Agriculture think tank Science for Sustainable Agriculture (SSA) has called for a “reset” of the 2013 UK Agri-tech strategy in a letter to major UK farming policymakers.
The organisation, whose aim is to ensure agriculture innovation informs policy and public knowledge, sent its proposals to former Science Minister George Freeman and Farming Minister Mark Spencer.
It comes as three Agri-Tech centres are undergoing merging to form a ‘Catapult’ model, and the fourth, Agrimetrics, faces uncertainty without government support.
A spokesperson at the SSA said: “Plans to develop a new Catapult by merging three of the Agri-Tech Centres appear to have been developed behind the scenes and without full public consultation.
“Our aim in writing to Ministers is to catalyse a wider, more inclusive discussion, based on a recognition that, 10 years on, the Agri-Tech Centres have not delivered on the Agri-Tech Strategy’s objectives to drive UK agricultural productivity growth.”
The letter urges ministers to focus on genetic improvement, the most important factor driving on-farm productivity gains. The letter also says the Agri-Tech centres haven’t delivered value for money, returning 60p per £1 invested, and are constrained by a “risky” capital-only funding plan.
They outline how Defra has already funded work on agricultural sustainability indicators and metrics as part of the 2014-18 Sustainable Intensification Research Programme (SIP), but failed to take developments forward into policy-making.
This initiative included the prototype of benchmarking software, allowing farmers to see their sustainability indicators over time against a weighted average of their peers.
The SSA say they hope outlined changes provide a critical evidence base to evaluate impact farm policy impact, drive improvements in best practice and inform customers about sustainability importance in their food choices.
Our editorial team have approached Defra for a response and we will publish this as soon as it is received.