Budget boost for science in the east

Deborah McGurran
Political editor, East of England

image captionThe east of England leads the way in plant and food research

The budget may have been low on specifics but it is already clear that one part of the region is going to do very well out of the Chancellor.

We understand that a large part of the £1.6bn announced for research and development will be going into agriscience.

With most of the country's plant breeders based in the East and with centres like the National Institute for Agricultural Botany in Cambridge and the John Innes Centre in Norwich, it's a safe bet that most of that money will be coming our way.

"The east of England has this very large concentration of world class research," says Prof Mike Bevan from the John Innes Centre. "We believe science can benefit production in the future and this new funding will give us the potential to develop research activities."

There is demand from farmers, not just in this country but around the world, for seeds which can produce higher yields, are resistant to drought and rely less on fertilizers.

The new money, which the research institutes have to bid for by June, will be for new buildings and scientific infrastructure.

"The agricultural research sector is getting the recognition it deserves," says George Freeman, the MP for Mid Norfolk, who is also the government's advisor on life sciences.

"Agriculture and food research has been a traditional strength in our region for decades but over the last 10 or 20 years we have reduced funding for it, so it's important that the Chancellor has announced that he will support this sector."

If it gets the money, the John Innes Centre hopes to build new greenhouses and invest in various imaging devices to make it easier to measure plant performance in the field.

"We've got great potential for agricultural innovation and production," says Professor Bevan. "If we can help develop crop products for tomorrow, it would be an amazing challenge."