The Crop Science Centre, an alliance between the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Cambridge and NIAB, officially opened last week after three years planning.

The Centre aims “to fast-track technologies to sustainably improve farmers’ yields worldwide” through research into ways to reduce agriculture’s reliance on chemical inputs such as inorganic fertilisers, while maximising crop productivity – especially for the world’s poorest farmers. It is intended to become a global hub for crop science research and a base for collaborations with research partners around the world.

The research will be led by Professor Giles Oldroyd FRS, the Russell R Geiger Professor of Crop Science at the University of Cambridge, who currently who leads an international programme to replace inorganic fertilisers.

Planning started three years ago to build a brand new, state-of-the-art research facility at NIAB’s Lawrence Weaver Road campus to the north-west of Cambridge, using £16.9 million from the Higher Education Funding Council of England’s UK Research Partnership Investment Fund plus additional monies from the NIAB Trust; private donations from the late Russell R Geiger and Robert and Susan Cawthorn and the Cambridge University Potato Growers Research Association (CUPGRA).

Inaugural director Prof Oldroyd’s research programme is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. “This year we have seen how fragile our global systems are,” he notes. “The COVID-19 crisis is exposing another 120 million people to starvation worldwide, while crop yields here in the UK are suffering from changes in our climate.

“We need lasting solutions for stable and secure food production, but also need to improve sustainability in agriculture. We are excited to be opening this new Centre, which can drive the transformative change we so desperately need.”

NIAB chief executive Dr Tina Barsby adds: “Through transformative crop science technologies, research at the new Centre aims to ensure even the world’s poorest farmers can grow enough food. This work is at the top of the international agenda.”