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Developing knowledge and expertise can be a costly business but not when its dividends contribute over £3000 million a year to the economy
How is it possible to calculate, in precise financial terms, the contribution that a single organisation makes to the well-being of a developed trading economy? With difficulty, especially when that organisation is dealing in the imprecise world of intellectual endeavour, as Rothamsted does.
Science is a complex and lengthy process, with pathways to new technologies stretching at least 15 years, followed by many more years before their adoption peaks in practice. But stakeholders deserve accountability; they also need to know that their investment in research is having demonstrable impact in the real world.
Between 1950 and 2014, agricultural science has enabled unprecedented increases in crop yields across the world, a near quadrupling to 3.5 tonnes per hectare. While Rothamsted’s pioneering developments have supported such improvements on a global scale, they have also lifted the cost efficiency and competitiveness of the UK’s industry, with further ensuing benefits.
UK agriculture provides around three quarters of the raw materials used by the UK’s food and drink industries. In turn, these industries support a food chain that culminates in consumer spending of £198 billion, with huge knock-on effects for business and employment. Worldwide, healthy economies demand growing agricultural productivity; and that productivity depends on investment in research.
Rothamsted is not the only organisation engaged in agricultural research in the UK though it has been around since 1843, longer than anyone else, and the institute’s track record justifies its ranking as a leader in the UK (and worldwide). As such, the cumulative value of its contribution to the UK’s economy is an estimate.
Furthermore, the estimate is more than a valuation of the growth in the UK’s agricultural productivity; it is an assessment of the value at the level of households where consumers are delivered food security at affordable prices, as well as safety, quality and choice of food.
The estimate derives from an assessment of the UK’s agricultural output in the absence of Rothamsted, and the consequential effect on prices of agricultural products. The result is a rise of 5% in consumer food prices that, taking into account household spending within the home and outside, values the annual contribution of Rothamsted’s work at more than £3000 million.
Rothamsted’s work has incalculable benefits, too. Many jobs in the food chain depend on agriculture; more expensive food could affect consumers’ health and nutrition; environmental concerns have prompted the concept of sustainable intensification, which relies on publicly funded science to succeed; spreading knowledge aids human capacity building; and Rothamsted’s global reputation fosters international co-operation on a grand scale.
Read: Rickard, Séan. Rothamsted Research and the Value of Excellence: October, 2015.