Hartpury set to boost impact of agricultural research as part of university network


Hartpury University has joined a group of agricultural universities to produce a research strategy that sets out new steps the institutions are taking to join up their research and strengthen the difference they make on the ground.

These plans include working with farming networks to get an up-to-date, sector-wide picture of research priorities, coordinating how they share evidence, and training the next generation of scientists with the skills to research complex, real-world farming systems.

Launched on Thursday 18 May 2023 at RAU Swindon, the Royal Agricultural University’s Swindon campus, the new research strategy has been produced by the Agricultural Universities Council (AUC), which represents 16 universities that both teach and research agriculture. Alongside the strategic research institutes, these universities 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.

The strategy responds to the major challenges and changes facing agriculture. Research is vital to understand the issues and find innovative solutions to address them. While UK science is seen as world-leading, farmers and other stakeholders have long standing concerns about the impact of publicly funded agricultural research. The strategy therefore sets out to prioritise wisely, avoid duplication, and boost the practical impact and public value of research.

Professor Matt Bell, Director of Agriculture at Hartpury University said: “We strongly welcome this joined-up approach at a time when we all have a shared responsibility to address global challenges. Here at Hartpury, we’re looking forward to working with our partners wherever we can to ensure agricultural research is effective, informative and has a real-world impact.”

Speaking at the launch, Executive Chair of Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) Melanie Welham, said: “Research and innovation can provide solutions to many of the 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.”

NFU President Minette Batters welcomed the report saying: “As the bedrock of the food system, farmers and growers feel a great responsibility to be part of the solution. We see science and research playing a vital role in this: providing on-farm decision makers with robust evidence of what works; informing and analysing regulation; and ensuring that change leads to genuine and sustainable benefits for all. I’m very pleased that the leading universities also recognise their responsibilities and the opportunities to increase their value to farming through a coordinated research strategy.”

Professor Sir Charles Godfray, Oxford University, chaired the AUC’s 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, who led the National Food Strategy (2020), and is a recent lead non-executive board member at Defra, 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.”

Agricultural research is a key focus for Hartpury University. Recent research projects have included the creation of a new breeding index to select dairy cows based on key traits that are key to enhancing sustainability.

The Hartpury Agri-Tech Centre recently became a LEAF Innovation Centre, joining a vibrant network of centres and demonstration farms and some of the UK’s leading research establishments.