Rothamsted and Syngenta have agreed to form a multi-million pound scientific research partnership to develop high yielding, environmentally sustainable wheat. It will be focused on Rothamsted’s 20:20 Wheat Programme, which aims to increase wheat productivity to yield 20 tonnes per hectare within 20 years.

The partnership will help translate state-of-the-art scientific knowledge into technologies that will benefit farmers directly, provide support to UK agriculture, contribute to UK economic growth and improve wheat yields worldwide.

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said: “Rothamsted is a world-class agricultural research facility and it’s important that its work benefits the economy and society. This partnership will bring commercial expertise to the table, driving forward the agri-tech strategy, helping to turn excellent science into cutting edge technologies for farmers that could help make wheat growing more sustainable and improve yields.”

The launch of this ground-breaking public / private partnership coincides with the publication (today) of the UK Government’s Agri-Tech Strategy. It is directly in line with the Strategy’s aim to improve the productivity and sustainability of UK agriculture, and to support UK leadership in agricultural innovation by promoting increased collaboration and co-investment from industry.   

Director and Chief Executive of Rothamsted, Professor Maurice Moloney said “This partnership brings together the best public-sector science with the commercial capabilities of one of the world’s leading agribusinesses. Promoting effective collaboration between public and private sector, focused on accelerating the translation of cutting-edge science into farm-level innovation, will help drive forward the objectives set out in the UK Agri-Tech Strategy, contributing to UK economic growth and global leadership in agri-science innovation.”

Dr. Deborah Keith, Head of External Collaborations at Syngenta said, ‘We are delighted to be partnering with Rothamsted on research to bring about a step change in wheat production globally. The approach mirrors Syngenta’s own integrated business model linking genetic, agronomic, and chemical technologies and complements our existing cereals research and collaborations activity. Wheat is a truly global crop and the development of new techniques and technologies has real value for growers worldwide as they look to sustainably increase yields and improve quality over the coming decades.’

Global demand for wheat is increasing at 1.5% or more per year, but worldwide production is increasing at only 0.9% per year. In the UK, national average yields have remained static at around 8 tonnes per hectare for more than 10 years. Innovation in plant breeding, crop protection and smart farming systems will be essential to ensure farmers are equipped to meet the challenges of climate change and a rising world population.

Increasing yield is also essential to support more environmentally sustainable farming systems, since higher yielding crops allow more efficient use of land and other natural resources, have a lower carbon footprint, and support habitat and biodiversity conservation.  

In global agriculture, the challenge is to develop crop varieties and farming methods which can increase productivity while reducing resource use and environmental impact.

Rothamsted, an independent scientific research institute with strategic funding from Government through the BBSRC, has risen to this challenge through a comprehensive new scientific strategy, including the 20:20 Wheat Programme.

Professor Douglas Kell, BBSRC Chief Executive, commented: “We want to see the maximum benefit for society from the investment we make of on behalf of the Nation in plant and crop research. In crop science the fastest way to get innovation out of the lab and into farmers’ hands is often through the major companies in the sector. This partnership with Syngenta will help Rothamsted scientists to accelerate the translation of their research into the market, to the benefit of farmers and, ultimately, consumers”. He added “It is a clear sign of the excellence of the BBSRC-funded science at Rothamsted and the UK agricultural research base that Syngenta is prepared to commit to a partnership on this scale.”

Syngenta has a proven track-record of delivering innovative technology to farmers to increase their crop yields and improve their livelihood while delivering better, nutritious food to consumers.

Working together, scientists from Syngenta and Rothamsted will translate the latest breakthroughs in scientific knowledge into technologies and products to help wheat growers deliver higher yields and performance. Over the next five years, the collaboration will seek to integrate a wide range of technologies and approaches in areas such as improved crop genetics, crop protection strategies, plant architecture, soil and root interactions, and disease control.

The partnership will not involve the development of any commercial GM wheat varieties. 

The partnership is formalised through a Framework Agreement that provides a pathway for Rothamsted and Syngenta to collaborate further to promote development, technology transfer and commercialisation of the joint research projects.

Head of Rothamsted’s 20:20 Wheat Programme, Professor Martin Parry said, “I am really excited about this partnership. No single organisation has all the answers to food security and there are no simple solutions. Only collaborative approaches with partners from different sectors within the whole farming community can deliver sustainable agriculture with high productivity and value”. He added “that's why developing vibrant public-private partnerships to deliver real practical alternatives for farmers is essential.”