Cumulative impact of Rothamsted’s work in the UK quantified in excess of £3bn per year

  • 30
  • OCT
  • 2015

Foreword to the report by the Director & Chief Executive, Professor Achim Dobermann

Assessing the impact of agricultural research is difficult because science is a complex and lengthy process, with pathways to impact that vary widely. It is common that research and development stages towards new technologies and know-how last 15 or even more years, followed by many more years for reaching peak adoption by farmers and other users of new technology. Adoption is often slow and diffuse, also because unlike in manufacturing many agricultural innovations need to be tailored to specific biophysical and even socioeconomic environments. Some of the many impact pathways may be known well, whereas others are not or are very difficult to quantify. Attribution presents another problem, i.e., it is often very difficult to quantify how much of the observed technological progress or other impact can be attributed to a specific innovation or an institution. Progress in productivity and efficiency is the result of many factors, including technology, knowledge and policy. Even more difficult is to assess the impact of agricultural technology on a wider range of ecosystem services and consumer benefits.

Nevertheless, in science we need to be willing to rigorously assess the relevance of our research. In his report, Sean Rickard has attempted to quantify the cumulative impact Rothamsted Research has had through key impact pathways that are most directly linked to its research. The economic approach used is in my view sound, providing a robust framework and a first overall estimate of the wider impact. Therein lies the main value of this study: it highlights the tremendous value of agricultural research. It has been demonstrated numerous times that rates of return on investment in agricultural R&D are high in both developed and developing countries, that spill over of innovations among countries is substantial, and that investments in R&D often have large, long-lasting cross-sectoral growth benefits1-7.  

Therefore, the results in their entirety are not surprising to me, although many assumptions had to be made and various potential impacts could not be included or assessed properly. We are aware that this can only be a starting point for improving the assessment of our impact in the future. This report will guide us in that, and it will also be of great value for developing our future science strategy. We will need to put better systems in place that will allow us to fill many of the data gaps and reduce uncertainties about key assumptions made. Hence, I invite everyone to contribute to a discussion on that or even come and work with us on it. We owe it to all our stakeholders to be held accountable for our research by being able to demonstrate impact in the real world. This report is meant to stimulate further discussion on how to achieve that.

The Executive Summary can be downloaded.

  1. Alston, J.M., Andersen, M.A., James, J.S. & Pardey, P.G. Persistence pays: U.S. agricultural productivity growth and the benefits from public R&D spending. (Springer, New York, 2010).
  2. Alston, J.M., Andersen, M.A., James, J.S. & Pardey, P.G. The economic returns to U.S. Public agricultural research. Am. J. Agric. Econ. 93, 1257-1277 (2011).
  3. Bertini, C. & Glickman, D. Advancing global food security: the power of science, trade, and business. (The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Chicago, 2013).
  4. Fuglie, K.O., Wang, S.L. & Ball, V.E. Productivity growth in agriculture: an international perspective. (CABI, Wallingford, UK, 2012).
  5. Renkow, M. & Byerlee, D. The impacts of CGIAR research: A review of recent evidence. Food Policy 35, 391-402 (2010).
  6. Stevenson, J.R., Villoria, N., Byerlee, D., Kelley, T. & Maredia, M. Green Revolution research saved an estimated 18 to 27 million hectares from being brought into agricultural production. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 110, 8363-8368 (2013).

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.