20% research cuts a blow to UK agriculture

20% research cuts a blow to UK agriculture

The proposed restructuring of Rothamsted Research will severely weaken the UK’s ability to develop sustainable agricultural systems, Prospect, the union representing agricultural and environmental scientists, has warned.

Rothamsted Research, based in Hertfordshire, includes research stations at North Wyke, Devon, and Brooms Barn, Suffolk. It has been told to make a 20% reduction in salary costs by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, which supplies its strategic funding.

In April 2011, staffing levels for the three sites stood at 427 so this equates to the loss of 85 posts. Director Prof Maurice Moloney has made clear the losses will fall mainly in the area of crop protection including herbicide resistance, eelworm research and sugar beet research.

Scientists at Rothamsted Research accept that it cannot be immune to the current programme of cuts in public spending. However, in 2000 the-then Institute of Arable Crops Research employed some 900 staff across three sites (Rothamsted, Long Ashton and Brooms Barn).

The last 10 years have seen the closure of Long Ashton and a steady reduction in staffing levels across departments. In addition, Rothamsted has absorbed staff from the closure of Silsoe Research Institute, the former agricultural engineering institute.

A new round of staff cuts will bring the overall number of people employed in RR to less than 350, a reduction of almost two thirds since 2000. Three departments will close completely - Plant and Invertebrate Ecology, Applied Crop Science, and Plant Pathology and Microbiology. Surplus staff will be offered voluntary redundancy.

BBSRC claims to recognise that 25% of crop production is lost to pests and diseases and that crop protection has a key role to play in crop security.

But Nigel Titchen, president of Prospect, which represents staff at all three Rothamsted sites, said: “Despite rising food prices and global issues of crop security and climate change it appears that BBSRC’s mandate to focus on food security is just empty rhetoric.

“The work that will be lost is of direct relevance to British farmers in their struggle to develop sustainable systems as they face the twin challenges of climate change and the economic downturn. Once lost, the intellectual expertise represented by these dedicated scientists will be impossible to replace.”

Prospect will be urgently raising its concerns with ministers about the loss of international scientific capacity in this crucial area. In partnership with the wider farming community it will be pressing BBSRC to reverse this short-sighted proposal, which is being implemented without proper consultation with the wider agricultural industry.