A number of important agricultural are being terminated or altered as Defra looks to rein in its spending ahead of the imminent spending review.
Defra, which had already been asked to make savings of £83 million in this financial years, is facing further far-reaching cuts to its depleted budget over the next four years.
On Monday, Chancellor George Osborne revealed Defra was one of four Government departments to have already reached agreement with the Treasury about the scale of cuts, which will average 30 per cent across the four departments.
Defra has already seen nearly £1bn slashed from its budget, which now stands at just over £2bn, over the past five years.
The cuts, which Mr Osborne stressed affected ‘day-to-day’ resource budgets rather than capital spending, has prompted fresh concerns about its capability to deliver key functions around animal health, food production and environmental protection in future.
According to agricultural and environmental consultancy ADAS, Defra has already announced its intention to give 30 days’ notice to terminate or amend a number of agricultural and environmental research and development projects.
These include research on integrated pest management such as reducing reliance on pesticides, understanding more about plant diseases and soil management, all important areas for farmers.
ADAS, a private company employing about 400 staff, has been informed it will be affected across a wide range of projects involving multiple collaborators, including BASF, DuPont and Syngenta, who ADAS said had made significant investments in research for the wider good.
In several contracts targeted for termination, Defra was a joint participant with other funders, an approach previously promoted by the Department as a highly-effective way of delivering research.
James Clarke, head of soils, crops and water at ADAS, said: “These short-term cancellations cause confusion and create a climate of uncertainty which discourages non-Government funders. Defra’s approach to cost-cutting must therefore be reconsidered.
“This short-notice approach will have serious financial repercussions and impact negatively on the industry’s willingness and ability to joint-fund projects.
“Some contracts are being terminated at a point where significant investment has already been made but where, without further work, it will not be possible to obtain meaningful evidence and information from the project.
“These topics are vital to a prosperous and sustainable UK agriculture which depends on vital applied research skills and the research contractor base, both of which will be damaged by this short-term approach."
He said the research affected generally did not lend themselves to funding through initiatives like the Agri-Tech Strategy and Innovate UK and was therefore reliant on public money.
Mr Clarke said: “We accept the Government’s right to change its priorities and level of spend on R&D but we would reasonably expect these changes to be made over time in line with the funding cycle rather than arbitrarily and at short notice.
“The rapid cancellation of work has unavoidable consequences such as reduced investment, and an erosion of the agricultural science skill base that is so fundamental to the success UK agriculture’s ability to contribute to the recovery of the UK economy.”
A Defra spokesman said: “In response to reduced budgets across government, Defra’s research and development spend has been through a process of review to ensure it focuses on priority work, supporting the development of key departmental policy and operational activities.
“Defra will save £83m in 2015-16 through increased efficiencies across Defra and its network, and by identifying and stopping any low priority spend.”
The forthcoming spending have prompted warnings other key areas could be hit.
British Veterinary Association president Sean Wensley said the cuts could have ‘massive implications for animal and human health, following significant cuts already for TB testing and other OV services and disease surveillance.
"Our major concern is that more cuts in these areas could further erode the UK’s preparedness for a disease outbreak,” he said, urging Defra to protect animal health and welfare budgets.
NFU president Meurig Raymond said the cuts could ‘damage front line delivery services’ and must not impact on areas such as Defra’s food and farming strategy, animal health, flooding and its payment functions.
He said the NFU also had concerns about cost recovery.
"If this simply means paying for the continuation of services that could be delivered more effectively and efficiently," he said.
CLA president Henry Robinson said it was ‘critical these changes do not undermine vital services’.
The RSPB and Wildlife Trusts said a future lack of resources threatened to undermine the Government’s manifesto promises on the natural environment.
There also concerns Defra could withdraw its funding for projects like the Campaign for the Farmed Environment,
Farming Minister George Eustice insisted much of the savings could be made by ‘pulling together the extensive network of  Defra arm’s-length bodies, sharing back office costs and removing duplication’.
Challenged on the BVA’s comments, Mr Eustice said: “We will be making absolutely sure we do not compromise our resilience and our ability to tackle diseases of that sort.”