’s announcement comes as a second boost for the agricultural sector after it was revealed that £8m would be injected into early stage agri-tech businesses as part of a new venture capital fund co-launched by the Adapt Low Carbon Group, based in Norwich.

Meanwhile, the Country Land and Business Association has already told Ms Truss that she must prevent the government becoming to urban focussed if she is to ensure that rural communities remain viable places to live and work.

She added: “ I’m really pleased that one of my first announcements as Environment Secretary is the £18 million of projects, jointly funded with industry, to support fifteen cutting-edge agricultural research projects across Britain. “These projects will help take ideas from the lab to the marketplace, further developing our high-tech, highly-skilled agriculture sector.

“This develops our science base while increasing the competitiveness and sustainability of our world-leading food producers.

“The East of England has eight organisations involved with the projects, demonstrating the importance of this region to the UK’s wider economy. One of the projects will be using ‘big data’ to quantify soil health, while promoting best practice back to farmers and land managers. Another, being led by KWS in Cambridgeshire, is developing innovative techniques for hybridising wheat to boost food security at home and abroad.

“The government is dedicated to ensuring that our farmers and growers are the most competitive in the world and that the UK is a world leader in agricultural science, innovation and sustainability. We led the agricultural revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries. It’s vital that we do the same today.”

• Do you have a business story for the Eastern Daily Press? Contact business writer Ben Woods on 01603 772426 or email

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