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New RNAA president Prof David Richardson aims to promote education and innovation

PUBLISHED: 15:19 23 April 2016 | UPDATED: 15:19 23 April 2016

UEA vice chancellor Prof David Richardson (right) at a pop-up farm at the university campus.

UEA vice chancellor Prof David Richardson (right) at a pop-up farm at the university campus.

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The new president of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association hopes his tenure will inspire vital links between the worlds of science, academia and business which will leave a lasting legacy for the farming industry.

Prof David Richardson, who was voted in for his 12-month term this week, said he was excited at the prospect of building bridges between the varied spheres of his career, making “education and innovation” his key themes for the year.

He is the vice chancellor of the University of East Anglia, and a senior microbiologist with an interest in soil bacteria and plant nutrition. He is also a member of the governing council of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), chairman of the Norwich Research Park (NRP) and chairman of the New Anglia LEP’s innovation board.

All of which puts him in a unique position to break the communication barriers between researchers and industry, sharing knowledge to bring crucial innovations into the field where they are needed, and to encourage a missing generation of youngsters into careers in modern agriculture.

But do this, he said he needs a two-way dialogue with farmers during his tenure.

“I am a biologist who has grown to run a university,” he said. “But I have never run a farm. I want to learn from the agricultural community.

“I have never had the opportunity to interact on this scale across so many parts of the business.

“I am very open to people coming up and talking to me. I will have views, but I am happy for people to challenge those views and educate me if they think I’m not doing something in the right way.

“If we can bring these two worlds together it would bring a bring a new era of agricultural innovation – and where else could that happen other than in Norfolk?

“This county has been at the forefront of agricultural research for 3-400 years, so we have got this heritage, and the community of farming, and the business world. We have the NRP and the UEA which is working to understand the effects of biology and climate change on food security and environmental security, along with people who understand the business and economics of it all.”

Prof Richardson also hopes to stimulate academic interest in farming which could potentially lead to the creation of a new specialist degree course at the university, long after his presidency is completed.

A key part of that will come through the extended Innovation Zone at the RNAA’s flagship event, the Royal Norfolk Show.

“I want the Innovation Zone to be exciting and looking forward to the challenges of agriculture, with lots of exciting prospective solutions,” he said.

“I want to stimulate a new generation. What I am concerned about is that in agriculture we excite people in primary schools – they are excited by farm animals and tractors at that age, but we lose that excitement at secondary school. Today’s 13 and 14-year-olds are our 18-year-old students of four years’ time. But we cannot leave it until they are 18 to say what they should be studying.

“I want to use the show to encourage people to think more broadly about what courses they want to pursue. And I want to be thinking about what degree courses the university should be running to capture everything that today’s modern farming business brings together; everything from molecular biology to economics and politics. What sort of qualification could the UEA be involved in that could bring talent to this part of the world, that could stimulate interest in the agricultural world in Norfolk? If I am thinking of designing a degree programme, then the process of testing the market and discussing that with the community here will probably take four years. So we need to be talking to those 13 and 14-year-olds now. There is innovative technology and research, but there is also innovation in education that we need to be planning for.

“This is something where we bring in a very UEA way of doing things, where we bring something tog ether to do something quite innovative in contemporary agriculture.”

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