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The government hopes the £160m agri-tech strategy can increase the development of new varieties

The government officially unveiled its £160m agri-tech strategy today in a bid to help British growers produce more home-grown crops and to become world leaders in sustainable farming.

The strategy, which has been backed by the National Farmers Union (NFU) and the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), will provide substantial funding for R&D within agriculture. And the government has pledged to help growers commercialise new varieties, such as cancer-fighting broccoli, at a much faster rate.

Launching today (22 July) at the East Malling Research Centre in Kent, the Agricultural Technologies Strategy will make the UK farming industry, which employs almost four million people and contributes an annual rate of nearly £100 billion to the economy, more resilient in the face of a rising global population, according to DEFRA science minister Lord De Mauley.

He explained: 'We face a global challenge to feed the rapidly increasing population in a way that is affordable and sustainable. We are investing in technologies that will enable British farmers to meet these challenges and take advantage of the growing demand in export markets for British food.'

Important elements of the strategy include the creation of a new leadership council, which will include pivotal representatives from the fresh produce industry as well as within science and government, and a £30million investment in four agri-science research and innovation campuses set up by the Biotechnolocy & Biological Sciences Research Council.

AHDB chief executive Tom Taylor has praised the government's ambition. He said: 'The competitiveness and sustainability of our farming sector will be transformed if funding is channelled into industry-relevant research that is capable of being rapidly translated into on-farm innovation. This new agri-tech strategy shows the government has real ambition for the UK to be a world leader in agricultural technology, innovation and sustainability - I’m greatly encouraged.”

Meanwhile, NFU president Peter Kendall believes the strategy can help to bridge the gap between farming and young people. YouGov estimates that more than 950,000 people between the ages of 16 and 24, are unemployed. Kendall says it is therefore time to address the issue of farming not being able to attract enough young people.

'Skills and training for farmers are absolutely critical so that knowledge generated through agri-science can be adopted on a commercial scale. Showing agriculture as an innovative, rewarding and business-focused sector will make it a career of choice for the next generation of farmers, advisers, engineers, vets and scientists.'