New centre for research in Norfolk

A new centre that promises to put Norfolk at the forefront of research into tackling global food challenges and promoting sustainable agriculture is to open in the county next week.

A new centre that promises to put Norfolk at the forefront of research into tackling global food challenges and promoting sustainable agriculture is to open in the county next week.

The Centre for Contemporary Agriculture will incorporate expertise from the University of East Anglia and Easton College, research institutes from the Norwich Research Park and the Eastern region as well as the food and agriculture industries.

It will provide undergraduate and postgraduate courses, giving students the chance to undertake placements in agriculture and food businesses.

Employees already working in the industry will have the opportunity to boost their knowledge and skills on professional development courses based on the new degree modules. In four to five years' time, between 300 and 400 students are expected to be studying at the centre.

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Professor Edward Acton, vice-chancellor of UEA, said it had the potential to make a major impact.

“It is a very exciting development for Norfolk and has major implications for agriculture and the food industry across the globe,” he said.

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"Incidents such as the grounding of aircraft because of volcanic dust bring home to us how crucial it is that the UK becomes able to grow much more of its own food sustainably and for years to come.

“Countless health challenges underline the need to bring additional knowledge and skills to the food industry.”

He said the focus of the new centre would be both global and local, with its teaching being informed by world-class research and practical business experience.

“The centre will draw directly on UEA's research, on that of the John Innes Centre, which leads the world in plant science, and on that of the Institute for Food Research, Britain's premier institute in the field.”

David Lawrence, principal of Easton College, said: “This is a vitally important day in the history of Easton College and for the industries we serve. Higher-level skills are going to be critical for the long-term competitiveness of our industry.

“We are delighted to be part of a strong, innovative and possibly unique partnership committed to addressing these skills and applied research challenges. We are all keen to move forward in a close working partnership with the industries we serve.”

A recent report indicated that 60,000 extra skilled staff must enter UK agriculture over the next decade if food production was to be maintained at its current level.

The report, by government chief scientist Prof John Beddington, highlights a need to improve skill levels in the agri-food sector and to ensure the availability of trained staff in specialist areas, particularly as the average age of British farmers is now 59.

Prof Beddington has also said that unless action is taken now, the world could face catastrophe, due to a combination of rising population, reduction in water for agriculture, rising energy costs and climate change.

Jeff Halliwell, managing director of Bernard Matthews Farms, said the company strongly supported the new initiative.

“Individuals with higher-level technical skills are vital for the long-term competitiveness of our industries, as is continuing applied research,” he said.

“We look forward to working closely with the new Centre for Contemporary Agriculture to ensure our industries get maximum benefit from this innovative partnership."

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