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Sustainable agriculture and food initiative aims to increase productivity

Innovate UK website Visit Defra website

13 October 2009

  • Sustainable Agriculture and Food Innovation Platform to be established by Technology Strategy Board
  • Collective Investment of up to £75M over the next 5 years to support innovative research and development
  • Focus on the development and adoption of new technologies to increase sustainable food productivity, while decreasing environmental impact

BBSRC is a partner in a new programme to bring the government, business and researchers together in a major initiative to stimulate the development of new technologies that will increase food productivity, while decreasing the environmental impact of the food and farming industries. The Sustainable Agriculture and Food Innovation Platform is led by the Technology Strategy Board and also includes Defra.

The Platform will see investment of up to £75M over the next 5 years in innovative technological research and development in areas such as crop productivity, sustainable livestock production, waste reduction and management and greenhouse gas reduction.

Minister for Food, Farming and Environment, Jim Fitzpatrick, said: “Rising populations, globally and domestically, mean that we need to produce more food. But the amount of land available for food production is set to decrease. Also, agriculture and the food sector is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and there is an urgent global need to reduce these. The amount of food we produce needs to increase and the only way this can be achieved, sustainably, is through the development of new technologies.”

The Technology Strategy Board’s Chief Executive, Iain Gray, added: “By harnessing the innovative capabilities of UK businesses and researchers, we will not only help to solve this problem for the UK, but also give businesses based here a strong advantage in addressing these same challenges around the world. We can make a real difference.”

Commenting on the involvement of the BBSRC, Dr Celia Caulcott, Director of Innovation and Skills, said: “This new Innovation Platform will play to this country's strengths in agriculture, food and biotechnology research. In helping to bring the quality of British research to bear on a global problem, we will be doing a service not just to ourselves, but to the rest of the world. A key part of the BBSRC’s role is to advance technology that will benefit society as a whole and we are delighted to be closely involved in this important programme.”

Peter Kendall, President of the National Farmers’ Union, added: “This initiative meets a real need. Farmers and growers need to produce more and impact less. And we need to do this in the context of climate change, increasingly volatile markets and a demanding regulatory landscape. These are massive challenges for the industry – but they also provide enormous market opportunities for farmers and for all businesses along the food supply chain. We need science and technology to deliver solutions and I am sure that forward-looking, innovative farm businesses across the UK will be fully supportive of this important new programme.”

The Sustainable Agriculture and Food Innovation Platform will begin its work by investing up to £13M in new research and development that will help crop growers to respond to the dual challenges of increasing productivity while reducing the environmental impact of crop production. With funding secured from the Technology Strategy Board, Defra and the BBSRC, the ‘Novel Approaches to Crop Protection’ funding competition will open on 18 January 2010.


Notes to editors

Innovate ’09, taking place today (13 October, 2009) at the Business Design Centre, London, is the Technology Strategy Board’s annual conference and exhibition on business innovation. Attended by over 1,000 business and technology professionals across the UK, Innovate ’09: for Growth will address all aspects of technology innovation, with special focus on the Technology Strategy Board’s priorities: energy & low carbon technologies, healthcare, and digital.

Keynote speakers include: The Rt. Hon. Lord Mandelson, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Lord Sugar, Enterprise champion for the Government, Professor Gordon Murray, CEO & Technical Director of Gordon Murray Design, Dr. Ruth McKernan, Chief Scientific Officer at Pfizer Regenerative Medicine and Sara Murray, founder of and Buddi Limited. A media briefing will take place at 08:30 at the Business Design Centre on the morning on of the event.

For media registration please contact:
Joanne Marley or Katrina Manuel – Quadrant, tel: 029 2069 4949 or email:

The Technology Strategy Board has made a range of further announcements today. Please see press releases on our website for more information.

The Sustainable Agriculture and Food Innovation Platform will build on the success of the Defra-sponsored LINK programme.

Innovation Platforms are a new way of working for government and business. Each focusing on a specific area of opportunity, Innovation Platforms are designed to address major policy and societal challenges. They bring together government stakeholders and funders and engage with business and the research community to identify appropriate action. In this way, policy, regulation and government procurement are aligned in support of innovative solutions. Innovation Platforms aim to deliver a step change in UK performance, in the quality of public services and the ability of UK businesses to provide solutions for the global marketplace.

Other Innovation Platforms are Intelligent Transport Systems, Network Security, Low Carbon Vehicles, Assisted Living, Low Impact Buildings and Detection & Identification of Infectious Agents – each addressing a specific societal challenge.

The Sustainable Agriculture and Food Innovation Platform will see investment of up to £75M over the next five years in innovative technological research and development in areas such as crop productivity, sustainable livestock production, waste reduction and management and greenhouse gas reduction. The Technology Strategy Board’s expected overall contribution is up to £50M with further investment from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and others.

The Innovation Platform will focus on four interlinked areas:

  • Crop productivity, including:
    • Crop protection - development of solutions to the threats posed to UK cereal and horticulture output by withdrawal of plant protection products (including pesticides, herbicides and fungicides) under new EU legislation and the impact of climate change. These solutions encompass biological control of pests and diseases, genetic resistance to pathogens and insects and new chemical pest control options.
    • Crop nutrition and management - mechanisms and technologies for providing crops with the nutrients they require without the current levels of losses to the atmosphere and water. The focus will be on nitrates and phosphates, from manufacture of fertiliser through to application (including precision farming and soil science), productivity and resource efficiency enhancement, and reducing the environmental footprint, such as N2O emissions and embedded carbon
  • Sustainable livestock production
    Development of livestock production solutions that are environmentally and commercially sustainable, meeting regulatory requirements in terms of animal health and welfare and food safety, while reducing the environmental impact of production (European Air Quality Directive, reduction of GHGs emissions such as methane and NOx). The solutions could include improved tools for animal breeders, technologies for improved animal health and husbandry, and methods to improve digestive system nutrient capture (and hence reduce Methane emissions) from cattle and sheep
  • Waste reduction and management
    Farm, storage and food processing - a whole chain approach to waste reduction, from innovative technologies for pre and post farm gate storage including farm-scale waste management facilities (e.g. anaerobic digestion) to post gate food processing and packaging for the retail and food distribution sector
  • GHG Reduction Technologies and Methodologies
    By far the biggest sources in agriculture are N2O from microbial transformation of nitrogen fertilisers in soil (roughly 58% of agricultural GHG across Europe) and CH4 from enteric fermentation in livestock (roughly 42%). Programme activities in crop and livestock productivity will address this. Projects will include working through the supply chain to assist adoption of new technologies and practices.

Sustainable Agriculture and Food – New Approaches to Crop Protection: Working towards innovative solutions to the challenge of increasing yield and limiting environmental impact (up to £13M).
A collaborative R&D competition with up to £13M investment to help crop growers (arable and horticulture, forage and non-food crops) respond to the dual challenges of increasing the productivity of crops while reducing the environmental impact of crop production. This initiative aims to help meet new and existing EU regulations on the approval and use of pesticides (some widely used insecticides, fungicides and weed control products are likely to lose approval from 2010).

This competition is particularly relevant to current and new businesses and practitioners across the agricultural supply chain. The Technology Strategy Board will invest £7M, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) up to £3.5M, and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) £2.5M. Competition opens 18 January 2010.

Expressions of interest must be submitted by 25 February 2010.

About the Technology Strategy Board

The Technology Strategy Board is a business-led executive non-departmental public body, established by the government. Its role is to promote and support research into, and development and exploitation of, technology and innovation for the benefit of UK business, in order to increase economic growth and improve the quality of life. It is sponsored by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BS). For further information please visit


The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £450M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. BBSRC carries out its mission by funding internationally competitive research, providing training in the biosciences, fostering opportunities for knowledge transfer and innovation and promoting interaction with the public and other stakeholders on issues of scientific interest in universities, centres and institutes.

External contact

Claire Cunningham, Media Relations Manager, Technology Strategy Board

switchboard: 01793 442700
direct line: 01793 442901
mobile: 0755 4115745


Matt Goode, Head of External Relations

tel: 01793 413299