British farming is failing to adopt new science quick enough because knowledge transfer to farms for on farm-application is ‘too fragmented’, according to a new report from the House of Lords.
Its Application of Science report put forward recommendations needed to deliver science more quickly to tackle food security, net zero ambitions and biodiversity challenges. One of the key insights, was that the path from scientific discovery to on-farm application was 'fragmented'.
Unlike France, Germany, US and most other industrialised countries, the UK does not have a public, or private entity clearly responsible for application of science in agriculture. This was most noticeable for innovations that changed farming practices, for example in crop rotations, grazing management and timing of field operations.
For innovations that involve purchasing new inputs, or services, agribusiness and the agri-tech centres had led the way, but for changes in farming practices, there was 'no clear champion', said the report.
Among key recommendations was that funding should be prioritised by central government to agricultural extension and the delivery of scientific knowledge, with national co-ordination encouraged between demonstration farms throughout the UK.
“Britain has some of the best scientists in the world, but unfortunately that science is often slow to be applied at the farm level,” said Lord Curry of Kirkharle, who chaired the working group.
“It is essential that we ‘speed up’ the adoption of relevant science if we are to respond to government priorities and take advantage of market opportunities at home and abroad."
The report also called for the UK government to establish a 'What works centre', streamlining the evaluation and sharing of agri-food research. This should co-ordinate closely across all of the UK agricultural sector, it said.
Another recommendation was that universities with strong local and regional agricultural interests should consider making it part of some academic staff’s roles to take knowledge out to farms and farmers. And there should be the formation of a specific Agri-Food committee.
Dr Susannah Bolton, vice-principal for Enterprise and Knowledge Exchange at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), said: “The report highlighted a number of important issues in delivering the transformational change in our food production systems needed. It described fragmentation of knowledge across the UK and recommended integration of education, research and extension systems.
“This fragmentation is perhaps less evident in Scotland because, as they acknowledge in the report, this formed the basis of SRUC’s tripartite approach – delivering science-based knowledge through skills and life-long learning, higher education and a vibrant, innovative consultancy.
"Research drives applied innovation in every economic sector and SRUC’s research power and impact was highlighted in the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, which placed it third in Scotland and 121st globally.
“In Scotland, there is also close collaboration between agricultural knowledge transfer providers. Indeed, the key funder, the Scottish Government, required this to ensure value for money, maximum impact and ease of use for those accessing services.
"While there will always be room for improvement, the success of key initiatives, such as the Scottish Farm Advisory Service (FAS), delivered by SAC Consulting, is testament to the care, resources and ambition put into knowledge transfer in Scotland."