Bledisloe lecture highlights government support for UK agriculture
In a far-reaching and thought provoking presentation at the Royal Agricultural University (RAU) in October the Rt Hon. David Willetts MP, Minister for Universities and Science, confirmed increasing government commitment and support for UK agriculture.
Giving the Bledisloe Memorial Lecture to students, staff and VIP guests at the University, the Minister recognised the growing threats, in particular, of climate change and environmental pressure to the future of British farming – that ‘will make sufficient future yields even more challenging’.
The Minister stated ‘low productivity is a huge challenge for Britain – and I believe more sustainable intensification is the answer. Our new Agri-Technology Strategy sets out clear objectives for the UK to regain its world-leading role in the global race for better, more efficient and more sustainable agricultural production.’
Mr Willetts highlighted the damaging ‘Valley of Death’ which has long separated science from practice – and called for the re-building of applied science for UK farmers to better access important agri-technology expertise. A new centre for ‘Agricultural Informatics and Metrics for Sustainable Production’ was proposed – together with a new ‘National Centre of Agri-Engineering’.
The Minister also celebrated recent advances in plant science being made in the UK, coming from organisations such as Rothamsted and NIAB, and hoped that a reported 30% increase in wheat yields – towards more 20t/ha crops of wheat – might be achievable on many farms in the years ahead. Mr Willetts stressed, however, that genetic modification would be an essential tool, and emphasised that the Government needed to work much more closely with scientists and farmers to dispel myths, fears and confusion about the value of GM cropping to Britain.
The Minister recognised that a failure to support appropriate agricultural research now could result in the UK paying heavily in future for lack of this public-interest investment. He highlighted the value, especially, of greater Government confidence and support for attracting more bright youngsters into our future agri-food industries. Mr Willetts congratulated the Royal Agricultural University on gaining well-deserved university title – and wished it well with its on-going contributions to land-based education and research.
‘We are particularly pleased to have had the Minister give this years’ Bledisloe Lecture at the RAU,’ stated Professor W Paul Davies. ‘It was excellent, and much talked-about. Mr Willetts gave a most timely and encouraging message.’
According to the RAU Vice Principal: ‘The additional support now being offered to our UK food and farming industries will contribute to a much more promising future. It is, perhaps, long overdue – and recognises significant mistakes in past policy-making by previous governments that have hampered British farming. It should now, however, considerably encourage – and is most welcome.’
The text of the recent Bledisloe Lecture has been posted online at:www.gov.uk/government/speeches/bledisloe-memorial-lecture-2013-on-science-technology-and-agriculture.