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Evidence-based agriculture: who decides which evidence to trust?

We’re all biased – now we need to admit it

June 14, 2017

This week is Cereals – a huge arable farming event. Sadly I’m watching from the sidelines of Twitter, but at least things have quickly got interesting.

I couldn’t agree more, but the issue is that scientific evidence is complex and not clear cut. Most groups asking for decisions to be made on science have a clear idea about how the evidence should be interpreted. Everyone wants regulation to be based on ‘robust scientific evidence as interpreted by me’.

Take the neonic pesticide debate. The NFU has expressed concern over the ban, including some very sensible points about the need for more evidence. Yet Friends of the Earth point to many scientific studies in their call to uphold the ban.

The different starting points when interpreting scientific evidence are even clear at scientific institutions. Scientists at Rothamsted Research question the ban by arguing for ‘independent, unbiased research’. Even the language used reveals their position – by saying ‘alleged harmful impact on bees’ they are not defining the evidence of harm as being anything more than an allegation.

Their collaborators at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology take an approach which is far more focussed on bees rather than farmers (they did a really interesting study on this).

When the scientific evidence is sketchy (as it so often is) we bring our biases into how we interpret it. Just because someone is calling for people to use scientific evidence, it doesn’t mean that we should trust their assessment of it.

The Game and Wildlife Conservancy Trust, an organisation which strongly advocates scientific evidence, this week welcomed the appointment of Michael Gove as environment secretary at Defra. Given that history of interpretation of evidence included supporting the badger cull, I was not alone in having the opposite opinion. read on……….

For those of you on LinkedIn you can read the comments in Sustainable agriculture group:

Comment: Please look behind the science:

Well conducted research?

Done and funded by independent bodies?

Researchers have good reputations?

Previous work done?

Repeatable results?

Open mind essential!

Forget your bias for a moment!!!!

Co-creating the future: How collaboration is essential for sustainable development


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Co-creating the future: How collaboration is essential for sustainable development

On 15 September 2015, countries around the world committed to ending poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring prosperity for all. This was the foundation of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); 17 global goals comprising 169 targets to be achieved by 2030.

Though this was agreed by all the world’s leaders, it is clear that the responsibility for delivering the commitment belongs to everyone; and it’s a mission I take personally. As Chair of the Board of CSR Europe, I signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Lise Kingo, CEO and Executive Director of the United Nations Global Compact at the annual European Business Summit in May 2017, setting out that the organisations will collaborate to share information, tools and resources, communicate with national delivery partners across Europe, organise learning events for member companies and partners, and act as one voice towards European policy makers.

Between now and 2030, economies will continue to grow and create prosperity, but with this comes the need for cleaner energy and smarter cities. Growth also means social issues become increasingly complex. How do you decarbonise, while ensuring secure supplies of heating and electricity? How can cities grow, but with less congestion? No one organisation has the solution to all of these problems. Multi-national companies that benefit from the world’s creativity and ingenuity are ideally placed to help achieve these ambitious goals.

I believe that in the future successful businesses will be those that embrace and lead the changes happening today and that work collaboratively with others to do so.

SDG 11 is about creating sustainable cities and communities that can cope with rising populations and still be inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. A possible solution is utilising the “Internet of Things”, but developing this approach will require skills and talents from a wide spectrum of organisations. One example of how this might work is autonomous vehicles. In cities, these would accelerate simultaneously at traffic lights, rather than sequentially as humans do, and re-route down quieter streets to maximise the use of road infrastructure, allowing traffic to move much more smoothly than it does today. This would require technology companies, vehicle manufacturers and city planners to work together. Likewise “mobility as a service” models will allow people to use a car only when they need it, reducing the space needed for parked cars in cities.

Today, Hitachi is using its business to help achieve the SDGs. Our trains, for example, use lighter aluminium bodies which reduce air resistance and so promote carbon emission reductions, supporting SDG 13 on climate action. We also provide an on-time, safe and comfortable railway traffic control system which helps promote sustainable cities and communities. Alongside The University of Sunderland and Gestamp Tallent, Hitachi Rail Europe founded the University Technical College in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, to cater for an estimated 600 students a year, studying advanced manufacturing and engineering. Furthermore, Hitachi Rail Europe offers factory tours for women twice a year to encourage more female engineering students and job applicants. These help us to achieve goals under the “quality education” (SDG 4) and “gender equality” (SDG 5) strands of the SDGs.

To enhance affordable and clean energy production (SDG 7), Hitachi has also developed a range of wind turbine generator systems that cover the 5mw, 2.5mw and 2mw classes, alongside infrastructure to handle everything from development to design, fabrication, sales and maintenance. This part of our business promotes clean energy, alongside supply facilities that introduce dispersed power to supply energy during times of disaster. On the providing “quality education” SDG, Hitachi has built a training centre where we provide lectures to create the next generation of wind energy engineers.

These are just some examples of what we are doing and how they align with the SDGs. However, ultimately, the SDGs are not about companies working in isolation. Complex problems often require complex solutions. Traditional approaches to business – solo, private innovation and simple, linear supply chains – cannot adequately address the challenges of today. So businesses are turning to collaboration, bringing new partners into their ecosystems that all benefit from working collectively towards a common goal. This ‘collaborative creation’ is a dynamic way not only to successfully navigate the new business conditions, but also to solve society’s biggest challenges.

So I call on companies and organisations, wherever you may be based – identify the difference you can make to the world, find others who share you ambitions, and work together to make it happen. This isn’t just about doing good, but also about leading the changes that are already underway.

Written by

Hans Daems


Better collaboration, communication the key to Australia’s agricultural science future

t posted Tuesday at 10:32

Australia’s agricultural science sector needs to get better at collaboration and communication, if it is going to help farmers meet the big challenges of the next decade and beyond.

That message is at the heart of the Australian Academy of Science’s strategic plan for the next decade of agricultural science, unveiled at Parliament House in Canberra on Tuesday.

Dr Jeremy Burdon, chairman of the academy’s agriculture, fisheries and food committee said Australian universities, governments and industry-specific research organisations had often worked in competition with each other, rather than together.

“Australian science is undoubtedly world class, we lead the world in many areas, but we tend to dilute our effort because we split it between many states and the Commonwealth, a very large number of universities,” he said.

Why Is China Snatching Up Australian Farmland?


At the wine tasting room of Taylors Wines in Sydney, Australia, bottles are uncorked, poured, swished, sniffed and sipped. There’s a lot for employees to toast this year.

“The Australian wine sector is growing at a fast rate,” says Mitchell Taylor, the winery’s managing director. “And what is exciting is the top level, about 20 to 30 dollars a bottle and above, that segment is growing at 53 percent.”

That’s thanks, in part, to China.