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NEWS: Field of experts come together at pioneering event to tackle the future of food and farming in the UK

21 November 2011

New research will show how carbon emissions can be significantly reduced by farmers and how a ground-breaking agricultural project could lessen heart disease

A powerful network of scientists, farmers, industrialists, policymakers, and retailers, including Waitrose, will gather today to address major issues concerning the food supply chain. Their aim is to help farmers and food producers find ways of becoming more efficient and sustainable.

The inaugural event, organised by the Centre of Excellence for UK Farming (CEUKF), is the first time such a cross section of experts will debate what is needed for the UK to be the best place to produce safe and nutritious food - against the backdrop of climate change and other 21st Century challenges.

Food security, continuity of supply, optimal efficiency and environmental sustainability are major UK and global issues and require effective collaboration between research and industry stakeholders to ensure that consumer demands can be met.

Given that no one organisation can address these issues in isolation, the meeting is being seen as a unique opportunity for a broad network of experts to test hypotheses and capture innovation that can be rapidly translated into benefits for consumers, processors and producers of UK food.

The Centre of Excellence for UK Farming (CEUKF) is a pioneering supply chain partnership established by Waitrose, the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University and the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB). The Centre is designed to deliver on the current and future requirements for sustainable food supply in the UK.

In less than a year since its establishment, CEUKF has already made significant progress in driving ground-breaking research and innovation for the industry.

Helping Farmers Reduce Their Carbon Footprint

During 2011 a CEUKF pilot study measured a simplified carbon footprint. The research looked at the agricultural causes of greenhouse gases, such as tractor diesel, fertilisers and sprays, to calculate an individual field’s carbon footprint. In all data was collected from 46 fields during the 2010 harvest.

As a result of the research, a bespoke carbon calculator has now been was developed for the CEUKF which uses individual farm and field data. This means that the amounts of greenhouse gas emissions per tonne of wheat harvested can now be monitored alongside the crop management and local conditions of that field.

Initial results for the fields studied have revealed that the amount of greenhouse gases produced per tonne of wheat reduced dramatically as the yield of wheat increased. So for these fields, at least, increasing yield had a beneficial effect in reducing the carbon footprint.

The CEUKF aims to build on this work with data from further fields and seasons, as well as developing similar indicators for other sustainability criteria, such as soil, water and wildlife habitat. It will also be looking to extend this approach across a range of farming and horticultural products.

Healthy Oats

One key research project led by the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS, (Aberystwyth University) is the development of new crop varieties which can help to lessen the danger of heart disease. This is one of the benefits of a naturally-occurring chemical called beta glucan which is found in oats, a crop that can cope with the poorer agricultural land and the wetter climate of areas like west Wales.

Beta glucan can help trap cholesterol and stop it from entering the bloodstream. Experts at IBERS are now breeding varieties of oats with higher beta glucan content. It is vital that new varieties also have a high yield in order to maintain farmers’ profit levels. Trials are being carried out on the different oat varieties at the Institute in Wales, and also in other areas like Scotland, so that they can be tested under different climate and soil conditions. The hope is that the new varieties of winter and spring oats will be on the market for farmers within the next few years.

Professor Wayne Powell, IBERS, Aberystwyth University, said:
“We’re proud to be a lead partner in this pioneering Centre. I look forward to our first Conference and the opportunity to interact with a wide cross section of stakeholders from producers, research scientists, policy makers and the retail sector. Farming is now at the centre of some of the most important debates facing society and CEUKF is committed to ensuring that the UK is able to produce a secure supply of safe and nutritious food in the presence of climate change.”

Heather Jenkins, Director of Agriculture, Waitrose, said:
“Farmers and the food chain are fundamental to our response to the global challenge of feeding more people and with reduced environmental impact. Securing a balance between increased productivity and more efficient use of natural resources will require new thinking and innovative approaches. That objective is why the Centre of Excellence in UK Farming was established, and this event along with their ground breaking research is already challenging the industry into tackling global food issues.”

The CEUKF conference ‘Working together to sustain the UK’s domestic food supply chain’ will be held on 21-22 November 2011 at Chesford Grange in Kenilworth, Warwickshire.

Representative leaders will articulate their view of the opportunities and challenges facing the food industry, including: Jim Paice, MP, Minister of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; Lord Curry of Kirkhale, Chair of the Centre of Excellence for UK Farming and Chair of Leckford Farm; Professor Tim Benton, UK Champion for Global Food Security; Professor Wayne Powell, IBERS, Aberystwyth University; Heather Jenkins, Waitrose; and Peter Kendall, President, National Farmers Union.