Soil health came out top choice as a research priority in our straw poll of visitors to the Innovation Hub.
Amid the creation of the new UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) body to oversee investment into research, the appointment of a new Secretary of State for DEFRA, and the discussions around the new Agriculture Bill, we asked visitors at last month’s Royal Norfolk Show where they would spend money to improve UK agriculture.
Water everywhere but the show goes on
At the end of Day 1 of the Show, soil health was the most popular choice, but by the end of Day 2, water usage had edged ahead (possibly influenced by an unprecedented 60-75 mm of rainfall between Tuesday afternoon and Weds evening, Source: Weatherquest Ltd). Preventing yield loss was third, followed by genomics and then seed technologies.
When visitors to the Innovation Hub were asked for any other suggestions, topics rated worthy of funding ranged from reducing waste, controlling run-off, making better use of big data and more research into environmentally-sensitive farming.
Admittedly our findings are a somewhat unscientific snapshot of the views of our Hub visitors, but they highlight the serious questions being asked within Government and other industry stakeholders, as well as across the research community around future priorities for funding.
How do you choose between soils and water?
In March this year, DEFRA published a document describing its Areas of Research Interest in response to the Review by Sir Paul Nurse, where Government departments have been urged to communicate their long term research challenges. It is the job of the Board of UKRI to help shape the UK’s science agenda to help navigate through all these suggestions, in discussions with the various Departments.
DEFRA’s list of research priorities includes many of the ideas generated by our visitors in the Innovation Hub – and more. A frequent comment by visitors asked to choose between soils and water, and increasing productivity and seed technologies, for example, was that they tend to be inter-linked and to prioritise just one is difficult, if not inappropriate.
That was, of course, the point. By asking people to select just one area of focus, we tried to demonstrate that no single research topic can sit alone in the overall advancement of agricultural R&D. That led onto the conversation about the need to bring together a range of different expertise and the importance of relevant Government departments coming together to tackle huge multi-disciplinary challenges facing the industry.
The ambition to bring everything together across departments was clearly stated by Michael Gove at the Show – let’s watch this space.