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£15M scheme to train hundreds in vital food security R&D

10 February 2010

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is today (10 Feb 2010) committing up to £15M to establish training for food security research and development. The Advanced Training Partnerships scheme is announced at the same time as the launch of the new industry-led AgriSkills Strategy, which is being launched by Lantra (the sector skills council for environmental and land-based industries) and NFU (National Farmers' Union) with support from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The AgriSkills Strategy aims to ensure the UK can equip itself with the right skills to enable a profitable and sustainable agricultural industry for the future and is complementary to the new BBSRC scheme.

The BBSRC Advanced Training Partnerships will ensure that the UK has the vital highly skilled workers in the agri-food sector in the coming decade to secure our food supply. The scheme will support the development of staff within the sector and help companies with succession planning in niche skill areas. Collaboration between training providers and industry partners will ensure that high level skills relevant to crops, livestock and food are employed throughout the development pipeline.

Science and Innovation Minister Lord Drayson said: "Transferring the UK’s world-leading bioscience research from the lab bench to the field will underpin this fast-growing sector. This BBSRC initiative will help train the skilled workers we need to build on our strengths in farming and agricultural production and protect our future food supply.”

Richard Longthorp, chair of the AgriSkills Strategy Group said: “Agriculture and horticulture are now firmly in the limelight having been identified as key to food security and evolving a low carbon economy. We must address this challenge against the backdrop of needing 60,000 new people within the sector over the next 10 years. These people will need the right skills at the right level as well as support from knowledge and technology transfer activities and excellent research & development. 

“It is very timely that BBSRC should be launching its own initiative regarding R&D skills today. The industry-led AgriSkills Strategy addresses skills at farm level and so BBSRC’s scheme is complementary. The AgriSkills Forum recognises the need to address skills in the agri-food sector in a holistic manner and we look forward to working closely with BBSRC to compare notes and ensure that any potential synergies are encouraged to be realised.”

Peter Kendall, NFU President said: "Farming remains at the heart of tackling the challenge of feeding a world of nine billion people by 2050. What the farming industry needs in order to meet this challenge is strong agricultural and horticultural research in the UK. We must have the right skills and expertise in place to bring new methods and technologies into practice on the ground.

"This BBSRC scheme will help to ensure that research done by highly skilled scientists can benefit farmers by being translated into new technologies, practices and advice they can use on a commercial scale to produce more and impact less."

Training providers including universities, agricultural colleges and research institutes, along with industry, are in a position to ensure that high level skills for research and practice are embedded across the whole agri-food sector. This might involve developing training at a modular level for masters degrees, setting up professional doctorate programmes or establishing knowledge exchange secondments between the public and private sectors.

Dr Celia Caulcott, BBSRC Director of Innovation and Skills said: “We need an increased number of individuals with specific very high level skills if we are to meet the challenge of future food security that has been laid out for us. There are also skills shortages in some specific niche areas of research expertise such as large animal physiology and health, soil science, horticulture, plant breeding, plant physiology and pest management. In some cases the number of people required nationwide with a particular skill is very small and so succession planning is absolutely vital as these individuals approach retirement.”

BBSRC expects to fund a small number of high-value awards, committing up to £15M towards the Advanced Training Partnerships scheme. These awards will provide support for up to five years of core costs and new programme or module development. This means that the money is to be used to fund management, administration and direction of the partnership.

Applications will be through a two-stage process - outline proposals to be assessed by a bespoke panel who will advise on those to be invited to submit full applications.

For further information see:



Government, BBSRC annually invests around £450 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK  and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:

The Babraham Institute, Institute for Animal Health, Institute for Biological, Environmental and Rural Studies (Aberystwyth University), Institute of Food Research, John Innes Centre, The Genome Analysis Centre, The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh) and Rothamsted Research. The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.