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Key developments in science and technology in agriculture

26 September 2022

Farming UK

'Smart crops' to meet surging demand in food, report predicts

Climate change and population growth will drive the need for ‘smart’ crops to meet increased food demands, according to a new report. The huge amount of data that would be needed to ensure the highest crop efficiency will lead to greater automation in farming by 2030.

The report by GlobalData, a data and analytics company, predicts that farms in the 2030s will become ‘smart’, driven by the need to produce more food on less land. To maximise yield, farms will need to collect and monitor huge amounts of data from their crops and livestock, the report says.

19 September 2022


EU agri ministers renew push on genetic techniques to bolster sector

EU agriculture ministers are pushing the European Commission to relax rules on new genomic techniques (NGTs), arguing this is needed to bolster the sector in the face of increasing droughts, climate change and yield losses.

“We only need to modify our old legislative framework regulating modern breeding techniques,” Czech agriculture minister Zdenek Nekula said during a press conference following an informal meeting of EU agriculture ministers on Friday (16 September). According to Nekula, this framework is a “limitation” for European farmers which brings about “brain drain to countries outside of the EU,” leading to significant damage.

Citing concerns that a lack of fertilisers, combined with soaring energy prices and climate change, could see a dramatic drop in agricultural production in the EU, the Czech minister said EU farmers could be helped by “using innovation and results of research in agriculture, stressing that the loss of yields of key crops is a “risk that we cannot underestimate”.

16 September 2022

EU Observer

Food shortage fears prompts call to de-regulate GMOs in EU

Climate change, food insecurity and seasonal shortages have triggered calls to loosen regulation for genetically-modified food and seed technologies in the EU.

"We can help farmers by using innovation," the Czech Republic agriculture minister Zdeněk Nekula, whose country currently holds the rotating EU Council presidency, said in a press conference on Friday (16 September). Nekula said new so-called genomic techniques can help make crops more resilient to drought, frost, diseases and pests.

"These solutions aren't expensive and they don't require investment worth billions. We only need to modify the old legislative framework, [to support] regulating modern breeding techniques," he added. "We need modern rules that will make sure that our production is safe and environmentally sustainable," he said, calling current genetically-modified organism (GMO) rules a "limitation" for European farmers that are causing a brain drain to countries outside of the bloc.

15 September 2022

Financial Times

EU delays cut in pesticide use over food output fears

The EU is delaying plans to halve the use of pesticides over fears the move could cut food production and raise prices of critical products in the bloc.

The Sustainable Use of Pesticides regulation intends to reduce the amount of chemicals deployed by 50 per cent by 2030 but an impact assessment said its implementation would likely reduce production.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has increased energy costs for food producers and cut imports from those countries of grains and other products.

14 September 2022

Farming UK

'Regular crop failures' if livestock farms convert to arable, study warns

Converting farms from livestock to arable would lead to regular crop failures, according to analysis of one the UK’s largest beef and sheep rearing regions. The study focused on the southwest of England in response to questions over what could happen to UK livestock farming if society shifts toward more plant-based diets.

It found that the chances of successfully growing winter wheat on fields once used to raise livestock could be as little as 28% in future, as increased rainfall will make sowing the crop impossible in some years.

Forecasts show that in the absence of climate change, yields could be greater than 14 tonnes per hectare - but when the near certain impact of increased future rainfall on sowing and harvest dates were included, it fell in some situations to less than 3t per hectare.

13 September 2022

AP News

Bill Gates: Technological innovation would help solve hunger

Bill Gates says the global hunger crisis is so immense that food aid cannot fully address the problem. What’s also needed, Gates argues, are the kinds of innovations in farming technology that he has long funded to try to reverse the crisis documented in a report released Tuesday by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Gates points, in particular, to a breakthrough he calls “magic seeds,” crops engineered to adapt to climate change and resist agricultural pests. The Gates Foundation on Tuesday also released a map that models how climate change will likely affect growing conditions for crops in various countries to highlight the urgent need for action.

11 September 2022

Farmers Weekly

MPs visit farm that uses technology to cut slurry emissions

A cross-party group of MPs has viewed on-farm technology capable of slashing methane and ammonia emissions from stored slurry. The Environmental Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) committee MPs visited Holly Green Farm, near Prince’s Risborough, Bedfordshire, on 8 September as part of an ongoing food security inquiry. The farm is run by the Dyson family who milk 500 Holsteins and adopted the technology to help meet net-zero targets and reduce odours during slurry spreading.

Supplied by Danish firm N2 Applied, the treatment unit was installed in the spring of 2021. The equipment is housed in a converted shipping container and uses power drawn from solar panels. Manure is put into the unit where an electrical current is applied. This creates reactive nitrogen that is then pumped back into the slurry store. The process drops the pH and cuts the release of ammonia and methane from the slurry by 98%.

8 September 2022

The Packer

USDA greenlights Norfolk Plant Sciences' Purple Tomato

A new, genetically modified purple tomato has received a green light from the USDA. The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service announced it has reviewed the new tomato from Norfolk Plant Sciences, which was modified to alter its color and enhance its nutritional quality.

“We found the plant is unlikely to pose an increased plant pest risk compared to other cultivated tomatoes, and is not subject to [the Code of Federal Regulations policy regarding the movement of GMO products]” the USDA said in a news release. “That means, from a plant pest risk perspective, this plant may be safely grown and used in breeding in the U.S. “

“We are now one step closer to my dream of sharing healthy purple tomatoes with the many people excited to eat them,” Cathie Martin said in the release. Martin developed the purple tomato by engineering a precise genetic “on switch,” derived from an edible flower.

8 September 2022

Farmers Weekly

Electrical weeder gives better weed control with less energy

Independent trials of a tractor-mounted electric weeding machine in maize and sugar beet crops have shown that the system can give full control of weeds. The Warwickshire-based weed control pioneer Rootwave is developing a chemical-free approach based on electricity, which is hoped to be available for broad-acre row crops in the coming years.

This season saw the experimental system undergo independent testing in commercial maize and sugar beet crops in Warwickshire and Norfolk. Rootwave chief executive officer Andrew Diprose says the independent tests showed that the system provides better weed control in fewer treatments, with no impact on crop or soil.

6 September 2022

Farmers Weekly

How to narrow the UK yield gap to help improve food security

UK cereal yield potential is calculated to be between 14t/ha and 19t/ha, yet current averages are about 7-9t/ha, which gives considerable scope for improvements, say experts at crop consultant Adas’ Yield Enhancement Network (YEN).

Crop yields are a critical measurement and target for growers, but perhaps their greatest importance lies in their role in food security. “Yield has become somewhat unfashionable, despite its ultimate control over profitability and resource use efficiency,” says Roger Sylvester-Bradley, head of crop performance at Adas and YEN lead.

“There is huge capacity on farm to increase yields and, therefore, profitability. Yield potential is a good target for growers, breeders and industry to strive for to boost profits and food security, while also saving land for other uses,” adds Prof Sylvester-Bradley.

2 September 2022

Engineering & Technology

Heat tolerant plants being bred to combat climate change

An intelligent field robot and X-ray technology, using sensors developed by the Fraunhofer Development Centre for X-ray Technology, are helping plant breeders select heat-tolerant plant varieties to sustain crop levels during extremely dry periods.

1 September 2022


Drones proven to aid plant breeding in identifying valuable new crop traits

New research from crop research organisation NIAB and partners in China has, for the first time, linked drone-based, multi-season aerial plant phenotyping with dynamics of agronomic performance that associates with reliable DNA markers.

This will make it easier for crop breeders and researchers to select plants, or discover genes, based on marker patterns (genotypes) and desired traits (phenotypes).

Drones have great potential in plant breeding and crop research, collecting large-scale 2D/3D visual information from plants in field trials relatively easily and cost-effectively. Until now, it was difficult to use the data collected for reliable trait analysis and genetic mapping.