UK’s top agricultural research facility faces funding crisis – report

Delicate tiny sprout of a soybean plant on an agricultural field. The plant reaches for the sun in the morning rays.

The UK’s most prestigious agricultural research facility is pausing ‘non-essential’ work due to a funding crisis, the Guardian reported on Thursday.

Rothamsted Research, the oldest continually operating agricultural research station in the world, has made critical contributions to crop science and estimates that its work is worth £3bn to the British economy every year.

According to the Guardian, the facility’s director, Professor Angela Karp, has told staff in a letter that Rothamsted will have to scale back work, implement a hiring pause, and possibly freeze pay.

The institute, whose team consists of 350 scientists and 60 PhD students, receives most of its funding as a grant from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the UK’s largest public funder of non-medical bioscience, in five-year cycles.

However, for the past 10 years the facility’s funding has included no inflation costs, the Guardian said. The institute has also lost access to EU funding in the wake of Britain’s exit from the bloc.

In the last few years, the institute has reportedly been running at a loss, with the government periodically stepping in to keep it afloat. According to the director’s letter, which was seen by the Guardian, the situation is becoming increasingly precarious.

Karp was quoted as saying: “I feel that it is important for me to inform staff that, after a promising start, unfortunately our financial position weakened in the latter part of last year. Despite all our ongoing efforts . . . our grant targets won for the whole year were not as we had budgeted for.

“Whilst free reserves have been maintained, these still remain lower than we would like and highly susceptible to external factors, and we are currently considering how best to manage our operating model to put our longer-term future on a more secure footing.”

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