EUROPEAN-SEED.COM I EUROPEAN SEED I 7 recognition by any UK government in more than 30 years of the strategic importance of supporting a productive resilient and competitive farming sector and has signalled a renewed RD policy focus on building closer links between the research base and industry and refocusing investment on applied research and its translation onto the farm. On top of the 450 m currently spent each year on agricultural RD the Agri- Tech Strategy includes additional investment of 160 m over five years of which 90 m is supporting a new network of Centres for Agricultural Innovation in areas such as agri- informatics precision farming crop protection and livestock production. The remaining 70 m is allocated to a Catalyst Fund to help businesses improve the translation of promising new research into commercial application. A defining feature of the Agri-Tech Strategy is a stronger and more cohesive role for industry through strong representation on the leadership council overseeing the strategy and its implementation in forging new research partnerships and collaborations with the research base and in seeking greater alignment between industry RD funding and public sector investment. A number of UK plant breeding companies are already involved in research funded through the Agri-Tech Strategy including innovative projects to identify new sources of durable disease resistance enhance grain processing quality and to develop a new phenomics platform to improve breeding agronomy and variety selection. Encouragingly the Agri-Tech Strategys central objective to accelerate the translation of research into practice and establish closer links between the public and private sector is mirrored in other RD programmes of relevance to the plant breeding industry. The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Councils BBSRC Crop Improvement Research Club and the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs-sponsored Genetic Information Networks covering wheat pulses oilseed rape and biomass for energy provide a coherent framework for more effective coordination between the science base and commercial plant breeders. At a more strategic level direct industry involvement in relevant programmes of underpinning plant science pre-breeding and genomics research within UK research institutes and universitiessuch as the BBSRC-funded Wheat Improvement Strategic Programme Consortiumoffers scope to identify and develop valuable new traits markers and breeding tools. In terms of impact innovation in plant breeding has delivered major benefits across the UKs 100 billion food supply chain from farm- level improvements in crop yields and input use efficiency through advances in end-use quality to meet the processing needs of the food industry and the healthy eating demands of consumers. Two independent studies commissioned by the British Society of Plant Breeders have helped quantify the positive contribution of UK plant breeding. The first a 2009 study by UKs National Institute of Agricultural Botany highlighted the increasing significance of genetic improvement as the primary source of yield gain in the UKs major arable crops. Statistical analysis of UK trial data over the past 60 years found that while cereal yield increases prior to the early 1980s were due to a combination of factors such as increased mechanisation and more widespread use of fertil- isers and pesticides yield gains in UK wheat and barley over the past 25 years have been almost exclusively due to the genetic improvements deliv- ered by plant breeders. The second study by economists DTZ in 2010 found in just three crops wheat barley and forage maize the benefits of plant breeding to the UK economy are in excess of 1 billion per yeardelivered through increased yields and production efficiency on-farm as well as improvements in crop quality and seasonality leading to food processing efficiencies and import substitution. The report attributed a further 1.3 billion in safeguarded economic activity to the development of improved varieties. Overall the study concluded that every 1 invested in plant breeding through seed royalties adds 40 to the wider UK economya 40-fold return on investment which compares favourably with any research- based industrial sector. UK breeding innovation continues apace with major advances in quality wheat yields healthier varieties of barley oats beans and oilseed rape improved plant architecture in field peas the development of new herbicide tolerance and hybrid breeding systems and new sources of pest and disease resistance introduced into UK varieties. In contrast to the political and regulatory challenges facing agri-science innovation at the EU levelin areas such as GMOs pesticides and novel breeding techniquesthe UK policy environment has seen resurgent interest in modern science-based agriculture. Among UK politicians opinion formers and research funders there is now more explicit recognition of commercial plant breeding as a key factor in addressing the historic challenge of sustainable intensification in agriculture and a more tangible policy response for the need to bridge the gap between basic plant science research and its practical application. Dr Penny Maplestone is chief executive of the British Society of Plant Breeders.