RESEARCH AND innovation across the farming industry should be a key focus of future convergence cash spending – according to the chair of the Moredun Foundation, Ian Duncan Miller, who has called for a ‘more holistic’ approach to the distribution of the £160million allocated to Scottish agriculture.

Mr Duncan Miller made it clear that moving forward, the industry needs to have the ‘sharpest tools in the box’ at its disposal and investment in disease research and animal welfare would bring benefits to all businesses longer term, not just individual farmers.

“There have been many discussions over the allocation of funds, and everyone is right to fight for their corner. Ultimately this convergence money will not be a game changer to most farmers – what would give us all a dividend would be knowledge based on science and testing – this is an opportunity to invest some of that money in innovation and research,” he suggested.

“The money has still not been allocated and we are speaking with anyone and everybody about it. We would be remiss if we didn’t put our penny’s worth in and demonstrate what can be done.”

Mr Miller couldn’t give details on how money would be spent within research institutes like Moredun, however did make reference to the fact that many of the ‘easier diseases’ are now ‘dealt with’, where now the industry is facing some ‘tricky customers’ which require attention.

Moredun currently receives around £18m in funding yearly, one third of which comes from Scottish Government support, another third from external research funding and a third from running its science park.

As a scientific research institute, it has hugely benefited from its relationship with the EU, both in terms of knowledge transfer and funding support. Moredun’s scientific director and chief executive Professor Julie Fitzpatrick explained that with the UK’s imminent departure from the EU looming, they have been hit with loss of funding and voiced her concern for future direct support for research and development post-Brexit.

“Over the last five years we have received two EU grants of £9m, of which £1.5m comes directly to ourselves and we are still applying for further grants whilst we are still eligible. Whatever happens with Brexit, we hope that we manage to see some of the money flowing back into the areas that the EU covered. There is concern that the UK will target funds at other important sectors such as defence and environmental schemes, but it will be difficult for us to benefit from that. This is when the EU funding was so important as they had a good focus on farming.

“The level of money we receive from the EU has been going down since the 2016 referendum result and this year’s accounts put that figure at zero,” she concluded.

Prof Fitzpatrick did insist that despite a period of low funding which has seen other sectors struggle to keep on staff, they have been able to maintain staff numbers through careful managing of resources and not replacing people when they leave.