How many cereal farmers does it take to increase wheat yields across the UK? Only 20, but 15 of them are still needed from the western Midlands, Yorkshire and southern Scotland.

  • 23
  • MAR
  • 2018

Providing research access for four years to two wheat fields, working on a rotation, could transform the performance of a farm’s cereal crop and help to make agricultural land in the UK among the most commercially productive and environmentally sustainable in Europe.

Scientists from Rothamsted Research are looking for 20 farms spread across four regions in the UK. They have found five farms in south eastern England, but still need 15 more in Hereford, Worcester and the Welsh border; south eastern Scotland and northern Northumberland; and Yorkshire.

“We’re after two average-sized fields per farm, from 4 to 15 hectares,” says Ian Shield, an agronomist at Rothamsted. “Ideally, we’d like one that the farmer describes as ‘always good’ and another described perhaps as ‘I never know what to expect’.”

Wheat productivity study Credit: Rothamsted ResearchWheat productivity study Credit: Rothamsted ResearchWheat productivity study Credit: Rothamsted Research

Three or four researchers would visit the fields about four times a year when crops have been sown. They would take soil measurements, recording texture and penetration, for instance, and analyse samples for their chemistry. Weed and disease pressures would be assessed. They would also observe crop architecture.

Real data collected from the ground and imaging recorded from space promise a wealth of detail that will enable the researchers to compare their findings against predictions by mathematical models to rate the factors that influence production yields.

“Farmers can have all the information relating to their own farms and, of course, access to our results,” says Shield. “We would also need management records from farmers and any historical yield maps for the fields involved. And we can anonymise locations and data, if required.”

At Rothamsted, Shield is investigating the “Biophysical Limitations on Crop Productivity” as part of one of the institute’s five strategic programmes to 2022, Achieving Sustainable Agricultural Systems (ASSIST). The programme is jointly led with the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

The regions chosen for the productivity study reflect the variety of conditions, from topography to climate, that UK farmers manage on a day-to-day basis. The aim is to discover what factors influence yields and how they change under different conditions.

The study comes in the wake of moves by Environment Secretary Michael Gove to encourage greater productivity and environmental stewardship in farming, aired in a speech at the Oxford Farming Conference in January, “Farming for the next generation”, and endorsed in a speech at the NFU’s annual conference last month, “A brighter future for farming”.

For more information, please contact Ian Shield directly: by email at; or by telephone on 01582 938 630.

About Rothamsted Research
Rothamsted Research is the longest-running agricultural research institute in the world. We work from gene to field with a proud history of ground-breaking discoveries, from crop treatment to crop protection, from statistical interpretation to soils management. Our founders, in 1843, were the pioneers of modern agriculture, and we are known for our imaginative science and our collaborative influence on fresh thinking and farming practices.
Through independent science and innovation, we make significant contributions to improving agri-food systems in the UK and internationally. In terms of the institute’s economic contribution, the cumulative impact of our work in the UK was calculated to exceed £3000 million a year in 20151. Our strength lies in our systems approach, which combines science and strategic research, interdisciplinary teams and partnerships.
Rothamsted is also home to three unique resources. These National Capabilities are open to researchers from all over the world: The Long-Term Experiments, Rothamsted Insect Survey and the North Wyke Farm Platform.
We are strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), with additional support from other national and international funding streams, and from industry. We are also supported by the Lawes Agricultural Trust (LAT).
For more information, visit; Twitter @Rothamsted
1Rothamsted Research and the Value of Excellence: A synthesis of the available evidence, by Séan Rickard (Oct 2015)

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by government, BBSRC invested £469 million in world-class bioscience in 2016-17. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
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About LAT
The Lawes Agricultural Trust, established in 1889 by Sir John Bennet Lawes, supports Rothamsted Research’s national and international agricultural science through the provision of land, facilities and funding. LAT, a charitable trust, owns the estates at Harpenden and Broom's Barn, including many of the buildings used by Rothamsted Research. LAT provides an annual research grant to the Director, accommodation for nearly 200 people, and support for fellowships for young scientists from developing countries. LAT also makes capital grants to help modernise facilities at Rothamsted, or invests in new buildings.