FOOD crop production in the UK has better opportunities for growth and development than almost anywhere in Europe, Agrii’s Northern Farming Conference at Bishop Burton College was told.

Tom O’Mahoney, chief executive of Origin Enterprises – Agrii’s parent company – said exciting opportunities must be seized with both hands.

Speaking to more than 500 growers, crop advisers and specialists attending the event, he said UK farming was wellplaced to take advantage of growing world affluence and food demand.

“We have to accept that seasonal production and market challenges are an inevitable part of farming, and these days we have to add the extra challenges of a progressive decline in agrochemical innovation, loss of valuable chemistry and increasing regulation, as well as CAP reform,” he said.

“Looking beyond these, however, we see huge strategic opportunities for UK farming – and agribusiness in general and crop production, in particular.

Not least for its long heritage and reputation as a quality food producer, excellent access to global markets, track-record of innovative research and well-proven resilience and dynamism.”

Mr O’Mahoney announced an additional £20m investment in Agrii’s research and development programme including a six fold expansion of its R&D across Northern England and Scotland to total well over 6,000 trial plots in the current season.

They will be run by Jim Carswell, northern R&D manager, working from two new technical centres – the first is under construction at Bishop Burton and the next will be announced later in the year in Scotland.

Mr O’Mahoney said the aim is to provide its 300-plus field specialists with agri-intelligence resources second-tonone to help producers overcome the gaps in knowledge limiting crop productivity and profitability.

He said that Agrii’s partnership with Bishop Burton was part of a structured training and development programme to develop and inspire the rapid increase in young agronomists and advisers being attracted to the business.

“At the same time, it and our increasingly close relationships with other leading centres of educational and research excellence are designed to encourage and nurture the young farming ideas and enthusiasm at all levels we see as vital to UK farming’s exciting future,” he said.

“As an industry, we know 15-20 t/ha should be an achievable target for UK wheat production. Equally, we appreciate how much less vulnerable cereal and oilseed rape production needs to be to climatic variability and weed, disease and pest pressures.

And we understand the huge potential precision farming technologies offer for improving crop productivity, profitability and sustainability.

“We see Agrii’s role as providing growers with the most effective products and systems and the most appropriate advice to make the most of them by harnessing the latest research- based understanding.”

Mr O’Mahoney said their investment would bring forward an increasing range of new technologies, products and approaches that growers could rely on to address the challenges they face.

He said: “Despite the current short-term challenges, we are hugely excited by the prospects for UK farming and the leading role we shall be playing in turning them into reality in the years ahead.”