NIAB - National Institute of Agricultural Botany

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This timeline aims to give a brief description of some of the notable events in NIAB’s history. It was complied by Tricia Cullimore, founder of the NIAB Archive Group, and some other staff members over a number of years.




1917-18 In the food crisis of 1917-18 Lawrence Weaver was appointed Controller of supplies at the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries.

1917 OSTS established in London to aid improvement of seed quality.

1918 Lawrence Weaver appeals for donations to set up charitable trust fund to establish NIAB.

1919 NIAB established to promote Better Seeds:Better Crops.

1919 A NIAB delegation visits Denmark and Sweden to gain knowledge of their testing stations.



1920 Potato Testing Station, Ormskirk integrated into NIAB.

1920/21 NIAB building constructed.

KING GEORGE V SHOWN OSTS, 1921. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY NIAB.1921 King George V, Queen Mary and Princess Mary visit.

1921 OSTS integrated into NIAB.

1921 Fellowship Scheme launched.

1924 International Seed Testing Association founded at meeting at NIAB.

1924 Regional Trials established.

1924 First Regional Trials Officer’s meeting held at NIAB.



National variety structure established in potatoes and cereals by eliminating local synonyms.



1930-32 The first Farmers’ Leaflets issued for Autumn and Spring sown cereals, Potato, Sugar Beet, Lucerne, Mangolds and Swede varieties.

1936 Randomised block trial designs in use.

1939-45 Priority given to wartime supply of quality seed.

1939-45 Most regional trials ceased for duration of war. Many trials officers seconded to county war ag committees.

1939-45 Sugar Beet and Flax trials continued as deemed necessary to war effort.

HILL FARM, LOLWORTH. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY NIAB.1939-45 NIAB releases authenticated stocks of proven state-bred varieties.



1940 Ormskirk Potato Station closed. NIAB continued with trial work.

1942-50 Seed Production Committee formed at NIAB to stimulate and supervise home produced seed.

1944 First NIAB Recommended Lists for Winter Wheat varieties.

1945 OSTS training courses resumed for official and trade analysts.

1946 Virus-tested potato seed released in Northern Ireland by NIAB Potato Branch.

1947 NIAB purchased seed production farm near Cambridge.



CLEARING GROUND FOR NEW BUILDING. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY NIAB.1951-2 Seed Production Branch, Potato Branch and virus testing lab established.

1952 First NIAB Fellows Crop Conference.

1954 OSTS organised 1st International Course for Seed Analysts.

1956 NIAB introduces the national Cereal Field Approval Scheme with stricter rules.

1957 New building starts.

1956 New Seed Multiplication Branch handles increase in state-bred varieties & produces seed for trials.

1958 NIAB becomes technical co-ordination centre for OEEC (OECD) seed certification schemes.



QUEEN ELIZABETH II VISITS IN 1969. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY NIAB.1960 John Hare (Min of Ag) opens new extension

1964 MAFF commissions NIAB to test varieties for distinctness, uniformity and stability (DUS) and conduct statutory performance trials.

1965 Seed Multiplication Committee formed to introduce preliminary arrangements for Plant Breeders’ Rights in 1965.

1965 New Systematic Botany Branch formed. 1967 50th anniversary of OSTS.

1967 National Seed Development Organisation takes over NIAB’s seed multiplication role.

1968 Fellows and industry organisations represented on Council successfully oppose a plan for NIAB to become part of MAFF.

1969 The Queen visits for NIAB’s 50th anniversary.



1970 A new Trust Deed retains NIAB’s independence and charitable status.


1970 IBM punched card equipment installed in Seed Production Branch.

1973 MAFF:NIAB Agreement defines NIAB’s responsibilities for the statutory DUS and VCU tests following UK accession to the EC.

1973 Seed Certification Schemes become statutory.

1976 Installation of Computer CTL Modular One (Mod1) by MAFF allowed NIAB to act as UK co-ordinator of NL VCU & DUS data.

1978 FITCON (fitting constants) technique approved for use by Council.



1980 Electrophoresis: wheat identification.

AGRICULTURAL WORK AT NIAB. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY NIAB.1982 NIAB becomes single EC centre for PBR tests of chrysanthemums.

1983 International plant breeders’ association requests NIAB to host Electrophoresis workshop.

1983 Rapid Seed Viability test offered by OSTS 1985 PRIME 2550 installed for VCU/DUS work.

1986 VARTEST and Vegetable Association Scheme launched.

1987 Sugar beet mobile tarehouse bought.

1988 X-ray fluorescence machine in use.

1989 Sugar beet brei testing taken on from British Sugar.

1989 Image analysis system and new molecular biology lab.



1990 International training and consultancy programme developed.

1990s ELISA testing of potatoes escalated.

1990s UK RL and NL integrated system maintains standards at reduced cost.

QUEEN ELIZABETH II VISITING FOR 75TH ANNIVERSARY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY NIAB.1994 The Queen and Prince Philip visit for NIAB’s 75th anniversary.

1995 First website.

1996 Business Plan shows 55% income from non- statutory projects.

1996 NIAB ‘s change of status as an independent charitable trust in the private sector came into effect 1st April.

1996 New MAFF:NIAB agreement signed.



2001 Cereal & OSR RL moves to HGCA.

2003 ISO accreditation granted.

2004/5 NL work previously done for Defra contracted from BSPB.

2005 Defra:NIAB agreement successfully re- negotiated to 2010.

2005 Long-term capital investment plan developed.

2005 Pre breeding initiative launched.

2006 New 10-year Defra/NIAB performance- led contract.



BINGHAM LABORATORY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY NIAB.2008 Bingham Laboratory officially opened to house NIAB’s expanding capabilities in pre-breeding, translational plant science and applied genetic research

2009 Sale of part of Huntingdon Road site by NIAB Trust to David Wilson Homes for redevelopment. Reinvestment in facilities and research programmes.

2009 Construction of new glasshouses starts at Park Farm.

2009 NIAB and TAG merge to form NIAB TAG, encompassing the variety and agronomy advisory and field research aspects of NIAB. NIAB Association rebranded as NIAB TAG Network.



OPENING OF ‘THE MACLEOD COMPLEX’, 2010. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY NIAB.2010 “The MacLeod Complex” glasshouses officially opened on 29th January 2010 by James Paice MP and former Director John MacLeod.

2010 NIAB Innovation Farm opened to demonstrate how plant genetic improvement can help address the major global challenges of food security, climate change and resource conservation while enhancing health and nutrition.



2011 £1.25 million funding gained from the Morley Agricultural Foundation, the Felix Cobbold Trust and the JC Mann Trust to safeguard both NIAB TAG’s unique long-term farming systems studies and its commitment to communicate openly funded agronomic research to the farmer and agricultural industry.

2012 NIAB Innovation Farm awarded a £2.7 million grant from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), with additional match-funding coming from industry and academia.

2012 NIAB awarded 5-year, £620k BBSRC project to provide a community resource for wheat transformation.

2012 Cambridge University Farms Potato Agronomy Unit transfers to NIAB and becomes NIAB CUF.



OPENING OF SOPHI TAYLOR BUILDING AND NIAB INNOVATION FARM GLASSHOUSE, 2013. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY NIAB.2013 Sophi Taylor Building and NIAB Innovation Farm glasshouse officially opened by Defra minister Lord de Mauley – aimed at showcasing advances in plant genetics.

2013 NIAB’s synthetic hexaploid wheat research programme featured on BBC Countryfile TV programme, showcasing NIAB’s pre-breeding and genetics capabilities.

2013 NIAB CEO Dr Tina Barsby joins Government’s AgriTech Leadership council. AgriTech Strategy launch begins a renewed emphasis on research and innovation at the farm- level citing NIAB’s work as a prime example of good practice.