‘Advisory expertise should be funded’

Allowing organisations with advisory expertise to be eligible for Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council funding could help bridge the knowledge transfer gap between pure science and agriculture.

BBSRC had acknowledged it needed to improve contact with industry to achieve greater uptake and impact from what it funds, James Clarke, science and business manager of ADAS, told press at the annual Dow AgroSciences media lunch.

“Scientists are rarely the best communicators, and the knowledge transfer role has been traditionally filled by organisations such as ADAS. However, these organisations are not eligible for BBSRC funds. Changing that eligibility to allow access could significantly improve uptake and impact.”

Funding of broader applied science projects, such as resistance management, integrated pest management and product stewardship also needed re-assessing, he said.

“Technology Strategy Board funding provides direct benefits to applicants’ businesses. But those broader projects where the gain is to the longer-term sustainability of the whole sector are harder to fit into TSB, and are often harder to get funded.

“The stop-start nature of funding is also an issue as continuity of funding is important for planning purposes.

“I hope government, levy and industry can work together to achieve greater continuity and better coverage of these projects.”

But he warned the high weighting on price from some government departments was hitting contracted research organisations. “The high weighting given to price is driving down prices to the point where even the organisations who have won work have struggled to make satisfactory margins for recruitment and reinvestment.

“It is important government maintain an equal balance between price and quality when assessing tenders. Pricing should be competitive but at a level capable of sustaining organisations to deliver the needs of the sector in the longer term, including succession planning.”

Innovative stewardship required for pesticides

Ensuring the wider availability of pesticides would require cleverer product stewardship and risk assessments in the future, Mr Clarke suggested.

Diversity of active ingredients was essential to maintain effective use and resistance management, and to protect water and enhance biodiversity by ensuring no one pesticide was used predominantly, he said.

But for product stewardship to be effective, it would require all users, including those in amenity and grassland sectors, to be involved and probably require the adoption of latest technology, such as low drift nozzles, sprayer design and to use the better forecasting.

In addition, there could be a need for regulators to begin assessing and implementing management action plans for at-risk products on a local basis, rather than nationally. “We should also consider approvals for products as a portfolio of actives rather than singularly.”

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