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Food and Drink

Angela Karp

Angela Karp was appointed as Director & Chief Executive of Rothamsted Research in July 2020 and is the first female director of the Institute since it was founded in 1843. Prior to her appointment, she was the Director for Science Innovation, Engagement and Partnerships where she developed new mechanisms for collaborative innovation with businesses, including a new accelerator initiative, AgRIA. Angela has more than 35 years’ experience in crop genetics and breeding for food and bio-renewables. She has more than 130 refereed publications, co-authored a textbook on genetics, and is co-editor of books on genetics and bioenergy. In 2007, she received the Royal Agricultural Society of England Research Medal and, in 2008, the Alfred-Toepfer Prize for her research achievements. In 2022 she was awarded an honorary degree by Cranfield University.

One business success

  • In 2019, together with our partners Cranfield University, University College London and the University of Hertfordshire - and supported by a grant from Societé Generale UK Foundation - we launched SHAKE Climate Change, a unique research-led entrepreneurship scheme that delivers mentorship and cash support to enterprising start-ups in the food and farm sector that promote climate friendly technologies. We have now supported over 64 businesses and seen our original cohort go from success to success.  The initial direct investment of £1.26 million into 12 ventures has attracted an additional £3.3 million in grant and equity funding as well as creating 36 highly skilled jobs.

Two challenges for the sector

  • We need to completely re-assess how modern farming accesses and uses artificial nitrogenous fertilisers. Not only is run-off an increasing concern, but it remains the major source of greenhouse gas emissions in arable systems. The Ukraine conflict has also highlighted just how insecure global supply can be - yet another reason for a re-think. 
  • The economics of farming sustainably do not yet stack up. We can expect a normalisation of farm gate prices in as we enter a post subsidy world, but a lack of clarity about how farmers might be paid for public goods and how we will measure, monitor and monetise environmental benefits needs to be urgently addressed.

Three forecasts for the sector

  • New breeding techniques, such as gene-editing, will gain increasing acceptance as a targeted alternative to traditional plant breeding. Rothamsted has been a UK trailblazer in field trials for these new crops and we have certainly noticed increasing interest in the potential of these technologies to help address future environmental and food security challenges. Recent regulatory changes are welcome, but further liberalisation will be needed to create market incentives.
  • We are only just beginning to understand the full complexity of the soil microbiome and its potential to influence plant and soil health. To date, increasing interest in soil derived bio-stimulants has not always been matched by hard evidence of effectiveness. However, research at Rothamsted and elsewhere is now beginning to uncover more insights into how roots and microbes interact, creating real possibilities for more sustainable systems.  
  • Crop rotations will start to reappear in many farming systems. Rothamsted is famous for its long- term experiments and the most recent addition to our portfolio will look at multiple rotation scenarios – and asking whether they can deliver a more sustainable farming future. 

December 2022