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BBSRC at the NFU conference 2018

Copyright: iStock

BBSRC is one of many exhibitors at the annual National Farmers Union (NFU) conference in Birmingham. The two day event, 20 and 21 February, is expected to attract thousands of visitors to the Birmingham ICC. The NFU conference is one of the agricultural sector's biggest event, setting the tone for the farming year.

The event provides an opportunity for BBSRC to engage with the farming community. BBSRC will be showcasing just some of the ways in which we invest in agriculture and food research and highlight the role BBSRC plays in UK farming.

Among those attending the event on the first day include Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Greg Clarke MP, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is to speak at the event tomorrow (Wednesday).

As the NFU conference is well under way, here are five examples of how bioscience research has made significant improvements in farming.

(You could essentially cook a roast dinner from these items…)

  • Reducing sheep lameness

    Challenge: Around 7.5 million sheep become lame every year. Sheep lameness is a serious welfare issue, but also has considerable economic impact on sheep farmers.

    Solution: Evidence provided by researchers from The University of Warwick has helped cut the number of lame sheep in the UK national flock by half, saving the industry £700 million over ten years and preventing 7.5 million sheep from becoming lame every year. Professor Laura Green and colleagues showed 95% of sheep recovered from lameness within ten days when an antibiotic injection was given within three days of becoming lame. Read more: Lameness in sheep treatment guidelines save UK farmers £700 million.

  • Saving potatoes from late blight

    Challenge: The devastating disease ‘late blight’ currently causes losses of around £200 per hectare for potato farmers.

    Solution: Research from The Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich proved successful when a crop of Maris Pipers were modified by introducing a blight-resistant gene from a wild potato. This development could improve crop strength, and possibly eliminate the use of chemical fungicides in its cultivation altogether as the genetics does the work. Read more: Technology becomes the blight of the Irish Potato Famine pathogen.

  • Curtailing leaf blotch

    Challenge: Leaf blotch, which can have devastating effects on almost all leaf-bearing plants.

    Solution: Researchers at Rothamsted have discovered the gene that causes fungi to become disease-spreading pathogens. By identifying this gene, chemists will be able to create more targeted fungicides to tackle leaf blotch, potentially reducing the need for chemical fungicides that can be damaging to the soil, and that the fungi become resistant to. Read more: Gotcha: the gene that takes the fun out of fungus.

  • Breeding greener cows

    Challenge: Livestock farming is often regarded as inefficient and polluting. According to the FAO, total emissions from global livestock contributes 14.5% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. 

    Solution: Successful results from Rothamsted in November 2017 showed that not all cows produce the same levels of greenhouse gasses. This new method of identifying and selecting the ‘green’ cattle amongst a herd cattle for breeding could in turn help lower greenhouse gas emissions. Read more: The advent of 'green' cattle.

  • Preventing the spread of Avian Flu

    Challenge: According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 210 million chickens have been killed as a result of Avian Flu (H5N1), and at least 63 countries have reported Avian Flu outbreaks since 2003.

    Solution: Scientists from The Roslin Institute and the University of Cambridge have successfully developed genetically modified (transgenic) chickens that do not transmit avian influenza virus to other chickens with which they are in contact. This has the potential to stop bird flu outbreaks spreading within poultry flocks. When the transgenic chickens were infected with avian flu, they became sick but did not transmit the infection on to other chickens kept in the same pen with them. This was the case even if the other chickens were non-transgenic birds. Read more: GM chickens breakthrough to prevent spread of bird flu (PDF).

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Tags: food security farming news