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UK: Secretary of State visits Harper Adams University

Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove, visited Harper Adams University on Friday to learn about groundbreaking advances being made in agricultural technology.

The Environment Secretary also learned about the university’s excellent teaching, learning and research in entomology, and sampled the new Bovine Hololens mixed reality technology that is set to bring holographic cows into the classroom.

North Shropshire MP, and former Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson accompanied the Minister on the visit.

They had earlier visited Soulton Hall, near Wem, where they learned about no-till farming research, in which Harper Adams, together with the University of Oxford, is involved. Mr Gove praised farmer Tim Ashton, saying: “His approach is stopping soil erosion and benefitting the environment to the extent that he now has barn owls on his land. It retains the nutritional goodness of the soil far better than traditional methods of farming.”

Low impact farming remained on the agenda at Harper Adams, where the party met the team behind the Hands Free Hectare project, a successful world-first effort to plant, grow and harvest a crop without human hands touching the field. Mr Gove had an opportunity to “drive” the team’s robotic tractor remotely, while also learning about the various vehicles and other machines adapted to allow the field to be tended autonomously.

Mr Gove spoke to a group of entomology PhD students to learn about their work, including the use of microchips to track slug movement, investigations into the saddle gall midge and methods to rear predatory mites that can be deployed to reduce reliance on pesticides.

On the Harper Adams University Farm, Professor Mark Rutter outlined research into dairy cow welfare and preferences. At the Veterinary Services Centre, the Minister met virtual cows, thanks to lecturer Alison Pyatt, accompanied by Anthony Chadwick, from the Webinar Vet, who has been working with the university and Microsoft to develop Hololens software that brings cattle anatomy to life in the classroom.

Commenting on the visit, Vice-Chancellor Dr David Llewellyn said: “It was good to be able to demonstrate the research in which we are engaged to the Secretary of State and the DEFRA team who accompanied him on his visit. There is an urgent need to further support applied research of direct relevance to the farming and food sector and we hope that this message will be taken on board by Defra as they seek to finalise, in the coming months, new strategies for the environment and UK agriculture.”

Mr Gove added: “Harper Adams University plays an incredibly valuable role in keeping us at the forefront of agricultural research and development, creating ground breaking solutions for the challenges of the future.

“I was delighted to visit this world-renowned institution and I look forward to working alongside them to develop a bold new approach to farming outside the EU, helping the agriculture industry take full advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead.”

Source: Harper Adams University
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