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A networking organisation for plants-related research and impact

This very well attended on-line webinar was the first in a series hosted by CambPlants Hub to celebrate the FAO’s International Year of Plant Health. Supported by Cambridge Global Food Security IRC, #Annual Food Agenda, NIAB and the Crop Science Centre, it was a dynamic panel discussion followed by a question and answer session featuring expert representatives from farming, industry and research.   

Dr Richard Harrison, Director of Cambridge Crop Research, NIAB, who chaired the event, set the ball rolling by asking the questions that he hoped the event would tackle: What are the most promising innovations? How do we get put them into practise? How do we start to work with farmers? What are the barriers to uptake? How do we get to the solutions? 

First to speak was Dr Martin Clough, Head of Technology and Digital Integration at Syngenta Crop Protection, who gave us the industry perspective and was keen to stress the need to integrate the science into farmers' agronomic practises.  

"We have to integrate all of the science to fit with farmers' agronomic practises and make it easy for farmers to actually use it - working together in partnership with academia, startups, research institutes and industry - that is the way forward."

Cathryn Lambourne, Senior Scientist, leading on disease management in AHDB Crop Health & IPM team, provided an over-view of the challenges facing farmers and growers today, as well as of advances that might come to their aid, and concluded by calling for closer engagement between growers and advisors. 

"Closer engagement and participation in all things that could help us produce our crops more sustainably."

Professor Uta Paszkowski, Professor of Cereal Symbiosis, University of Cambridge, told us about her lab’s fascinating research into how fungi, bacteria and the soil micro-biome can increase plant health and growth, potentially lessening the need for crop protection products. 

"What we need in the academic research environment is an intensified link with industry - a pipe line that would allow us to drive that transformative change from lab into the field so that we can develop strategies that go all the way from discovery to product development."  

The synergy between industry, farming and researchers was evident in our panel, and their discussion focussed on how best to get innovative new techniques out into the fields. There are many stumbling blocks along the way; new products are expensive, research takes time, as does regulatory approval, and it is hard for farmers to abandon familiar techniques. However, everyone agreed that this is needed, particularly given the rapid decline in the number of active ingredients available for crop protection, the necessity for more environmentally-friendly practices, and increased yields to keep pace with population growth. 

The event ended on an optimistic note; it’s clear that innovative solutions to the challenges that agriculture and food production face are being developed, and that our panellists, and their audience, are willing to work together.

Article by Abigail Youngman.

Please find the event recording here.