Universities to draw up farming industry's research priorities

The AUC's first project will be to map existing UK agricultural research capacity for the first time in a decade
The AUC's first project will be to map existing UK agricultural research capacity for the first time in a decade

More than a dozen universities which offer courses in agriculture are collaborating in setting out the farming industry's future research priorities.

Sixteen universities have agreed to establish the new Agricultural Universities Council (AUC) which will engage with the government on policy.

The initiative responds to calls for more joined-up research as the UK agricultural industry goes through a rapid post-Brexit transition.

The AUC's first project will be to map existing agricultural research capacity across the UK for the first time in a decade.

It will also work with farmers, as well as food firms, environmental, welfare and community groups, to shape future research priorities.

The council will create a report addressing the highest priority areas for research investment relating to agriculture.

It will identify where the UK most needs to strengthen agricultural research capability, and recommend how universities can work more efficiently and effectively.

The project will start in February 2022, and will report in the autumn.

Professor Rob Edwards, from Newcastle University, who chairs the AUC, said: “We already have a wealth of expertise and facilities for agricultural education and research across the UK.

"But we can make even more of it, with more benefit for farming and the public, if we coordinate our efforts."

The AUC’s work to agree joint research priorities is being supported by the Centre for Effective Innovation in Agriculture (CEIA).

Professor Tom MacMillan, from the CEIA, said farmers and the wider industry had 'longstanding concerns' about the impact of publicly-funded research.

"Some of this frustration is shared by scientists, particularly when they find themselves competing for research grants when it would make more sense to collaborate.

"At this hugely challenging time for farming, it is really refreshing that so many leading research institutions are teaming up to help address this.”

Defra Secretary George Eustice announced the partnership on Thursday 27 January at the Royal Agricultural University, which is one of the members of the AUC.

Other members include Aberystwyth University, Cranfield University, Harper Adams University, Hartpury University, Newcastle University, Queens University Belfast, SRUC, University of Edinburgh, University of Hertfordshire, University of Leeds, University of Lincoln, University of Nottingham, University of Reading, University of Warwick, and Writtle University College.