The Importance of Investment in Research and Development to Support Sustainable Intensification of Northern Ireland Agriculture

AFBI-issue-63-Agenda-NI-ad The recent Agri-Food Strategy Board report “Going for Growth” sets out ambitious plans for growth across the agri-food sector, based on investment in innovation, entrepreneurship and skills. As a key local provider of statutory testing, disease surveillance, emergency response and crucially, research and development, the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) provides a world class science base to support the agri-food industry in delivering these ambitious targets. Since its establishment as a DARD funded non departmental public body in April 2006, AFBI has significantly increased its wider market activities to the extent that one third of total resource revenue (over £18.5m) is now being derived from outwith core grant-in-aid from DARD. AFBI’s world leading research scientists are increasingly working with industry to improve profitability, competitiveness and sustainability of the agri-food sector and rural economy. Knowledge creation and application are critical in supporting innovation to generate both economic and social benefits across the sector. AFBI’s research and development programme also plays an important role in addressing the major challenges of climate change, diet and health, animal and plant disease and air and water quality.

A unique feature of AFBI’s research programmes is the “farm to fork” or complete supply chain approach, with large scale, integrated research programmes embracing a wide range of scientific expertise from soil, plant, animal, veterinary, environmental, food and socio-economic sciences. This “food chain” approach is directly aligned with recent national and international research funding initiatives such as the UK Strategy for Agricultural Technologies and the EU Horizon 2020 programme, all of which recognise the complexity of food and the need to focus on an integrated approach across the supply chain.

AFBI has a proud record of supporting the local agri-food sector, with numerous success stories: AFBI research led to the development of the world’s largest selling animal vaccine; AFBI grass varieties currently dominate the market in Ireland and have a strong international profile; AFBI research developed the first “naturally spreadable” butter; AFBI research resulted in new methods of silage analysis now used across the UK and Ireland; and AFBI testing for Foot and Mouth Disease helped DARD to secure disease free status for Northern Ireland, enabling beef export markets to open 8 months ahead of the rest of the UK.

Northern Ireland has an excellent record of innovation within the agri-food sector. AFBI scientists are working hard to ensure that we maintain this strong tradition thereby ensuring that local farmers and processors can realise the ambitious targets outlined in the Going for Growth report.By Dr. Sinclair Mayne, Sustainable Agri-Food Sciences Division, Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute

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