Research network to help UK agri-food industry reach net zero

Tractor sowing seed to field at spring time

A novel network of researchers is set to help the UK’s agri-food industry move one step closer to net zero.

Funded to the tune of £5 million, the network will bring UK researchers together to explore effective ways to support the industry to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and improve its environmental sustainability.

It will also help the UK’s agri-food industry:

  • enhance biodiversity
  • maintain healthy ecosystems
  • nurture livelihoods
  • support healthy consumer habits
  • minimise the environmental impacts of overseas trade.

The network’s challenge

The network will be led by a team of four researchers:

  • Dr Angelina Sanderson Bellamy, University of the West of England
  • Professor Tim Benton, University of Leeds
  • Professor Sarah Bridle, University of York
  • Professor Neil Ward, University of East Anglia.

It will bring together researchers, industry leaders, government bodies and members of the public.

According to the latest research, the UK’s agri-food industry is responsible for almost a quarter of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Given this significant contribution, it is one industry in which greenhouse gas emissions needs to be addressed if the country is to meet its net zero goals by 2050.

However, although the industry contributes to and is affected by climate change, it can also be part of the solution.

The wider community

The agri-food industry is more than farming alone and involves the whole journey from the farm to the plate and beyond, including:

  • manufacturing
  • retail
  • consumption
  • waste management.

Any efforts to reduce the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions therefore needs expertise from across a range of research disciplines, including:

  • agriculture
  • biological sciences
  • natural sciences
  • environmental sciences
  • physical sciences
  • engineering
  • economics
  • social sciences.

Funding the network

Led by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), UK Research and Innovation and four of its research councils have joined forces to provide the funding for the network. These councils are:

  • Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
  • Economic and Social Research Council
  • Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
  • Natural Environment Research Council.

A multidisciplinary team

Professor Dame Lynn Gladden, EPSRC Executive Chair said:

The agriculture food system produces nearly a quarter of the UK’s carbon emissions.

By bringing together a multidisciplinary team and engaging a wide range of stakeholders, this project will explore how the journey from farm to fork could be made more sustainable.

It will also help to meet the UK government’s strategy for achieving net zero by 2050.

An exciting initiative

Dr Angelina Sanderson Bellamy, Associate Professor of Food Systems at the University of the West of England, and project co-lead, said:

This is a hugely important and exciting initiative, and we are thrilled to have the opportunity to build a network to move the agri-food system towards net zero.

Climate change is increasingly recognised as the major threat for humanity. Extreme weather events, likely caused by climate change, are already decimating crop yields.

The cost of living crisis caused by the pandemic is driving up food prices, leading people to prioritise cheap food over sustainable food. And the war in Ukraine is wreaking havoc in a major global breadbasket, risking famines and food protectionism globally.

We need to convene action to secure healthy and sustainably produced food for all. The scale and urgency of the challenge means the old ways of establishing and settling upon research priorities will not do.

It is vital that researchers and stakeholders come together in a spirit of openness and collaboration, and with real urgency, to mobilise ideas and resources around advancing the transition.

We are really pleased to have been able to bring together such an extensive network team around a shared vision and plan of action.

The 2020s is the decade of action. The three-year period of this project will be absolutely critical for the decade and jump-starting coordinated research and action.

What will be the innovations we want to invest in and scale up? These are the challenges we will seek to address in the next three years, and we’re excited to work with stakeholders across the agri-food system to put us on a net zero pathway.

The funding will run for three years, starting in July 2022.

Top image:  Credit: mbaysan, iStock, Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

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