The James Hutton Institute (JHI) receives approximately £23.5 million per year in research funds from the Scottish Government for a wide ranging programme of general crop and agri-environmental research. Scotland's Rural College (SRUC) receives over £7.5 million annually in funding from the Scottish Government for a programme of applied research on agricultural issues including crop research.
In line with Scottish Government policy on GM crop cultivation, the Scottish Government does not fund research aimed directly at the production of GM varieties of crops. Instead, it supports the development of modern genomics-based plant breeding tools which enable new conventional crop varieties to be developed more quickly and efficiently. For this research, molecular techniques are being used to identify the genetic basis for specific plant traits, such as nutritional quality, disease resistance and environmental resilience.
MRS, the commercial arm of JHI, and other breeding companies then apply these newly developed tools in commercially-funded breeding programmes for potato, cereals and soft fruit.
Soft fruit breeding has given rise to new commercial varieties of both raspberry and blackcurrant with improved disease resistance, nutritional qualities and processing characteristics. JHI's blackcurrant varieties account for around 98% of the UK crop and around 50% of the global crop. Recent successes in potato breeding in Scotland have yielded commercial varieties with increased disease resistance and improved sensory and nutritional qualities. Scottish Government research has also resulted in the development of molecular markers in barley for virus resistance and malting quality characteristics.
Crop science is an important income earner for Scotland. An independent study concluded that crop scientists and breeders at JHI and MRS alone generate around £160 million of business for the Scottish and UK economies every year. This represents a 14:1 return on public investment.