A prominent campaigner backs greater collaboration between research scientists and sustainable farmers to promote an agenda that unites the two communities.

  • 31
  • JUL
  • 2017

A leading advocate of organic farming is urging proponents of sustainable agriculture to come together with research scientists to establish a joint strategy group that could present a united front to benefit food production and the environment.

“The time is right for a new chapter of collaboration between the research and scientific community and the sustainable agriculture advocacy practitioners,” said Patrick Holden, chief executive of the Sustainable Food Trust.

“These individuals and organisations, including myself, have been in part responsible for creating an impression that our advocacy is based on ideology and that we are resistant to making evidence-based decisions, which is certainly not the case today,” added Holden, former head of the Soil Association.

His proposal, published today by Rothamsted Research, which suggested the idea, follows a conference organised by the SFT earlier this month in Wales, “Harmony in Food and Farming”. Prince Charles provided the event’s keynote address, promoting greater awareness of nature’s universal “connectedness” and reflecting on his own book, Harmony, A New Way of Looking at the World.

The proposal also comes in the wake of the environment secretary’s announcement that future farm subsidies in the UK would be linked to environmental stewardship. “Support can only be argued for...if the environmental benefits of that spending are clear,” said Michael Gove.

Holden noted: “I could think of nothing more appropriate than the establishment of a small strategy group comprising representatives from research and sustainable agriculture leaders who could co-evolve a new programme of events and initiatives that bring together our two communities.” 

The response is welcomed by Angela Karp, Rothamsted’s Director for Science Innovation, Engagement & Partnerships, who came up with the idea after attending the harmony conference: “Our new five-year strategy promotes engagement and a commitment to productive and sustainable agriculture that protects the environment and benefits farmers and communities worldwide.

“Scientific enquiry is pursued to lead to a better understanding of how things work, and how best we can manage, improve, control and even manipulate them,” said Karp. “For non-scientists, the danger is that they will selectively represent those findings that suit. This, in turn, can result in a breakdown of trust with those who generated the results and a lack of willingness to work together. We need joint ground rules and codes of behaviour that are strictly met if trust it is to be maintained.”

For a report on the conference, go to “Open minds open doors”.

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.