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AHDB commits £5m to farming innovation

Industry body to plough money into PhD courses after identifying UK productivity gap of over £4bn in lost GDP

AHDB commits £5m to farming innovation

AHDB's SCEPTRE research programme aims to address gaps in crop production, especially those arising from the loss of pesticides

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AHDB is set to invest £5 million in Britain’s next generation of agricultural experts and tackle what it sees as a lack of investment in innovation and skills.

It will plough the funds into supporting PhD university students, following its recent report, which identified a UK productivity gap worth over £4bn in lost GDP.

AHDB has pledged to invest £900,000 towards supporting agricultural PhD courses in 2018, with funds totalling in excess of £5m over the next five years.

According to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), agricultural student admissions in the UK have risen by more than a quarter over the last decade, from 1,485 in 2008, to 2,085 in 2017.

But industry experts have warned that the UK must overhaul what it calls its “fragmented innovation and skills pipeline” to drive change in the sector and keep pace with competitor countries.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), innovation and research development is the main source of long-term agricultural productivity growth, identifying a direct correlation between business performance and levels of education.

This makes investment in this area critical to the success of post-Brexit UK farming, AHDB said.

The body added that increased collaboration is required to harness industry knowledge through public and private sector partnerships. 

AHDB chief technical officer Richard Laverick said: “This investment will help universities forge stronger links with the UK’s fast-evolving agricultural industry by delivering practical technical developments which are relevant to industry priorities.

“It further provides a unique and cost-effective opportunity to build expertise and understanding of novel technical practices, supporting growers, producers and others in the UK supply chain.”

Investment in agricultural innovation has been bolstered in recent years through the government’s Agri-Tech strategy.

Public and private sector funding totalled approximately £490m in 2015, putting the UK ahead of some of its main competitors in terms of investment as a proportion of Gross Value Added.

However, public funding of agricultural R&D remains heavily skewed towards ‘blue sky’ research, rather than near-market application, AHDB warned.

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