Boost food production with research, Norfolk farmers told

Michael Pollitt, agricultural editorA drive to boost food production by investing in basic science will not be achieved without funding by taxpayers, said a leading farmer.Tony Pexton, who is chairman of the independent research charity, NIAB/ TAG told 150 farmers at the national agronomy centre's open day at Morley, near Wymondham, of the challenges facing the industry.Michael Pollitt, agricultural editor

A drive to boost food production by investing in basic science will not be achieved without funding by taxpayers, said a leading farmer.

Tony Pexton, who is chairman of the independent research charity, NIAB/ TAG told 150 farmers at the national agronomy centre's open day at Morley, near Wymondham, of the challenges facing the industry.

As a farmer from the East Riding of Yorkshire, he was "flattered to speak in the county of Lord Nelson, Turnip Townshend, the four-course rotation, the Mardlers and Morley itself".

He said that Morley had been founded as the Norfolk Agricultural Station in 1908 by farmers and landowners who saw the benefits of research and development and knowledge transfer at a time of depression in agriculture.


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And the recent merger of the Cambridge-based NIAB (National Institute of Agricultural Botany) and TAG (The Arable Group) was the latest of several transitions, which has lasted more than a century, he said.

"The involvement of farmers in the organisation is hugely important in NIAB/TAG. We make to make sure that we continue with that involvement."

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Mr Pexton, who is a former deputy president of the National Farmers' Union, said that work on minimising the impact of arable farming on climate change was also part of the research agenda.

"It is something which is becoming more and more current to those farming today," he said.

"It is highly important because we have to make sure that we have a pipeline of people coming up who can do research for us.

"NIAB has a reputation for the rigour of its science as science-based organisation for its independence. TAG's forte is at the other end of the spectrum.

"It is doing farm research, farm trial work, on member's farms and in the locality and giving that knowledge to members actually in the field," said Mr Pexton.

"We have got that pipeline from one end to the end from research to being used. And that is hugely important. And as far as I'm aware, we're the only organisation in the UK which has got that pipeline from one end to the other.

"There are predictions that the demand for food will rise by 50pc in the next 30 years.

"We have got to produce that with less land because it is being lost or eroded and with less water.

"Plants and plant research are absolutely fundamental to meeting this challenge.

"The last time we were urged to produce more, we'd never heard of sustainability or biodiversity.

"I can remember the first time, we produced two tonnes an acre, we thought that we'd broken eggs with sticks. So we have got to raise our game again.

"I believe we need three things to meet that challenge - first we need research, fundamental, practical and applied."

He said that the Royal Society had argued that at least �50m and �100m had to be invested by government into basic research to help to meet that challenge and reverse the lack of investment in recent years.

While farmers were paying about �4m pa for research, more had to be done.

He said that Link projects, supported by Defra and industry has enabled about �120m to be invested in research.

"We will have to look to the government to do its share to make up the ground that has been lost in the past few years, said Mr Pexton.

"We need research and we need knowledge transfer."

"We also need the training of technicians - laboratory, field or farm technicians who can use the latest techniques and technology," he added.

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