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Universities join forces to boost impact of agricultural research

Today, the agricultural universities of the AUC set out new steps we are taking to join up our research and strengthen the difference it makes on the ground. These include working with farming networks to get an up-to-date, sector-wide picture of research priorities, coordinating how we share evidence, and training the next generation of scientists with the skills to research complex, real-world farming systems.

Working together to make a greater difference

AUC alongside the strategic research institutes, deliver the lion’s share of agricultural research in the UK.

This is the first time that agricultural research providers have joined up on this scale, and is the outcome of a year-long investigation into industry and policy priorities, current research activities, and the sector’s strengths and weaknesses.

Strategy report launch

The strategy launched today at the Royal Agricultural University’s Swindon site, a converted workshop at the Cultural Heritage Institute in the railway heritage quarter of Swindon, just down the road from UKRI, the national funding agency investing in sciences and research. Key leaders from across food and farming research and innovation attended the event to welcome our proposal for joined up agricultural research.

Professor Tom MacMillan of the Royal Agricultural University is lead author of the report:

“A good deal of time, money and thought goes into agricultural research, but is it achieving as much as it should? This strategy is about focusing that effort to make it more useful on the ground at a time when farmers and the environment are under huge pressure. This kind of joined-up working has proved tricky over the years because, rightly, research is independent and decentralised. What I hope is refreshing about this strategy is that the universities have recognised we have a shared responsibility and we’re teaming up and taking the initiative where we can.”

BBSRC are the largest public funder of agricultural research in the UK. Speaking at the launch event, BBSRC's Executive Chair Professor Melanie Welham:

“Research and innovation can provide solutions to many of the global challenges we face today. To realise its full potential, we need a research and innovation system that is connected and engaged, allowing us to maximise opportunities for new discoveries and ways to deliver impact. The commitments and actions set out within the AUC Joint Research Strategy reflect these ambitions and are very much welcomed by BBSRC.”

Helen Ferrier, Chief Science and Regulatory Affairs Adviser at NFU has welcomed the approach:

“I was honoured to be part of this strategic initiative and to represent farmers and growers in the process. There are complex and intractable issues in the research and KE landscape that many of us have been grappling with for decades, and that have shifted over time, but I think this collaborative AUC strategy signals a significant step forward. It has the potential to lead to the more impactful and relevant R&D and the more coordinated knowledge exchange that farming needs to meet its future challenges. I urge research funders to work with the AUC and the whole community to support the delivery of the strategy, and to incentivise and drive the actions needed to sustain long term impact.”

Professor Sir Charles Godfray, Oxford University, chaired the Strategy Project Advisory Group. He said

“It is to the great credit of the network of universities with expertise in agriculture that they have come together to form the Agricultural Universities Council (AUC) and to examine critically how research in this area needs to evolve and strengthen. It is a highly timely initiative. The UK Government recently published a Science and Technology Framework with a ten-point plan to make the UK a Science and Technology Superpower. This report, and future work planned by the AUC, will help ensure that agricultural research, interpreted broadly, is part of this vision.”

Henry Dimbleby, food systems author, principle lead on the National Food Strategy (2020), and recent lead non-executive board member at Defra (2018-2023) said:

“It is so welcome to see scientists join forces like this. This is the kind of strategic leadership called for by the deep and urgent crises in our food and farming.”

Committed to change

Table listing recommendations and progress
Report figure 18: recommendations

The strategy sets out new steps we are taking as a group of universities to play our part in addressing the challenges facing agriculture. The table (right) details the recommendations from the report, some already in progress.

Co-ordinating efforts across the research sector is essential, and AUC welcome collaboration with others.

Read the report

You can download the AUC Joint Strategy in full here.


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