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Tuesday, 03 August 2010

UK pledges €15.5m for new research

The UK Government is to pump more than £13.5 million (€15.5m) into more than 30 innovative crop protection research projects in a move it hopes will help farmers cope with new European Union regulations. The funding is being coordinated by the UK’s Technology Strategy Board (TSB), a group designed to promote innovation across a wide range of disciplines and which recently launched the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Innovation Platform, which brings together government, industry and researchers. The 32 projects recently granted funding reflect this desire to bring together different partners, as they include more than 100 UK companies, research establishments and other organisations. Including the contributions from the UK companies conducting the research and development, the total value of the projects will exceed £25m (€28.7). More than half of the projects are devoted to potato and horticultural crops, sectors expected to be most affected by the EU’s ‘pesticides package’. They include, for example, a project to develop potato varieties with durable resistance to late blight and nematodes, strategies for quantifying and controlling free-living nematode populations and consequent damage by tobacco rattle virus to improve potato yield and quality, and accelerated introgression of host plant resistance to carrot fly into elite carrot varieties. A number of biocontrol projects are included in the funding, including new bio-fumigation-based approaches to the sustainable control of soil-borne pathogens, alongside areas such as automatic weed mapping in arable fields for precision farming, the molecular improvement of disease resistance in barley and inducing novel broad spectrum disease resistance in wheat. Jim Paice, the UK’s Agriculture and Food Minister, said: “Crop protection is an important issue for UK farmers and growers, so I’m pleased that this is the first area to be targeted by the platform. This competition, to which the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has contributed £3.5m (€4.1m), will give vital support to farmers following changes to the EU pesticide regulations.”However, the choice of projects and the nature of the ‘competition’ for funding have not been universally welcomed. Critics have pointed out that the projects are designed to produce valuable intellectual property for the partners involved rather than be shared with the industry as a whole. In particular, only one project part-funded by growers through the UK’s levy system was selected. These levies, collected by the Agriculture and Horticultural Development Board (AHDB), are designed to pay for ‘near-market’ research and development and the associated technology transfer, and thus provide benefits for growers. In the horticultural sector, for example, growers generally pay 0.5% of their annual turnover to the Horticultural Development Company, producing an annual research fund of nearly £5m (€5.9m). HDC chairman Neil Bragg told the journal Horticulture Week: “The problem with the projects awarded is they focus on individual companies so they are not in the interest of the horticulture industry as a whole. If that’s the course the Government intends to take so be it but it is of no benefit to us.”

Source: Endure