Shropshire university helps lead the way in national agricultural research

A county university will be one of the founding members of a new academic group focused on agricultural studies.

Harper Adams is one of the members of the new group
Harper Adams is one of the members of the new group

Harper Adams, based in Newport, will be one of more than a dozen universities joining forces to form the Agricultural Universities Council (AUC).

The group will agree on joint agricultural research priorities, working with farmers and others who have an interest in the industry’s future.

A total of 16 universities will make up the AUC, which will engage with all four governments in the UK.

Its first project will be to map existing agricultural research capacity across the UK for the first time in a decade, and work with farmers, as well as environmental, welfare and community groups, food businesses, and other stakeholders, to shape future research priorities.

This new research initiative was announced by Defra Secretary of State George Eustice MP, who was speaking at the launch of the UK Agriculture Partnership.

Professor Michael Lee, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Harper Adams University, said the group would ensure research was focused in the right areas.

He said: “The research being carried out across the institutions which form the AUC – including my own, Harper Adams University – is vital, enabling sustainable food and farming practices to be developed for coming generations.

“Through collaborative action with each other, industry, and our farmers, we can ensure that world-leading research is deployed in the most effective manner.

“Our newly formed School of Sustainable Food and Farming will play a vital role in the workings of the AUC. The school is following up on the launch of the UK Agriculture Partnership with a webinar and sandpit event to address the application of science to realise the agricultural transition.

“These invitational events, co-developed with Food and Farming Futures, led by Lord Curry, will result in an advisory paper to support funding decisions in the agricultural sciences and ensure they have impact.”

Professor Rob Edwards, head of the School of Natural and Environmental Sciences at Newcastle University, who chairs the AUC, added: “We already have a wealth of expertise and facilities for agricultural education and research across the UK but we can make even more of it, with more benefit for farming and the public, if we coordinate our efforts.

“That’s why this group of universities, from across the four nations of the UK, has decided to work together as the Agricultural Universities Council. Universities, like all sectors, are faced with a whole range of competing demands and pressures and I’ve been heartened by the huge goodwill and commitment our members have brought to working together.”

The AUC’s work to agree joint research priorities is being supported by the Centre for Effective Innovation in Agriculture (CEIA).

Professor Tom MacMillan from the centre, also the Elizabeth Creak Chair in Rural Policy and Strategy at the Royal Agricultural University, attended the UK Agriculture Partnership launch event.

He said: “Farmers, industry, and public interest groups have longstanding concerns about the impact of publicly-funded research. Some of this frustration is shared by scientists, particularly when they find themselves competing for research grants when it would make more sense to collaborate. At this hugely challenging time for farming, it is really refreshing that so many leading research institutions are teaming up to help address this.”

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