Multi-million pound funding secured for major food security research programme

  • N8 Research Partnership universities to receive HEFCE grant of nearly £8 million to address the challenge of food security
  • University to match £1 million share of grant, giving a £2 million boost for its research
  • Funding will support research into Sheffield Sustainable Food Futures programme (SheFF) and Plant Production and Protection (P3) Centre of Excellence for Translational Plant and Soil Science

The University of Sheffield has received a £2 million boost, as part of a bid to transform food security research in the UK.

PlantsThe Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has awarded universities within the N8 Research Partnership – a partnership of the eight research-intensive universities in the North of England (Sheffield, Durham, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and York) – a grant of £7,999,254 through its Catalyst Fund to develop its Agri-Food Resilience programme. This will be matched equally by the N8 universities. For the University of Sheffield, this will mean £1 million from HEFCE matched with an equal investment from the University.

The funding in Sheffield will be used to support two collaborating strands of research.

The first will be the Sheffield Sustainable Food Futures programme (SheFF), which focuses on combining wide expertise across the University to analyse and improve food supply systems that link human activity and the environment from farm to consumer.

The investment will allow a host of world-leading experts to join forces in order to meet the multiple, and sometimes conflicting demands of food supply systems to enhance business performance, improve consumer experience and health, and reduce the environmental burden on soil, water and climate that arises from food production, processing and distribution.

The second investment will go toward the recently-launched Plant Production and Protection (P3) Centre of Excellence for Translational Plant and Soil Science, which draws on world class biology expertise to translate fundamental knowledge on plants and soil into new farming practices that link improved farm production with environmental improvement.

Steve Banwart, Professor of Environmental Engineering Science at the University of Sheffield, said: "This investment by HEFCE and the University transforms our ability to tackle the enormous challenge of food security. The necessary breadth of expertise from environment, social sciences, agri-technology and health sciences is enormous.

"The University of Sheffield has world-class strengths across these areas and it is inspiring and extremely exciting to have this research power harnessed within a single, concerted effort to develop new solutions to the food security challenge."

Duncan Cameron, Professor of Plant and Soil Biology and Co-director of P3, said: "This is an extremely exciting opportunity that will position Sheffield and our N8 collaborators at the very forefront of food security research in the UK."

A multi-disciplinary initiative, the Agri-Food Resilience Programme will build on the N8’s research strengths in science, engineering and the social sciences to address key global challenges in food security, including sustainable food production, resilient food supply chains, improved nutrition and consumer behaviours.

Through the programme, the N8 aims to combine world-leading crop and livestock research - plus the facilities offered by six experimental farms across the N8 universities - with the partnership institutions’ vast expertise in social sciences, including business and management, to create a single research initiative focused on ensuring the stability of national and global agri-food supply chains.

Together, the N8 universities have an impressive track record in agri-food science, with more than 370 researchers working on projects in this area and a portfolio of £269 million of research funding over the last six years.

Sir Alan Langlands, Chair of the N8 Board of Directors and Vice Chancellor of The University of Leeds, said: "Food security is one of the great challenges in our increasingly urbanised and globalised world; the need to ensure food production and distribution is resilient and sustainable is an urgent task faced by governments, industry and society. This is a task beyond any single research group or institution.

"This Catalyst funding from HEFCE means that the N8 can now implement an integrated, large scale multi-disciplinary research programme which will make a major, long-term impact in addressing the challenge of food security.

"The N8 Research Partnership has great strength, expertise and resources to make progress in this area and our work will play a key part in the Agri-Food Resilience Programme."

David Sweeney, Director of Research, Education and Knowledge Exchange at HEFCE, added: "Food security is a strategic priority for the nation. This investment will support higher education to deliver new translational research activity with business, and complements other agri-tech developments HEFCE is supporting."

Additional information

N8 Research Partnership
The N8 Research Partnership is a partnership of the 8 research-intensive universities in the North of England – Durham University, Lancaster University, The University of Leeds, the University of Liverpool, the University of Manchester, Newcastle University, the University of Sheffield and the University of York.

The N8 Research Partnership aims to maximise the impact of this research base by identifying and co-ordinating powerful research teams and collaborations, creating teams with a critical mass of world-class academics and forming a network of virtual centres of innovation excellence.

Among the N8 Research Partnership's main research programmes are initiatives in:

  • Industrial
  • Biotechnology
  • Regenerative Medicine Policing
  • The Impact of Arts and Humanities
  • Social sciences
  • Food security

The three broad criteria for the N8 Research Partnership research programmes are:

  • Demand for multi-disciplinary solutions from public and private sector research users
  • Combinations of multidisciplinary world-class capability across the N8 universities
  • Synergy - where working together can achieve a greater output than a single university effort.

Through these programmes, the N8 Research Partnership has worked with over 200 new businesses, many of which are SMEs, generated over £41M of income and created 60 jobs since it was established in 2007.

HEFCE Catalyst Fund
The HEFCE Catalyst fund supports innovative and exceptional activity across the higher education sector in teaching, research and knowledge exchange. The fund provides investment in projects which will achieve major strategic changes and provide ongoing benefits for higher education and wider society that would not happen without additional support.

The University of Sheffield
With almost 26,000 of the brightest students from around 120 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.
A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.
Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.
In 2014 it was voted number one university in the UK for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education and in the last decade has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes in recognition of the outstanding contribution to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life.
Sheffield has five Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.
Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations


For further information please contact:

Shemina Davis
Media Relations Manager
The University of Sheffield
0114 222 5339