Posted 9 March 2010
While at Harper Adams for the official opening of the Postgraduate Centre, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Nick Herbert, and his House of Lords colleague Lord Taylor of Holbeach, outlined Conservatives the Conservatives’ thinking on agricultural research and development.
Lord Taylor has been conducting a review on this topic and as part of this had visited Harper Adams just 10 days previously, when he was so impressed with what he saw he urged Mr Herbert to return with him for the building opening.
In the lecture theatre of the West Midlands Regional Food Academy at Harper Adams, the Shadow Secretary outlined his hopes for the countryside:
“A prosperous British farming community; a thriving natural environment; and vibrant rural communities: Harper Adams in contributing in one way or another to all of these causes. The new postgraduate centre is just another sign of your commitment to the future. A future which holds considerable challenges for the land based industries, but which also offers enormous opportunities.
“It was a pleasure to speak today to some of the postgraduate students and to capture the sense of optimism they have about the agricultural and associated industries and to hear that this is a sector they want to be in.
“Now is the time to look forward. Demand for food is increasing rapidly, driven by population growth and changing diets. At the same time, one’s ability to meet this demand is being severely compromised by climate change and the depletion of our natural resources. Farming cannot be seen as an industry of the past. It must be an industry of the future. And the Government must create conditions in which it can succeed – in tune with nature and in truly open markets. There is little doubt that science, technological innovation and knowledge exchange will have a pivotal role in helping to meet that dual challenge.”
Lord Taylor told staff and students: “For over a century this site, Harper Adams, has provided agricultural education and strengthened the link between science and the practice of farming. You should be proud to belong to such a pioneering institution. It was an early champion of the importance of innovation as a solution to the agricultural depression and today it is constantly trying new ideas and pushing at the perimeters of knowledge.
“The application of science has changed the face of the agricultural sector since the days of Thomas Harper Adams over a century ago. From horse drawn ploughs to satellite guided combine harvesters, genetic improvements and advanced stock protection products, agriculture has been transformed. But with nine billion mouths to feed by 2050, we cannot afford to stand still.
“I am delighted to say that the Conservative Government would prioritise agricultural research and development within the existing departmental budget. But whoever wins the next General Election, it is clear that they will not be in a position to write big cheques to agriculture. The resources challenge we face is economic as well as environmental.”
He explained that the Conservatives’ approach would fall under five headings:
1. To encourage private sector investment - “The ability of the individual farm to carry out it own R&D is limited, but there is an enormous range of businesses across the food supply chain and we must encourage those with the capacity to invest in R&D.”
2. To invigorate applied research – “We must make sure our capacity for world-class pure science is complements by research with specific practical aims.”
3. To ensure translation of R&D into practical benefits for out partners, farmers, growers and food businesses – “We need to facilitate the exchange of information between farmers, student and scientists, and intermediaries such as agronomists, consultants and farm advisors… we must encourage online resources such as Openfields, run here at Harper Adams. You should be really proud of that particular asset.” www.openfields.org.uk
4. To equip farmers and growers with the higher level skills necessary to meet the challenges and exploit the opportunities of the future
5. To meet the global challenge – “We must share solutions with those parts of the world where there is greatest need”.
After the address, Lord Taylor and Nick Herbert took questions from the floor, covering topics including GM crops; retail food waste/substandard produce; the use of British food in parliament; the need to align agricultural R&D policy with those of other Government departments; bovine TB; renewable energy and regional funding.
The two then enjoyed a tour of the campus and its farm, accompanied by Chairman of the Harper Adams Board of Governors Alison Blackburn and Harper Adams Principal Dr David Llewellyn.
Dr Llewellyn said: “We were delighted to be able to welcome Nick Herbert and Lord Taylor to the University College where we were able to show them our wide range of research and teaching facilities and provide them with an opportunity to meet staff and students.
“Lord Taylor’s address on the Conservatives’ emerging thinking on agricultural research and development was also timely, in that it emphasised a need for a focus on applied research, the translation of research into practice and skills development – three of the key areas in which Harper Adams is already engaged.”