Leicester experts feed £3.6 million sustainable agriculture training programme

Credit: Thomas Newman/University of Leicester

Researchers at the University of Leicester will lend their expertise to a new £3.6 million postgraduate training programme in sustainable agricultural innovation.

The industry-wide consortium, led by Gs Growers, has won a UKRI-BBSRC collaborative training partnership (CTP) award. Further commercial partners include Sainsbury’s and PepsiCo, farmer representative partners, and academic partners from NIAB & University of Cambridge (Crop Science Centre) and the James Hutton Institute.

The CTP programme for Sustainable Agricultural Innovation (CTP-SAI) will ensure young scientists are ‘business aware’, opening up opportunities for careers across industry. Running from 2022 to 2028, the CTP-SAI will create a pre-competitive network in which businesses can explore and co-design research and innovation programmes and will train 30 PhD students.

Broadening equality, diversity and inclusion in agriculture is a priority, with the CTP-SAI leading the sector by example, training the next generation of new thinkers, ready to act in the public and private sector to effect positive global change in the food and farming system.

The programme is supported by leading UK and international agri-food businesses, research organisations and charitable organisations representing the collective needs of farmers and practitioners.

Dr Jörg Kaduk, Associate Professor for Environmental Modelling and lead for the University of Leicester’s contribution to the project, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for our students to become part of an important community that works on making agriculture more resilient and sustainable with all sorts of exiting cutting edge approaches – from genetics to engineering.

“The collaborative nature of this programme also means that students gain in-depth insights into how companies engage in this area and how research, industry, farmers and retailers work together to improve the ways how we deliver food to everybody.”

Dr Richard Harrison, NIAB’s Director of Cambridge Crop Research said: “This CTP stretches across the arable crop supply chain, bringing together partners to address the joint challenges of reducing emissions, developing resilient farming systems and reversing biodiversity decline. Our vision is to train new thinkers for new times, providing outstanding training to address the challenges of creating and delivering sustainable agricultural systems.”

Emma Garfield, Head of Research Agronomy at Gs Growers Ltd, added: “Businesses need access to postgraduates with skills in research and innovation in order to adapt to the enormous challenges that climate change, land use change and biodiversity loss pose.

“We also need to ensure that the supply chain products and processes pass the test of responsible, sustainable innovation that is core to each businesses value set and corporate social responsibilities.”

The first-of-its-kind CTP programme places science-led innovation at its heart to ensure field-based agriculture is equipped with tools to enable resilient, sustainable and economic crop production whilst meeting consumer demands.

Through a set of bespoke training modules, developed in data science and machine learning, entrepreneurship and systems thinking in a global food security context, the programme will address both short-term bioscience research challenges to facilitate the delivery of solutions within the next decade as well as thinking longer-term about the wider systems changes that will be underpinned by the research that this cohort of students will undertake. 

The programme has been co-developed with NIAB as part of its alliance with the University of Cambridge, the Crop Science Centre, the James Hutton Institute and leading UK universities including Leicester.

More information on the programme is available at ctp-sai.org.