Sustainable Food Production
The use of resources during the production of food needs to become more efficient, but without compromising the ecosystem and social services that the agricultural landscapes provide.
A further challenge is to prevent a reduction in our current production capacity. We can achieve this by mitigating the effects of climate change, reducing land and water degradation and protecting production from disease, weeds and pests.
We take a systems-approach to sustainable food production. This Theme focuses on precision agriculture (in the application of fertilisers and pesticides), better diagnostics for crop and livestock diseases, and genomics (in plant and livestock breeding and improving soil function).
Manchester has two Chairs working in this Theme - Prof Bruce Grieve (our theme lead) and Prof Dave Johnson. Find out more about them here.
Through Prof Grieve, Manchester is leading on the Sensors and Informatics Engineering aspect of the N8 agrifood programme via the E-Agri Sensors Centre. This was launched in 2007 through a five-year grant from the Agri-Science business Syngenta Ltd. In recent years, the e-Agri Sensors Centre has significantly refocused its research activities to meet the broader projected needs of agriculture and food supply.
In light of this, a number of strategic enabling technologies have been identified that can facilitate innovative new approaches to crop growth and non-mammalian biotechnology. Sensor science is one of these technologies identified as having the capacity to create a paradigm shift in the future of the sector.
The Centre has been strategically domiciled within a university environment so as to nurture and translate the underpinning sciences, from across the physical and life-sciences interfaces, which will be required to deliver future agricultural products and services. The Centre is based within the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering in the Faculty of Science and Engineering, but is necessarily multidisciplinary owing to the nature of the techniques being researched.
Many of our Theme 1 researchers are part of the Electronic engineering for agriculture theme in Manchester which focuses on integrating sensors, electronics, control, power systems and ICT engineering into agriculture as key enablers for delivering improved food supply and sustainable energy production without increased burden on the limited fertile land-bank.
A further key focus of sustainable agriculture at Manchester is in the area of Soil and Ecosystem Ecology. Our work in this area is supported by numerous research grants from NERC, BBSRC, GCRF and business, with a combined total value of around £15M. Our work is focused mainly on grassland systems, but also forestry, arable crops and horticulture. We aim to understand how plants interact with their abiotic and biotic environment to affect key ecosystem services.
In particular, we have long-standing interest in quantifying how land management affects greenhouse gas emissions, carbon storage and biogeochemical cycling. This work utilises long-running field manipulation studies, application of cutting-edge stable isotope techniques, notably via our new mobile greenhouse gas and isotope tracer laboratory, and detailed mechanistic studies undertaken under controlled conditions. The latter work has received a significant funding boost from The University of Manchester to develop new controlled environment growth facilities. Much of the work places emphasis on soils, and we have well-equipped modern laboratories to undertake physical, chemical and biological characterisation of key soil properties.