Crop sci­ence projects get boost

Western Daily Press (Saturday) - - Countryside -

£2 mil­lion do­na­tion boosts agri­cul­ture and food se­cu­rity re­search at Royal Agri­cul­tural Uni­ver­sity

PHD re­search into top­ics such as grow­ing soy­bean as a prof­itable, low-car­bon crop will con­tinue to thrive at the Royal Agri­cul­tural Uni­ver­sity (RAU) fol­low­ing a do­na­tion of £2 mil­lion.

The uni­ver­sity has re­ceived this re­search in­vest­ment thanks to the John Ol­dacre Foun­da­tion, which sup­ports the agri­cul­tural sciences and is a long-term fun­der of doc­toral study at the uni­ver­sity.

Two John Ol­dacre schol­ars at the uni­ver­sity are al­ready sup­ported by nearly £190,000 and are work­ing on crop sci­ence projects that will be of long-term ben­e­fit to the UK’s food se­cu­rity.

The new en­dow­ment of £2 mil­lion will en­sure fu­ture re­search of this kind at the uni­ver­sity in per­pe­tu­ity – an es­ti­mated two new PhDs per year. It will also en­hance links with the agri­cul­tural re­search com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing a col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Agri­cul­tural Botany (NIAB).

Pedzi­sai Ne­madz­iba, from Zim­babwe, one of the cur­rent PhDs, is de­vel­op­ing strate­gies for the UK to suc­cess­fully grow large-scale soy­bean crops, which have lower reliance on fer­tilis­ers and are be­com­ing a grow­ing part of our diet. The ma­jor­ity of the UK’s soya is cur­rently im­ported and ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied.

An­other stu­dent, Caitlin Wil­lis is “in­ves­ti­gat­ing in­sec­ti­cide re­sis­tance in UK pop­u­la­tions of oil seed rape pests”, in this case in con­junc­tion with the non-profit Rotham­sted Re­search In­sti­tute.

These projects will be su­per­vised by Dr Nicola Can­non and Dr Xian­min Chang.

Dr Nicola Can­non, prin­ci­pal lec­turer in agron­omy, who is su­per­vis­ing Pedzi­sai’s PhD said: “It is an hon­our that the foun­da­tion has cho­sen to build on its al­ready gen­er­ous sup­port for re­search at the uni­ver­sity.

“It means we can in­crease our fo­cus on stud­ies that of­fer ben­e­fits to farm­ers, the en­vi­ron­ment and the pub­lic by im­prov­ing the car­bon foot­print of agri­cul­ture and re­duc­ing in­put costs.

“For ex­am­ple, if sys­tems can be found to suc­cess­fully grow soy­beans at scale in the UK it would not only im­prove the di­ver­sity of crop­ping on farms but could help lower the amount of im­ported soya in the UK, much of which is GM.

“Soy­bean also has the ben­e­fit of be­ing a legu­mi­nous crop (the same fam­ily as, for ex­am­ple, peas and beans) which means it can form an as­so­ci­a­tion with ni­tro­gen fix­ing bac- teria, re­duc­ing the need for ad­di­tional fer­tiliser. Be­ing spring sown, residues from the pre­vi­ous soy­bean crop can also be left over win­ter to pro­vide a feed source for wild birds or the land can be sown with a cover crop to help with re­moval of car­bon from the at­mo­sphere, known as se­ques­tra­tion.

“Soya is now be­ing in­cor­po­rated into meat prod­ucts in­clud­ing burg­ers and sausages to help re­duce red meat con­sump­tion for en­vi­ron­men­tal and di­etary ben­e­fits.

“Grow­ing soya in the UK would help im­prove con­sumer un­der­stand­ing of this crop whilst re­duc­ing food miles and hope­fully in the near fu­ture be a prof­itable and vi­able crop for farm­ers.”

Pro­fes­sor Joanna Price, ViceChan­cel­lor of the Royal Agri­cul­tural Uni­ver­sity said: “We are proud to re­ceive this trans­for­ma­tional in­vest­ment in our doc­toral re­search, build­ing on three decades of sup­port for the RAU by the John Ol­dacre Foun­da­tion.

“In­vest­ment in PhD stu­dents is crit­i­cal for en­sur­ing that we ad­dress fu­ture chal­lenges fac­ing agri­cul­ture and for the RAU to make an im­pact in ar­eas like global food se­cu­rity, crop re­silience and cli­mate change.”

Henry Shouler, chair of trus­tees at the John Ol­dacre Foun­da­tion said: “Af­ter pro­mot­ing re­search at the Royal Agri­cul­tural Uni­ver­sity for more than 30 years, we are de­lighted a pro­gramme has been agreed to se­cure the fu­ture for its PhD stu­dents and their projects in the name of John Ol­dacre, who was a long­stand­ing sup­porter of this work.”

‘Grow­ing soya in the UK would help im­prove

con­sumer un­der­stand­ing of this crop

DR NICOLA CAN­NON

ments have on our nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment.

“It is clear that the past pro­posal for an eastern route re­lief road would have had dev­as­tat­ing im­pacts on the Lugg SSSI mead­ows and the River Lugg SAC had it ever come to fruition.

“With fur­ther ma­jor road build­ing schemes planned within the county, Here­ford­shire Wildlife Trust will ex­pect statu­tory bod­ies to en­sure that the county’s wildlife and species are prop­erly pro­tected and will work hard to hold them to ac­count.”

Mikal Lud­low

RAU PhD stu­dent Pedzi­sai Ne­madz­iba work­ing on the RAU’s soy­bean trial

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