Rothamsted Research is promoting a more harmonious way to achieving future food and environmental sustainability and to move on from the sometimes entrenched positions of the past.

Professor Angela Karp, Rothamsted’s director for science, innovation, engagement and partnerships, is backing a proposal from former Soil Association chief executive and proponent of organic agriculture Patrick Holden, who spent much of his tenure there attacking conventional farming systems.

In his new role as chief executive of the Sustainable Food Trust (SFT), Mr Holden is calling for greater collaboration between research scientists and sustainable farmers over an agenda that unites the two communities. “The time is right for a new chapter of collaboration between the research and scientific community and the sustainable agriculture advocacy practitioners,” says Mr Holden.  “These individuals and organisations, including myself, have been in part responsible for creating an impression that our advocacy is based on ideology and that we are resistant to making evidence-based decisions, which is certainly not the case today,” added Holden, former head of the Soil Association.

The initiative follows an SFT conference held last month in Wales. “Harmony in Food and Farming” included a keynote address from Prince Charles speaking on the need for greater awareness of nature’s “universal connectedness”.

Ms Karp says the SFT approach dovetails with Rothamsted’s five-year strategy to promote engagement and a commitment to productive and sustainable agriculture to protect the environment and benefit farmers and communities worldwide. It also matches Defra secretary Michael Gove’s vision of a “Green Brexit” with future farm subsidies linked to environmental stewardship.

“Scientific enquiry is pursued to lead to a better understanding of how things work, and how best we can manage, improve, control and even manipulate them,” observes Ms Karp. “For non-scientists, the danger is that they will selectively represent those findings that suit. This, in turn, can result in a breakdown of trust with those who generated the results and a lack of willingness to work together. We need joint ground rules and codes of behaviour that are strictly met if trust it is to be maintained.”

Mr Holden added: “I could think of nothing more appropriate than the establishment of a small strategy group comprising representatives from research and sustainable agriculture leaders who could co-evolve a new programme of events and initiatives that bring together our two communities.”