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Industry specialists to be trained in niche food security skills

Posted 23 May 2011

We need all the advisers and technicians involved in agriculture and horticulture to be able to engage with cutting edge science, and these training programmes will support them to do so."

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) has awarded funding for four major new training programmes for industry specialists working in vital niche areas within the agri-food sector, it is announced today (May 23, 2011).

Harper Adams University is a partner in one of these programmes, which involves the establishment of a strategic training hub for the advancement of the UK agri-food industry.

The BBSRC Advanced Training Partnerships will provide postgraduate level professional development in the area of agriculture and food production for a large number of industry specialists across the UK. Scientific and technical staff working in the UK’s agri-food sectors will be supported to develop the skills necessary to ensure the UK continues to make significant contributions towards national and global food security.

Around 100 individuals will undertake Professional Doctorates under these schemes and several thousand Masters Level CPD modules will be undertaken, with many students building up to a full Master qualification.

The four partnerships have been awarded a total of £12M and bring together companies with research and training organisations. Each one will operate under the leadership of an academic institution. Partnerships will develop and deliver specialist training programmes for postgraduate degrees, as well as continuing professional development courses. Each programme will focus on a particular research area, and the four are complementary, covering the full range of food production from soil to plate. 

The training will be delivered flexibly to ensure that specialist staff from a widest range of companies can benefit.  This will include distance learning, short-courses, work-based training, research placements and secondments.  Training modules can be built into full Masters degrees, and Partnerships will also be developing Professional Doctorates in agricultural and food sciences. 

Professor Douglas Kell, Chief Executive, BBSRC said “We established this innovative scheme in response to a clear need to help the agri-food sector engage with cutting edge of research related to food security. I am pleased to note that we have funded partnerships across the full range of agri-food research areas. This will help to meet the challenge of future food security by strengthening the UK industry skills base in areas such as veterinary science, animal welfare, soil science, plant breeding, crop science and food manufacturing.”

The four partnerships are:

• Establishment of a strategic training hub for the advancement of the UK agri-food industry:

Led by the University of Nottingham with Harper Adams University College, Cranfield University, Rothamsted Research, and a number of industrial partners.

This programme has been designed in response to feedback from industry about training needs and will be flexible and responsive, spanning the entire agri-food chain, including soils, water, crops, animals, post-harvest, food and nutrition. The aim is to provide participants with lifelong membership of a vibrant community of colleagues in industry and academia, enabling them to obtain a wide range of technical and contextual skills that can be deployed for maximum impact across the chain.

• Sustainable and Efficient Food Production

Led by the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Science (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University, with Bangor University, the National Institute of Agricultural Botany, and a number of industrial partners. This training partnership will look to address the high-level skills needs of pasture based agriculture in the UK, focusing on increasing efficiency and reducing environmental impact of extensive beef, sheep and dairy farming.

• Food Quality and Health – Sustaining the Future

Led by the University of Reading with Rothamsted Research, University of Birmingham, Leatherhead Food Research, and a number of other industrial partners.  This partnership brings together experts working on the food chain from production to consumption, from academia and industry, focused on delivering high quality and real-world relevant training for the food and production industries. 

• Advanced Training in Intensive Livestock Health and Production

Led by the Royal Veterinary College with University of Cambridge, University of Newcastle, University of Edinburgh and a number of industrial partners. This consortium will focus on the pig and poultry industry, to provide specialist training to veterinarians as well as other animal scientists working in this sector.

Richard Longthorp, chair of the AgriSkills Forum said “These new training schemes are very welcome. Over the next ten years we need 60,000 new people across the skills pyramid which exists within the agriculture and horticulture sectors. At the highest skill level, there is a significant number of people who require the specialist research and scientific expertise needed to drive forward productivity and sustainability of food production in the UK. This scheme will provide a vital mechanism to develop those skills within the sector.” 

Dr Helen Ferrier, Chief Science and Regulatory Affairs Adviser, NFU said "This is a great opportunity for the farming industry in the UK. We need all the advisers and technicians involved in agriculture and horticulture to be able to engage with cutting edge science, and these training programmes will support them to do so. It's also good to see the spread of skills that will be covered across BBSRC's Advanced Training Partnerships. It is vital that the UK retains the best people and enhances their skills in agronomy, soil management, animal welfare, and many other areas highly relevant to efficient, productive farming”.

Claire Hughes, Company Nutritionist at Marks & Spencer, said “Skills in farming are obviously vital for food security, but we’re very glad that this scheme also includes training in the later stages of food production. To ensure future food security we need to produce enough food but we also need to know how to process it well to minimise waste and maximise nutritional value. With the right mix of skills in the UK we can ensure that the food that reaches our supermarket shelves is of the best possible quality for the minimum of inputs of energy, land and other resources.”

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