Agricultural universities team up on research plan

More than a dozen universities are getting together to agree on joint agricultural research priorities, working with farmers and others who have a stake in the industry’s future.

With farming in the UK currently going through a rapid transition, the initiative responds to calls for more joined-up research and to ensure public investment in agricultural innovation makes a difference on the ground.

Sixteen universities who offer courses in agriculture and carry out agricultural research, including the University of Leeds, recently came together to form the Agricultural Universities Council (AUC) which will engage with all four Governments in the UK in its ongoing work.

The Council’s first project will be to map existing agricultural research capacity across the UK for the first time in a decade, and work with farmers, as well as environmental, welfare and community groups, food businesses, and other stakeholders, to shape future research priorities.

The Global Food and Environment Institute (GFEI) leads the University of Leeds participation in the Agricultural Universities Council. In addition to the expertise provided by GFEI, the University Research Farm will also be a key research strength for the AUC. The farm is a commercial business that also works with academic and industry partners to address modern agricultural challenges.  

Both GFEI and the University Farm collaborate extensively with farming and agribusinesses within the region and UK. These activities connect Yorkshire to GFEI’s global partnerships, facilitating local and international collaboration on agricultural education, research, innovation and training.

University of leeds farm agriculture


Professor Steve Banwart is Director of the Global Food and Environment Institute and part of the School of Earth and Environment at Leeds. He said “AUC members and partners are well-placed to strengthen the strategic position of UK agriculture.

“If we work together there is no challenge for UK agriculture that we cannot overcome, and we will be a strong partner for successful agriculture transitions around the world.”

This new research initiative was announced today by Defra Secretary of State The Rt Hon George Eustice MP who was speaking at the launch of the UK Agriculture Partnership which took place at the Royal Agricultural University, which is one of the members of the AUC.

Professor Rob Edwards, Head of the School of Natural and Environmental Sciences at Newcastle University, who chairs the AUC, added: “We already have a wealth of expertise and facilities for agricultural education and research across the UK but we can make even more of it, with more benefit for farming and the public, if we coordinate our efforts.

“That’s why this group of universities, from across the four nations of the UK, has decided to work together as the Agricultural Universities Council. Universities, like all sectors, are faced with a whole range of competing demands and pressures and I’ve been heartened by the huge goodwill and commitment our members have brought to working together.”

The AUC’s work to agree joint research priorities is being supported by the Centre for Effective Innovation in Agriculture (CEIA).

The AUC will create a report addressing the highest priority areas for research investment relating to agriculture, identifying where the UK most needs to strengthen agricultural research capability, and recommending how universities can work more efficiently and effectively, as a sector and with other research, funding and stakeholder institutions. The project will start in February 2022, to report in the autumn.

Professor Tom MacMillan, from the Centre and who is also the Elizabeth Creak Chair in Rural Policy and Strategy at the Royal Agricultural University, attended the UK Agriculture Partnership launch event.

He said: “Farmers, industry, and public interest groups have longstanding concerns about the impact of publicly-funded research. Some of this frustration is shared by scientists, particularly when they find themselves competing for research grants when it would make more sense to collaborate. At this hugely challenging time for farming, it is really refreshing that so many leading research institutions are teaming up to help address this.”

Further information:

The Agricultural Universities Council (AUC) is a new partnership of 16 UK universities involved in teaching and research on agriculture. The members of the AUC are Aberystwyth University, Cranfield University, Harper Adams University, Hartpury University, Newcastle University, Queens University Belfast, Royal Agricultural University, SRUC, University of Edinburgh, University of Hertfordshire, University of Leeds, University of Lincoln, University of Nottingham, University of Reading, University of Warwick, and Writtle University College.

For more about the AUC, please visit

For more information or to speak to someone about the Global Food and Environment Institute please contact University of Leeds press office at