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"Sustainable Agriculture Local and
Lecture by Peter Gregory, SCRI
Filed 28 May 05
Professor Peter Gregory took up his post as the
new director of the Scottish Crop Research Institute (SCRI) in April
of this year, following the retirement of his eminent predecessor
Professor John Hillman (1, 2).
On 24th May he gave the annual lecture of the
Scottish Society for Crop Research. The Society provides a link
between the Scottish Crop Research Institute and farmers, processors
and other interested bodies.
Professor Peter Gregory,
newly appointed Director of SCRI
delivering his lecture to the Scottish Society for Crop Research
(to enlarge photo Click
The title of Peter Gregory's lecture
was "Sustainable agriculture - local and international perspectives".
The summary of his lecture provided for the Press is quoted here
"Sustainability is a word used in many contexts but in the
context of agriculture links together issues of production (and
economic returns from land) with aspects of ecosystem services.
This interest in sustainability has been used in many countries
as a form of shorthand to express societal concerns at a range
of scales from international to local. In this talk I will demonstrate
how international concerns about food security and environmental
change (including climate change) translate to the local level,
and describe some recent research which advances the quest for
sustainable crop production in Scotland.
"The global situation for food demand is relatively easily
stated. Global population is expected to increase from its current
6 billion to 8.5 billion in 2025. The increased production to
feed these people will come mainly from increases in yield per
unit area rather than from bringing new land into production (although
this will be important in parts of Africa and South America).
The increasing population coupled with changing dietary preferences
will mean that average cereal yields need to rise to 4.2 t/ha
in 2025 from 2.8 t/ha in 1995 and 1.2 t/ha in the early 1950s.
"Increased yields since the 1950s (the green revolution)
relied on a unique combination of technologies including breeding
of shorter cereals which facilitated responses to fertilizers,
the use of herbicides to control weeds, and the increased use
of irrigation. The result of more people, with more affluent lifestyles,
has been that several aspects of the global environment have changed
significantly in the last century (e.g. atmospheric CO2, N and
P cycles, water quality). This realisation of man-induced change
has brought with it questions about sustainability and the demand
for systems of production which are environmentally benign.
"The forthcoming doubly green revolution will
have an emphasis on the efficiency of input use. Examples of research
currently undertaken at SCRI to improve productivity while reducing
the environmental footprint of production practices includes:
"Raspberry pests, such as raspberry beetle and raspberry
cane midge, can cause considerable loss of fruit quality or fruit
yield. Researchers at SCRI are collaborating with other researchers
in the UK and elsewhere to identify ways of reducing the need
to apply unnecessary amounts of insecticides to crops to control
pests and so reduce pesticide residues on fruit. Beetles are attracted
by the smell of a volatile chemical that SCRI scientists have
identified from more than a hundred natural chemicals in the flower
scent. When this chemical is slowly released from the trap raspberry
beetles think that the white part of the trap looks and smells
like a giant flower.
"Late blight is the disease that caused the Irish potato
famine. Major dominant R-genes from the Mexican wild species Solanum
demissum were bred into potato cultivars such as Pentland Dell
which came into production in 1963, but failed to provide durable
resistance. Since then breeders have concentrated on field resistance,
also derived from S. demissum, further crossing and selection
has been needed to combine blight resistance with resistance to
potato cyst nematodes and high yield and the quality demanded
by supermarkets. Lady Balfour is one new cultivar to result from
this further crossing and is being marketed for organic production
by GreenvaleAP. Further cultivars are in the pipeline.
"Crops grown using a well designed mixture of varieties
are better able to withstand diseases, pests, environmental stress
factors and can require less fertiliser and fungicide inputs.
Yield and quality is often higher and more stable over sites and
years due to compensation between component varieties. Quality
synergies can give increased spirit yield in barley mixtures.
"My own research has focussed on the growth of roots and
the efficient recovery of nutrients. I am currently working with
root systems and with genes that will modify the root surface
to enable crops to take up more of the P that is applied.
"Global and local interests about food production and environmental
services converge in the emerging sustainability science agenda
"Sustainability will require first-class scientific research
"Crop science will be needed to achieve the services society
at large now expects of its land-based industries"
There can be no doubt that the SCRI
in its new director has a leader with a powerful combination of
talents and attributes. His impressive research record is coupled
with wide international experience. Peter Gregory delivered his
lecture with clarity and an infectious enthusiasm, so that it was
a joy to listen to. Clearly he is an excellent communicator. Diplomacy
was also in evidence as he made little direct reference to GM crops.
But his comment in the discussion that followed, whereby he recalled
that when grafting was first introduced into horticulture, the press
of the day described it as an "appalling mutilation of the
plant", may be indicative of his thinking.
The debate about GM crops will have
to be faced. Sooner rather than later science rather than emotion
will hopefully lead to better progress in this key technology within
the UK, and which is being so widely explored internationally.
While Peter Gregory spelt out the
logical case for the need for increased production to feed the world's
expanding population, the irony is that with the chaos created by
the CAP reform - with its single farm payment essentially decoupled
from production - the acreage of cereals and the numbers of livestock
in Scottish farms may well be set to be reduced, possibly from next
year onwards. The politicians, both in the north and the south of
the UK, are more interested in so-called environment matters than
they are in food production.
Although not discussed in Peter Gregory's
lecture, this could have major implications for the quality of much
of the farmland of Scotland that is so dependent upon the interaction
between growing crops and keeping livestock.
1. Editorial (2004). Professor
Peter Gregory: new director of Scottish Crop Research Institute.
See SCIENCE Homepage, filed 11 Nov 04, www.land-care.org.uk
Here to View
2. Editorial (2005). John Hillman,
director's report SCRI 2004/2005.
See SOCIAL/ECONOMIC/POLITICAL Homepage, filed 14 Apr 05,
Here to View