An independent assessment of the value of research taking place at NIAB revealed an 18-fold return on investment to the wider UK economy.
The economic impact report, by economists Brookdale Consulting in 2020, concluded that for every £1 spent on research at NIAB, at least £17.60 is returned to the UK economy through improved production efficiency, economic growth, import substitution, export earnings and inward investment.
The study focused on five key areas, capturing the broad spread of crop-related science and innovation covered by the NIAB Group:
The economic impacts of NIAB’s contribution were calculated in the following areas:
- Plant breeders are encouraged to invest and innovate, knowing their varieties are independently assessed, their intellectual property is protected, and that seed supplies are well-controlled
- Growers can be confident that certified seed is quality assured, and save time in selecting varieties offering a genuine improvement in performance and quality over older varieties
- Industry benefits from ongoing productivity increases delivered through improved varieties.
The impact study focused on the economic contribution of the following three areas of NIAB research:
- Irrigation scheduling model
- Yield forecasting
- Agronomy and varietal advice
NIAB at East Malling is a leading breeder of strawberries with its high-performing MallingTM Centenary variety now accounting for 60-70% of the UK market.
A key contribution of NIAB has been to develop higher-yielding varieties with extended season of production, improved fruit quality, better picking efficiency and reduced waste. New varieties are in the pipeline, offering further benefits in terms of disease resistance and consistent yield profile.
NIAB’s success relates to its multi-disciplinary research combining scientific knowledge of yield and quality, development of molecular markers, understanding pest and disease control methods and a focus on reduced growing costs.
NIAB has been involved in the British wine industry since 2015 when it recognised the rapid growth taking place in the sector, and the need for R&D to support this growth. A research vineyard was planted at East Malling in 2015, followed in 2016 by the establishment of a consortium of NIAB and leading UK vineyards to fund and co-ordinate R&D support to the sector.
NIAB’s research covers growing systems and resource-use efficiency, genetic improvement and pest and disease control. Compared with the average UK vineyard yields of between 4.4 and 5.9 t/ha, NIAB is demonstrating what is possible under conditions in the UK through improved management and growing systems.
As the UK wine industry adopts NIAB’s methods, the productivity of this rapidly expanding sector will increase.
NIAB is a leader in pre-breeding research, providing a vital link between the discoveries and advances taking place in fundamental plant science and the translation of that new knowledge into traits and breeding material that commercial plant breeders can use to develop improved crop varieties with beneficial characteristics.
NIAB’s pre-breeding programme has already supported ongoing productivity improvements in major crops such as wheat. However, the impact study considered the potential contribution of pre-breeding to improve the performance of legumes such as field beans.
Field beans offer a potentially valuable break crop with nitrogen-fixing and soil organic matter benefits, and potential to displace imports of soya as a home-grown protein source.
In each of these five areas, accounting for around 20% of NIAB’s total research income, the report identified a high-level of ongoing actual impacts as well as potential future impacts, reflecting NIAB’s unique interconnecting role between fundamental science and practical application.
The report indicated that this return on investment would be even greater if NIAB’s international contribution had been accounted for.