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£16.9m funding boost for new Cambridge Centre for Crop Science (3CS), to be developed by the University of Cambridge and NIAB

PUBLISHED: 09:30 14 July 2017 | UPDATED: 14:11 14 July 2017

The new funding will provide new laboratories, offices and glasshouses at NIAB Cambridge.

The new funding will provide new laboratories, offices and glasshouses at NIAB Cambridge.

Image Copyright held by David Hogg

East Anglia's world-renowned crop science community has won a multi-million pound funding boost to create a new research centre.

NIAB Chairman Jim GodfreyNIAB Chairman Jim Godfrey

The new Cambridge Centre for Crop Science (3CS), developed by the University of Cambridge in collaboration with NIAB (National Institute of Agricultural Botany), will focus on linking with farming and food industries to translate research into real world impact.

The new centre, funded partly by £16.9m from the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund, will work with industrial partners to translate the university’s plant research into useful outputs for farmers, processors and consumers.

“3CS innovations will generate new crops and new ways of growing crops for food, fuels, industrial feedstocks and pharmaceuticals,” said Prof Sir David Baulcombe, head of Cambridge’s department of plant sciences.

“We envisage that new 3CS crop technologies will enable higher crop yields and lower environmental impact for crop-based food production – as well as contributing to improved dietary health.”

NIAB director Dr Tina Barsby said the need to produce sufficient healthy nutritious food without harming the environment is at the top of the agenda for international plant scientists.

“Creating the facilities to bring together NIAB and the university in 3CS presents an extraordinary opportunity for impacting this agenda through the development of world-class science and translation,” she added.

The funding announced this week by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) – in addition to a contribution of about £14m from NIAB – will allow 3CS to be housed in a state-of-the-art research laboratory at NIAB’s Cambridge site.

The new centre will interlink university researchers, NIAB, the Cambridge Sainsbury Laboratory, and collaborate with other institutes including the John Innes Centre in Norwich and Rothamsted Research.

3CS is already establishing connections with major industry partners, as well as agricultural supply chain networks such as the Cambridge University Potato Growers Research Association (CUPGRA).

While 3CS will aim to make significant contributions to the main globally-traded crops such as wheat and rice, there will be a focus on advances in the genetics and agronomy of other UK crops, such as potato and legumes, and so-called orphan crops – those that lag behind in technological advances but are vital for smallholder farmers across the developing world.

BREXIT “COLLATERAL DAMAGE”

The funding boost for plant researchers follows a warning that the EU Commission’s hardline negotiating stance on Brexit is already causing “collateral damage” for UK agri-science.

Last month, Cambridge-based NIAB was told that future EU variety testing contracts, which might last beyond the envisaged Brexit date of March 2019, would no longer be awarded to the UK.

Chairman Jim Godfrey said the decision would affect work carried out by NIAB on distinctness, uniformity and stability (DUS) testing which shows whether a newly-bred variety differs from existing ornamental crop species – valued at around £600,000 per year.

“The timing of this notification – without any prior consultation – came as a shock, not only because the UK is and remains a full EU member until the confirmed date of Brexit, but perhaps more significantly because NIAB is the only entrusted examination centre within the EU for 678 of the 864 ornamental species involved,” he said.

Mr Godfrey called on UK ministers to safeguard the UK’s science base but, despite the setback, he said Brexit presented exciting opportunities for the UK agri-tech sector, especially crop science.

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