AgZero+ brings together farmers and scientists to tackle issues at scale

  • 27
  • JUN
  • 2022

Rothamsted is a major partner in a new £13 million programme that will work with UK farmers to produce low carbon, environmentally friendly food.

AgZero+ will bring together researchers and farmers to test ideas – not just in a lab or a few fields - but across whole farms and farming regions.

Some of the ‘smart farming’ ideas being tested include targeted fertiliser application, nature-based solutions, such as agroforestry, and new innovations, such as how biochar can affect carbon storage.

The five year project will find ways to balance the need to produce nutritious food with reducing greenhouse gas emissions and pollution, while at the same time enhancing biodiversity and soil health – an approach known as ‘net zero+'.

The programme will also utilise data from national sensor networks, satellites, and a network of commercial study farms and study catchments to help scale up the on-farm results. These will also be made available to the research community and other stakeholders to support their environmental planning and management.

AgZero+ builds on the success of the £12 million ASSIST (Achieving Sustainable Agricultural Systems) project, which addressed the challenge of feeding a growing population by making food production more efficient and resilient to climate change, and reducing agriculture’s environmental footprint.

The AgZero+ lead at Rothamsted, Professor Jonathan Storkey said: “By working with our partners to link measurements on commercial farms with data from our large scale, long-term experimental platforms in arable and grazing systems at Rothamsted, the project will provide a robust evidence base for ‘what works’.

“This will include working with farmers to develop ways of measuring the impacts of farming of the environment at the scale of their farm to demonstrate the benefits of the new approaches to farming being tested by AgZero+.” 

The project comes as, post-Brexit, the UK puts in place the successor to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. The Environmental Land Management Scheme is intended to transition the UK towards home-grown food production that is sustainable, carbon neutral and has a positive effect on nature.

Rothamsted Research will work with UKCEH, the British Geological Survey, the National Centre for Earth Observation and Plymouth Marine Laboratory, in the new £13.8 million programme, which is jointly funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Professor Richard Pywell, who will lead the AgZero+ project on behalf of UKCEH, said: "AgZero+ will continue the ASSIST model of uniting research institutes. Our network of commercial study farms, data and tools will play an important part in delivering the recommendations of the recently announced National Food Strategy.

“Agriculture is responsible for 10 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, but it has also caused issues in the past for biodiversity loss, pollution from pesticides and soil degradation. Our challenge will be to find a balance between meeting the government’s 2050 net zero target, but in a less polluting way, while at the same time enhancing biodiversity.”

Other partners in the programme include the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, the NFU, the Agricultural Industries Confederation, RSPB, National Trust, Natural England and Defra.

About Rothamsted Research
Rothamsted Research is the longest-running agricultural research institute in the world. We work from gene to field with a proud history of ground-breaking discoveries, from crop treatment to crop protection, from statistical interpretation to soils management. Our founders, in 1843, were the pioneers of modern agriculture, and we are known for our imaginative science and our collaborative influence on fresh thinking and farming practices.
Through independent science and innovation, we make significant contributions to improving agri-food systems in the UK and internationally. In terms of the institute’s economic contribution, the cumulative impact of our work in the UK was calculated to exceed £3000 million a year in 20151. Our strength lies in our systems approach, which combines science and strategic research, interdisciplinary teams and partnerships.
Rothamsted is also home to three unique resources. These National Capabilities are open to researchers from all over the world: The Long-Term Experiments, Rothamsted Insect Survey and the North Wyke Farm Platform.
We are strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), with additional support from other national and international funding streams, and from industry. We are also supported by the Lawes Agricultural Trust (LAT).
For more information, visit; Twitter @Rothamsted
1Rothamsted Research and the Value of Excellence: A synthesis of the available evidence, by Séan Rickard (Oct 2015)

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by government, BBSRC invested £469 million in world-class bioscience in 2016-17. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
More information about BBSRC, our science and our impact.
More information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes

About LAT
The Lawes Agricultural Trust, established in 1889 by Sir John Bennet Lawes, supports Rothamsted Research’s national and international agricultural science through the provision of land, facilities and funding. LAT, a charitable trust, owns the estates at Harpenden and Broom's Barn, including many of the buildings used by Rothamsted Research. LAT provides an annual research grant to the Director, accommodation for nearly 200 people, and support for fellowships for young scientists from developing countries. LAT also makes capital grants to help modernise facilities at Rothamsted, or invests in new buildings.