Skip to content Skip to navigation

25th Macaulay Lecture - 21st Century Agriculture - If New Technology is the Answer, are we asking the Right Question?

Friday, May 18, 2001 - 15:00

In my talk, I would like to consider, from a biological point of view, whether this symbiosis can, and indeed should, continue. I wish to address three questions: "What is theoretically possible?"; "What is practically feasible?"; and "What is socially desirable?".

I will start from the position that the aim of developed country agriculture is to produce the safe, high-quality food that people want, at a price that they are prepared to pay, using techniques that they accept as being sustainable. I will then consider these three questions from two standpoints: commodity production at global prices; and niche market production where added value resides further up the food chain. I will argue that the technology interactions will differ markedly in these two approaches, and that much research is predicated upon the assumption that the first standpoint is the only viable one. I will question that assumption and consider how biological research can impact upon high-value production systems.

Lecture Abstract: 

It could be argued, with some force, that the development of "Western" agriculture has represented an effective symbiosis between biology, chemistry and engineering. Understanding the basis of crop and animal production systems has led to the targetting of engineering advances and novel chemicals that have, together, sustained the productivity increases of the 20th Century.

In my talk, I would like to consider, from a biological point of view, whether this symbiosis can, and indeed should, continue. I wish to address three questions: "What is theoretically possible?"; "What is practically feasible?"; and "What is socially desirable?".

I will start from the position that the aim of developed country agriculture is to produce the safe, high-quality food that people want, at a price that they are prepared to pay, using techniques that they accept as being sustainable. I will then consider these three questions from two standpoints: commodity production at global prices; and niche market production where added value resides further up the food chain. I will argue that the technology interactions will differ markedly in these two approaches, and that much research is predicated upon the assumption that the first standpoint is the only viable one. I will question that assumption and consider how biological research can impact upon high-value production systems.

Speaker Details

Professor Chris Pollock

Professor Pollock was appointed Research Director of IGER in 1993. He joined the staff of the Institute in 1974, when it was the Welsh Plant Breeding Station and became a member of the senior management team in 1989 as Head of the Environmental Biology Department. He is an Honorary Professor of the University of Wales Aberystwyth (Institute of Biological Sciences) and of the University of Nottingham (School of Agriculture) and has teaching duties at both sites.

Chris graduated from Cambridge in 1968, having studied botany. In 1972, he obtained a PhD from Birmingham University in Microbiology and MA from Cambridge, and subsequently was awarded a DSc from Birmingham in 1993. He was a Fulbright Fellow at The University of California, Davis from 1979-1980 and a NATO Senior Visiting Research Fellow at Purdue University, Indiana from 1987 to 1992.

His personal research is in the area of plant responses to environmental stress, covering the basic mechanisms of growth, photosynthesis and the storage of reserve carbohydrates in grasses, cereals and legumes. He still leads a research project in this area. He has published over a hundred papers and reviews on aspects of basic plant science, and also has interests in the responses of agricultural crops to climate change. He was a member of the Climate Change Impacts Review Group which produced a report in 1996 for the Department of the Environment. He has chaired the Plants and Microbial Sciences Committee of BBSRC. He is currently:

Chair of the Scientific Steering Committee for Field-Scale Evaluation of Herbicide-Resistant Crops

  • Member of ACRE (Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment)
  • Member of the Technology Foresight Panel on the Food Chain and Crops for Industry
  • Member of the National Assembly's Farming for Futures Group
  • Member of the Wales Waste Forum Composting Sub-Group
  • Member of the Stapledon Trust

He is a Fellow of the Royal Agricultural Societies and of the Institute of Biology.

Location

The Macaulay Land Use Research Institute
Craigiebuckler
AB15 8QH Aberdeen
United Kingdom
GB

About the Lecture

Dr Thomas Bassett MacaulayThe annual T.B. Macaulay Lecture is held to honour the vision of Dr Thomas Bassett Macaulay, President and Chairman of the Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada, whose benefaction founded the original Macaulay Institute for Soil Research in 1930. He was a descendant of the Macaulays from the Island of Lewis and his aim was to improve the productivity of Scottish agriculture. This vision continues today in its successor the James Hutton Institute, a world leader in land, crop, water, environmental and socio-economic science.