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Soil science and agri-systems approaches

Background

Food security in the context of this priority covers the sustainable production of sufficient, safe, nutritious and affordable food to supply the world's growing population. The overall BBSRC food security priority aims to encourage research that will enhance UK and/or global food security, by providing knowledge and evidence that will enable food producers and processors, retailers, consumers and governments to respond to and manage the challenges facing the UK food system, and related global issues including those confronting the developing world.

Tackling the food security challenge will require multifaceted and cross-disciplinary approaches. Multidisciplinary approaches are strongly encouraged under this priority, including those that draw on expertise from across the biosciences and, where appropriate (and provided the majority of the work falls within BBSRC's remit), proposals at the interfaces with other Research Councils. These might include collaborations between biologists and physical, environmental, medical or social scientists. Integration of the latest bioscience and modelling techniques is encouraged at all scales from molecules and cells to agricultural systems and landscapes.

Aim

This priority covers research to maintain the essential functions of soils for agriculture, underpinning the efficiency and sustainability of food production from crops and animals. In particular, we encourage multidisciplinary research to minimise inputs such as energy, fertilisers and water; control undesirable outputs such as N2O, CO2 and run-off; improve soil fertility and structure, including water retention; and explore the potential for enhancing carbon capture and storage in soils.

Understanding of agricultural systems can be improved through the development of research-based management systems at a range of scales (farm, catchment, regional) to optimise food production in ways that are reconciled with maintaining biodiversity and the delivery of other critical ecosystem services. This includes:

  • whole systems and agri-ecosystems approaches to land management practices that enhance biodiversity conservation in agricultural and associated ecosystems
  • maintenance of on- or near-farm natural resources (e.g. structure and fertility of soils)
  • competition for farm land (e.g. with non-food / bioenergy crops)
  • maintenance of ecosystem services (e.g. carbon sequestration or the health of beneficial invertebrates for pollination or pest control)
  • biological based management of agricultural waste

Soil science and ecosystems research not primarily focused on agriculture is excluded from this priority.

Applications in this area may also overlap with the remit of the LWEC priority.

Tackling the food security challenge will require cross-disciplinary approaches which may span a number of the challenges under the broader food security priority. BBSRC would particularly welcome applications that address the food security priority in a broader context and would recommend applicants to read all five strategic priorities in the food security area before applying.

Outputs and impacts

The translation of research outputs into practical use and application by consumers, the agriculture and food industries, policy makers and non-governmental organisations will be critically important in meeting the future challenges. Impacts on training and the UK skills base should be considered. Ultimately the key output from this priority will be research underpinning a secure global supply of safe and healthy food.

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