Morrisons and the Royal Agricultural University (RAU) are entering a research partnership that will boost farmers’ ability to serve the food supply chain.

The collaboration will involve long-term projects to determine best practice so producers have greater commercial insight and can better meet the demands of customers.

Students and academic staff will gain understanding of and experience into the whole supply chain through placements and research projects, while Morrisons will have access to top students and the expertise of RAU staff.

Morrisons group corporate services director Martyn Jones said the retailer wanted as much of its produce as possible to be British, but to achieve this, farmers needed to know how to produce what the customer wanted.

“We will share with the 3,000 farmers we deal with what we have found to be best practice in producing that,” said Mr Jones. He said this meant taking the guesswork and volatility out and aiming for sustainability and efficiencies and would lead to the retailer “coming back for more”.

The effect would be felt more widely than just in Morrisons’ own supply chain, said Mr Jones, as students and staff involved would pass that knowledge on in their careers, including in their own farming businesses.

See also: Interview: Morrisons farming manager shares supermarket vision

RAU principal Professor Chris Gaskell said Morrisons was a retailer with a long pedigree across the whole supply chain and that it was increasingly important for agricultural students to understand how food got from farm to shelf.

Up to five fully funded postgraduate internships will be created annually for RAU students across Morrisons supply chain and there will be other opportunities for students such as work experience placements, teaching opportunities and project work.

Professor David Hopkins, dean of the school of agriculture, food and environment at RAU, said research areas were still being discussed, but one project was to look at how to safely expand the meat supply chain to new suppliers.

A better understanding of the link between the financial and environmental sustainability of farming enterprises was another avenue he was interested in exploring.

A “food academy” will be created at the RAU to let students, staff, Morrisons and local people, including farmers, to create and test new food products and experiment with how factors like feeding regimes influence food quality.

Reaction from RAU students

Emma Glenister (third-year student studying food production and supply management)

Increased exposure to those in the supply chain would make RAU students rounder people and give them “an extra edge”, said Miss Glenister. She hoped the opportunity to work with Morrisons might make finding graduate placements and work easier.

“The more work experience you can get, the better, and what better place to get that than one of the leading supermarkets – which is very farming-centred?”

She said the partnership would give farmers and students a better understanding of what the supermarket wants from their produce and proper training to identify this.

Phill Steadman (third-year student studying agriculture)

Placements with Morrisons would be a good opportunity to “get a toe in the door and then a foot in the door” later on when looking for graduate work, said Mr Steadman.

A lot of farmers didn’t think about the end product, but the collaboration would hopefully bring the supply chain closer, he said. He said Morrisons’ vertically integrated supply chain would offer a good opportunity for this.