Annex A: Agricultural research funded by RESAS
The Scottish Government, through its Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services ( RESAS) division, funds an on-going programme of strategic scientific research on a five-year basis with the new programme starting in April 2016. The research supported contributes to the development and delivery of rural affairs, food and environmental policy and the achievement of the Scottish Government's purpose and wider objectives, as set out in the National Performance Framework.
This investment in scientific research provides a foundation for:
- the sustainable use of our natural resources;
- the productivity and profitability of our agricultural sector and rural businesses;
- the prevention and effective management and control of animal and plant diseases;
- our ability to respond effectively to global challenges such as food security and climate change.
The majority of research is carried out by our main research providers ( MRPs). These are research institutes that undertake applied work contributing to the evolution of long-term research programmes. The MRPs are: James Hutton Institute, Scotland's Rural College, Moredun Research Institute, Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health, Bio-mathematics and Statistics Scotland and The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh ( RBGE).
Centres of Expertise( CoEs) have also been established to encourage links between RESAS funded research and Scottish Government policy teams and Higher Education Institutions. The three current CoEs are: Centre of Expertise for Waters ( CREW), ClimateXChange ( CXC), and the Centre of Expertise on Animal Disease Outbreaks ( EPIC). A further CoE, tackling plant health, is expected to start work during 2016.
Examples of research funded by RESAS:
Farming for a better climate
In Scotland, the Farming for a Better Climate initiative is demonstrating approaches that improve farm profits while also reducing emissions. During the first round of Focus Farms from 2010-2013, on average, businesses reduced their carbon footprint by 10 per cent with no loss of production. Financial savings ranged from £11,000 to £37,000, with additional financial and carbon savings likely in the future as measures continue to take effect. One example, demonstrated by the Focus Farms, showed the benefits of calculating the feed value of pit silage. The farmer was able to reduce the amount of concentrates fed pre-lambing by 13.5 tonnes resulting in a saving of just under £3,000 and 4.84 tonnes of CO 2e.
Tackling parasitic diseases of sheep
Parasitic worms infect all species of grazing livestock and can have serious effects on livestock health, welfare and production. Parasitic gastroenteritis is estimated to cost the UK sheep industry over £80 million per year through reduced productivity. Worms are controlled by drugs, but resistance to the wormers is rife and an alternative control strategy which does not rely on drugs is needed.
In response, RESAS-funded researchers successfully developed a vaccine for the Barber's Pole Worm (Haemonchus contortus), which is the most important roundworm parasite of sheep and goats worldwide. Barbervax® is the first vaccine in the world for a worm parasite of sheep and is now on sale in Australia. This follows many years of research in Scotland and a five-year period of commercialization through collaboration with Australian partners.
Common Agricultural Policy ( CAP) Direct Payments Modelling
RESAS-funded scientists carried out analysis on post-2015 options for CAP direct payments to investigate the consequences of detailed policy options in the EU regulation. This research was instrumental in enabling Scottish Government policy teams and external stakeholders to evaluate the consequences of Pillar 1 CAP reforms on Scottish Agriculture.
The analysis also assessed additional areas that could become eligible and responded to requests from the CAP stakeholder group to assess the effects of payment options on land with environmental designations and on variations on the Phase 1 budget options.
Wind farms can create challenges in terms of placement and perception. These issues are addressed in two reports which have reviewed existing legislative frameworks in order to inform new policy decisions. Reviews have identified the current legal avenues available to householders seeking compensation for disturbance caused by wind farms and examined the evidence base for the current 2 km separation distance between houses and wind farms. This second report informed the Scottish Government's position on the revised Scottish Planning Policy.
Vast carbon stores
Peat soils cover over a fifth of Scotland's land and play a vital role in storing and removing (sequestering) carbon from the atmosphere. Peatlands hold vast amounts of carbon but are also important for agriculture, recreation, and whisky production, as well as supporting unique ecosystems. Scotland's deepest peats store approximately 3 billion tonnes of carbon; ten times the amount stored in the whole of the UK's trees. Due to past draining and redevelopment of peatlands, their capacity to store and sequester carbon has been significantly reduced. It is vital that this capacity to sequester and store vast amounts of carbon is protected, to limit climate impacts. RESAS-funded research is breaking new ground on assessing the carbon benefits of peatland restoration. Recognition of the wider benefits of peatland restoration ensures that demand for peatlands research remains high.
Potential water and soil quality options for the Scottish Rural Development Programme ( SRDP)
At the request of SEPA, RESAS-funded scientists completed an assessment of options to improve water and soil quality. This project provided SEPA with the necessary evidence on which to base its recommendations to the Scottish Government and informed the second stage SRDP consultation and second River Basin Management Plan in support of the implementation of the Water Framework Directive.
Surface water flooding project
Surface water flooding accounts for roughly 40 per cent of flood risk in Scotland. A RESAS-funded project developed a methodology for surface water flood forecasting using the site of the 2014 Commonwealth Games as a case study. The research involved collaboration between RESAS-funded researchers, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Met Office and SEPA.
Genomic approaches to barley and wheat breeding
RESAS-funded researchers, in collaboration with a UK plant breeder, investigated ways of optimising nitrogen uptake. Nitrogen is often the most limiting nutrient for plant growth, and increasing nitrogen uptake can increase crop yield and accelerate production. The work has started with barley but will extend to wheat, where findings are likely to benefit the baking and bread making industries.
Sustainable upland species management
Red deer populations in Scotland are a polarising issue, and while they bring economic benefits to many rural communities, they can also have a detrimental impact on sapling growth and forest ecosystems. A RESAS-funded project is investigating the effects large deer populations may have on Scottish upland habitats. The research shows increased grazing pressure is causing deer to encroach on new, previously ungrazed, habitats. Habitat choices are also changing in response to shifts in temperature. The research is vital in informing debate on sustainable deer management.
Capacity for Change ( C4C) programme
RESAS funding has been invested into developing and expanding the C4C programme which works to strengthen community resilience, sustainability, wellbeing and regional rural development. Working with LEADER, the researchers ultimately aim to develop a model to enable the identification of social and economic outcomes for local communities which will help them thrive and evolve. As a result of initial involvement in Dumfries and Galloway, researchers were invited to work in Ayrshire to evaluate a similar scheme (Ayrshire 21) which worked with 21 rural communities to help them develop community action plans.
Functional ingredients for sustainability and health
RESAS-funded scientists are working with national and international food companies with a view to incorporate functional ingredients into their products. Working directly with Scottish companies they are helping them develop new, or reformulate existing, products to be healthier. Companies are also being encouraged to use alternative ingredients to increase sustainability, ensure GM-free compliance and improve processing efficiency.
A number of RESAS-funded projects are investigating expansion in soft fruit markets and the development of new berry varieties. One of these new varieties, already approved for commercial cultivation, combines late season ripening with enhanced fruit quality. Other lines under trial have shown signs of resistance to raspberry root rot - the most economically damaging disease affecting UK raspberry cultivation. Similarly, a new blackcurrant variety has been approved for release. Combining enhanced quality and higher vitamin C levels, it also provides increased environmental resilience to warmer winters. It is a potential replacement for the current Ben Lomond variety which has an annual UK market of £1 million.
Soil research for agriculture
A RESAS-funded project is investigating the effects of enhancing the availability of phosphorus in soils, which will improve uptake and increase productivity. Outputs will have an impact on crop producers and fertiliser suppliers through to policy makers. Research into liming practices has allowed farmers to target lime application more efficiently, with literature on the practice being updated and distributed widely to farmers and land managers.
RESAS-funded research explored the environmental sustainability of school meals, building on previous work investigating healthy and sustainable diets. The project considered where the greatest contribution of GHG emissions was likely to come from, within the school meals service. It also provided an overview of current meals provided in schools and worked on examples of how meals could be revised to reduce the GHG emissions.
Ash dieback is a serious disease affecting ash trees and has the potential to cause significant damage to the UK's ash woodlands. The disease, which has no current cure, is usually fatal. It has been responsible for losses of between 60 and 90 per cent of ash trees in some areas of Europe. It was first confirmed in the UK in 2012 and is expected to affect up to 75 per cent of trees in some areas. Expertise from RESAS-funded researchers has helped to secure six contracts to investigate the ecological impacts of the disease.