Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture (ENRA) research programme 2022-2027: mid-programme review report

Findings of the mid-programme review of the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture research programme 2022 to 2027.

6. Theme B: Sustainable Food System and Supply

The Sustainable Food System and Supply theme covers the topics Crop Improvement, Livestock Improvement, Improving Agricultural Practice, Food Supply and Security, Food and Drink Improvements, Diet and Food Safety and Human Nutrition with a combined total of 51 projects. The grant offer for Theme B projects in 23-24 was circa £10m.

Impact resulting from the previous research programme (and indeed older programmes) continues to arise and be reported through current projects. For example, SRP research on hemp demonstrated that this valuable environmental crop can contribute to meeting climate and biodiversity targets, deliver high-quality alternative protein and fibre sources to diversify the diet, and have potential health benefits. These findings have been widely disseminated.

6.1 Science Excellence and Reach

Across the theme SAB noted there was evidence of an impressive record of academic publications and significant effort on stakeholder engagement including science informing policy. There was evidence of unique and innovative efforts and findings (e.g. on hemp as a new crop) and strong collaboration and ability to leverage additional funding but SAB noted it was not easy to ascertain international competitiveness. SAB commented that the research in Theme B is also providing helpful insights on effective approaches for stakeholder engagement (together across a supply chain rather than separately).

SAB commented there was little information provided to show what level of effort is being put into investigating the impacts on biodiversity and the vulnerability/resilience to climate change of the solutions and approaches being investigated. There is a missed opportunity to link the research more explicitly to these key driving factors and to other themes.

It was not clear with regards to the strategies for sustainability / impact driven strategies. For instance, the outcomes of using genetic selection index and how that addresses the research gaps could have been highlighted.

6.2 Research Impact

SAB reported Theme B provided extensive evidence of interactions with stakeholders and high impact academic publications and flagged other impact related forms of publicising the results, with more on the way.

SAB reported the policy environment for this theme is moving very rapidly, with the new agricultural reform programme, ambitious emissions targets but also growing evidence of climate change impacts, a greater emphasis on food security and insecurity policies and the Good Food Nation. Theme B has great potential to contribute to these policy initiatives but there was evidence of some nervousness in the topic report cards that there could be missed opportunities. SAB reported that while some linkages were made, the impact of these policy changes on the research funded under this theme did not come across as strongly in the presentation as might have been expected.

SAB highlighted several positive examples of outputs such as production of hemp which demonstrated the research was moving novel plant production towards impact. It was also noted that policy briefs on biosecurity are important outputs, and this can deliver impact for Scottish agriculture.

SAB commented that in terms of sustainability, it wasn’t clear about the next steps for some of the projects which were completed (such as the study on Scottish seaweeds). i.e., how the evidence generated from these projects will be used for initiating future projects?

SAB commented that some examples of research outputs with significance and reach were given but noted programme is in its infancy and so more time is needed to see if the outputs will have significance and reach but the early signs are positive.

SAB suggested making more effort to integrate/connect explicitly across the themes in other ways would help to increase both reach and impact, as would making more explicit connections between the work and biodiversity loss and climate change. It would be good to see the impacts of, and dependencies on these processes expressed more explicitly. In particular, the work has significant implications for adaptation/climate resilience in the food system and wider society and these are not yet being expressed explicitly; any mention of climate change was in relation to mitigation/emissions reduction.

6.3 Scottish Government Policy Priorities

The following highlights the policy priority categorisation and observations noted for research projects within Theme B. Other stakeholder priorities, such as industry, have not been reflected in the categorisation below but are considered key to a projects overall impact/importance.


9 projects, 2023-24 spend circa £2m

Research which has been identified as critical to policy officials mainly centres around evidence to support the reduction in carbon emissions in the agriculture sector. For example, research into breeding and management strategies for lower methane sheep in Scotland. Research looking at how we can influence and promote best practice uptake across the agricultural sector has been identified as critical to feeding into the Agricultural Reform Programme (ARP)

Policy critical research also includes tools to help understand the future security and resilience of Scotland’s supply chain. This research supports the Good Food Nation policy. Research looking at opportunities for Scotland’s food industry has been assessed as critical to supporting the strategy for Scotland food and drink industry; SUSTAINING SCOTLAND. SUPPLYING THE WORLD. Research into mycotoxin contamination has been identified as critical to Food Standards Scotland (FSS). It is also critical we investigate the role of Scottish livestock and their environments in transmission of foodborne pathogens to provide evidence needed by FSS in policy development.


23 projects, 2023-24 spend circa £5m

Research identified as important to policy officials includes projects that will provide evidence including; alternative parasite and pest control, development of low carbon vertical farming, sustainable crop production, livestock productivity, Scottish supply chain resilience, antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in the food chain and sustainable dietary behaviours.

Evidence in these areas importantly feeds into key policy delivery such as Good Food Nation agenda, ARP, FSS Strategy, National Action Plan on AMR, Local Food for Everyone Plan and other individual policies development.


19 projects, 2023-24 spend circa £4m

There are various reasons a research project has been classified as desirable. Including projects where the industry is already moving at pace and the research may have limited ability to change practices/approaches. Similarly, where key research questions are being answered by others across the sector the SRP research project has been classified as desirable, although often the project can provide an additional insight.

Some projects identified as desirable are considered to be proof of concept projects, or projects where upscaling application levels are not certain. These are considered lower in priority to policy official decision making right now, but are still desirable projects for enhancing our understanding in the future.

Often projects which are not generating new data have been seen as desirable to policy colleagues, this is due to the fact they could be completed at a later timescale. This type of work can often provide a valuable new outlook on evidence.

6.4 Theme B Conclusion

Overall the research in Theme B is considered valuable and impactful to Scotland by encompassing research to address the global climate and nature crises, sustainable food systems, economic growth and the impact of EU exit. Some specific recommendations are noted below:

1. SAB Recommendation: Project specific focus on how research will eventually lead into future farming practice/ improving agricultural practice seems to be missing. Research in Theme B should seek out demonstration sites where research outputs can be rolled out/demonstrated to visiting farmers. This may look like satellite (replicator) commercial farms willing to take on the outputs from the research programme should be linked to the demonstration farms.

2. SAB Recommendation: SAB see the greatest risk of Theme B research being around the agricultural reform programme, as the direction of travel for climate research and food safety seems more settled. There is a strong responsibility on the policy leads to alert the researchers to issues where science is needed to provide new evidence – given the short time scales, this may often need to take the form of small scale studies and literature reviews rather than primary data collection and research.

3. RESAS Recommendation: There are three projects on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) within Theme B that have been identified as having potential cross over. This should be further investigated to ensure value for money and minimise inefficiencies.


Email: SRF@gov.scot

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