Depending on your perspective you may have been relishing the recent spell of unusually hot and dry weather – if, on the other hand, you are one of the many farmers who have been struggling to combat the heat, drought and feed shortages your view is likely to be quite different. Whatever your thoughts on the ‘summer of 2018’, the extreme weather conditions highlight the importance of boosting the resilience of food production systems in the UK to help ensure food supply is maintained.

In the context of our unusually warm and dry summer, is very timely then that the first calls for the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund ‘Transforming Food Production’ challenge have been launched this month – see details of the initial Collaborative Research and Development call at GOV.UK: Productive and sustainable crop and ruminant agricultural systems

Through this first call, UK Research and Innovation are seeking industry-led collaborative proposals that aim to boost productivity and sustainability of crop and ruminant production systems, drawing on a range of disciplines – bioscience, environmental science, engineering, digital technologies – and encouraging multidisciplinary approaches. A particular area of interest is exploiting the power of data and digital technologies to enhance the precision of decision making on-farm – and across supply chains – with the aim to increase resilience, resource-use efficiency and productivity. The call is also seeking proposals for the development of novel production systems – and here there is a real opportunity to reimagine how food might be produced, in urban environments, above or underground, in closed systems and beyond. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing these proposals.

Related to the resilience and productivity in our food supply chains, recent outputs from research that BBSRC has supported at Rothamsted Research, North Wyke and the John Innes Centre have made important contributions to our knowledge in this area. Researchers at North Wyke have utilised individual field-level data, captured from their instrumented farm platform, to demonstrate a key link between soil health, soil carbon levels and the productivity of grazing cattle. The results suggest that changing patterns of rotational grazing could be a simple way to boost livestock production. At JIC, recent research has demonstrated that mutation of a gene that controls meristem to inflorescence transition in wheat results in formation of double spikelets in the ear of the wheat – essentially increasing yield. This genetic mechanism is also believed to be relevant in other crops too – including maize and barley – see paper: Plant cell: TEOSINTE BRANCHED1 Regulates Inflorescence Architecture and Development in Bread Wheat (Triticum aestivum L.).

These examples demonstrate that advances in our knowledge of crop and livestock systems have real potential to contribute to enhancing the resilience, productivity and sustainability of UK food supplies – and the ISCF Transforming Food Production challenge programme will be seeking to accelerate the translation of such knowledge into real-world impact.

Related posts (based on tags and chronology):