Multi-million pound funding secured for major food security research programme

The University of Sheffield has received a £2 million boost, as part of a bid to transform food security research in the UK.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has awarded universities within the N8 Research Partnership – a partnership of the eight research-intensive universities in the North of England (Sheffield, Durham, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and York) – a grant of £7,999,254 through its Catalyst Fund to develop its Agri-Food Resilience programme. This will be matched equally by the N8 universities. For the University of Sheffield, this will mean £1 million from HEFCE matched with an equal investment from the University.

The funding in Sheffield will be used to support two collaborating strands of research.

The first will be the Sheffield Sustainable Food Futures programme (SheFF), which focuses on combining wide expertise across the University to analyse and improve food supply systems that link human activity and the environment from farm to consumer.

The investment will allow a host of world-leading experts to join forces in order to meet the multiple, and sometimes conflicting demands of food supply systems to enhance business performance, improve consumer experience and health, and reduce the environmental burden on soil, water and climate that arises from food production, processing and distribution.

The second investment will go toward the recently-launched Plant Production and Protection (P3) Centre of Excellence for Translational Plant and Soil Science, which draws on world class biology expertise to translate fundamental knowledge on plants and soil into new farming practices that link improved farm production with environmental improvement.

Grantham Supervisor Steve Banwart, Professor of Environmental Engineering Science at the University of Sheffield, said: “This investment by HEFCE and the University transforms our ability to tackle the enormous challenge of food security. The necessary breadth of expertise from environment, social sciences, agri-technology and health sciences is enormous.

“The University of Sheffield has world-class strengths across these areas and it is inspiring and extremely exciting to have this research power harnessed within a single, concerted effort to develop new solutions to the food security challenge.”

Grantham Supervisor Duncan Cameron, Professor of Plant and Soil Biology and Co-director of P3, said: “This is an extremely exciting opportunity that will position Sheffield and our N8 collaborators at the very forefront of food security research in the UK.”

A multi-disciplinary initiative, the Agri-Food Resilience Programme will build on the N8’s research strengths in science, engineering and the social sciences to address key global challenges in food security, including sustainable food production, resilient food supply chains, improved nutrition and consumer behaviours.

Through the programme, the N8 aims to combine world-leading crop and livestock research – plus the facilities offered by six experimental farms across the N8 universities – with the partnership institutions’ vast expertise in social sciences, including business and management, to create a single research initiative focused on ensuring the stability of national and global agri-food supply chains.

Together, the N8 universities have an impressive track record in agri-food science, with more than 370 researchers working on projects in this area and a portfolio of £269 million of research funding over the last six years.

Sir Alan Langlands, Chair of the N8 Board of Directors and Vice Chancellor of The University of Leeds, said: “Food security is one of the great challenges in our increasingly urbanised and globalised world; the need to ensure food production and distribution is resilient and sustainable is an urgent task faced by governments, industry and society. This is a task beyond any single research group or institution.

“This Catalyst funding from HEFCE means that the N8 can now implement an integrated, large scale multi-disciplinary research programme which will make a major, long-term impact in addressing the challenge of food security.

“The N8 Research Partnership has great strength, expertise and resources to make progress in this area and our work will play a key part in the Agri-Food Resilience Programme.”

David Sweeney, Director of Research, Education and Knowledge Exchange at HEFCE, added: “Food security is a strategic priority for the nation. This investment will support higher education to deliver new translational research activity with business, and complements other agri-tech developments HEFCE is supporting.”