Britain is set to bolster its position as a world leader in agricultural science thanks to an ambitious new five-year vision from Rothamsted Research which will keep the institute firmly rooted in the UK after Brexit.
The Harpenden-based research centre, which has a history of ground-breaking discoveries, has introduced three new science ‘portfolios’ – Superior Crops, Securing Productivity and Future Agri-Food Systems – to bolster its existing research, worth some £3 billion a year to the industry.
The plan is to use Rothamsted scientists, who are world-leading experts in fields including genetics, soil science and agronomy, to bring together global innovation to benefit farmers, secure food production and protect the environment.
Unveiling the strategy, chief executive Achim Dobermann said: “We are one of the few institutions left in the UK which still has both the breadth and depth to do integrated agricultural science. We have always been at the forefront of agricultural science worldwide and we will remain there.”
Researchers working on the three ‘portfolios’ will aim to develop seeds with key genetic traits, find smarter ways to control pests, pathogens and weeds and make arable and livestock farming more efficient and productive.
Helen Ferrier, acting head of policy services at the NFU, welcomed the launch and said she was pleased to see Rothamsted being explicit about its focus on the field and what would actually be usable in British agriculture.
Despite concerns about the UK’s scientific standing post-Brexit, Rothamsted – which celebrates its 175th anniversary next year – is investing heavily in the country, having recently received almost £60 million from public funder the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.
Director of operations Donna Lipsky said the centre was continuing to recruit outstanding scientists, create internationally competitive fellowships and fund leadership development and talent management programmes – as well as building new accommodation for a ‘growing number’ of postgraduate and postdoctoral students.
Programmes of knowledge sharing and development of business opportunities are also being expanded as part of the institute’s plan to improve farming’s competitiveness.
“Such engagement is being woven into our science”, said Angela Karp, Rothamsted’s director for science innovation.
“Over the next five years, we will become an even more internationally vibrant hub for the agricultural sciences.”