DEFRA launches UK-wide forum to tackle environmental impact of farming

A UK-wide agricultural forum for farmers and experts to share knowledge has been launched by DEFRA, with the intention that it tackles environmental challenges in the sector.

The UK Agriculture Partnership (UKAP) is intended to bring together stakeholders from across the agriculture sector and UK nations to share scientific knowledge and find solutions to problems faced by farmers, including the impact the sector has on the environment.

The inaugural meeting took place last week at the Royal Agricultural University (RAU) in Cirencester, when UKAP was launched by environment secretary George Eustice. 

The forum is set to explore topics such as how to improve the use of water on farms, the role of science and agri-tech in supporting food production, and solutions to reduce pollution and carbon emissions in the sector.

At the launch, Eustice also announced that more than a dozen universities offering courses in agriculture are set to form a separate partnership, through which they will collectively decide the future research priorities for the farming industry.

The Agricultural Universities Council (AUC) intends to engage with the government on policy, and says that its first project will be to map existing agricultural research capacity across the UK for the first time in a decade, according to an announcement by the University of Reading, which is part of the AUC.

Professor Tom MacMillan, from the Royal Agricultural University, said that there was currently a sense that the agriculture sector was not getting as big a benefit from the academic community as it could be. 

He told the BBC’s Farming Today that the AUC partnership would be thinking about the “big balance” of where money gets spent and looking at how farmers and researchers work together.

Regarding research priorities, MacMillan told the BBC that the areas likely to come into scope would be climate change, soils, changing markets, and the future of land management. 

Professor Rob Edwards, head of the school of natural and environmental sciences at Newcastle University, and who chairs the AUC, said: “We already have a wealth of expertise and facilities for agricultural education and research across the UK but we can make even more of it, with more benefit for farming and the public, if we coordinate our efforts… Universities, like all sectors, are faced with a whole range of competing demands and pressures and I’ve been heartened by the huge goodwill and commitment our members have brought to working together.”

The AUC is due to begin in February 2022.