The UK food and land sector spends a “pathetic” amount on research and more will have to be done if agriculture is to meet the increasingly diverse needs of food production, biofuels, non-food crops and the environment.

That was the clear message from John Gilliand, chair of DEFRA’s rural climate change forum and Northern Ireland farmer, speaking at this year’s Crop Protection in Northern Britain conference. “UK R&D spending in the food and land sector is about one-third of its key competitors and it is the collective responsibility of everyone in the industry, as well as government, to go back and look at this.”

Climate change offered big opportunities to growers in cooler, wetter parts of northern Europe, but to fully exploit them, greater understanding of its impact was needed, he said. “Exporting agricultural production to other parts of the world isn’t the answer to climate change. We need to get our house in order and bring other people along with us.

“There has never been a better time to get into agriculture. It’s in all our interests to go out and talk this industry up,” Dr Gilliand added.

Fundamentally, a single “voice” was needed to promote the benefits agriculture could deliver, Census Bio’s Melvyn Askew said. “There are a whole raft of challenges and opportunities, but they tend not to be interlinked. We desperately need an overarching organisation to take the lead.

“The potential is rosy if we can just get our act together and quickly.”