A Small but Seismic Shock in Plant Science – remember the 14th March 2014

Yesterday I was in The Houses of Parliament in the company of 138 international Nuffield Farming Scholars After a tour around the iconic debating chambers, the majestic robing rooms, and the Lobby that spawned the whole concept of ‘lobbying’, the scholars from all around the world, gathered in one of the bill committee rooms and spent nearly 2 hours talking with Robbie Moore MP, Lord Curry and then with the DEFRA Secretary of State, George Eustice MP.

But this was not the small but seismic shock in plant science that happened yesterday. Instead, a little later on, the House of Lords defeated a last-ditch attempt to stop a law going through giving the UK Government the option to allow research and field trials of gene-edited plants to proceed without the unnecessary and over-burdensome regulations normally associated with research into genetically modified plants. Given that a similar attempt in the House of Commons last week was defeated by over 300 votes to 2, clearly the political will was in favour making the change.

Critically, it was the first positive change in the law on gene-editing and genetic modification for over a generation.

A small step in terms of what was being proposed. It eliminates the unnecessary additional expense and regulatory burdens for researchers wishing to trial these crops. When it comes to research on gene-edited plants being carried out in our iconic plant science institutes and universities, it can save up to £200000 of tax payers money per trial, a significant drag on the UK’s ability to innovate in these areas.

But a proverbial giant leap for science in these areas when it comes to Government policy; despite huge lobbying attempts by the anti-GM/anti-GE groups, it passed uneventfully through Parliament.

The next stage is how to commercialise these research projects; since research and field trials will not help in the battle against climate change, improving the environment, or improving nutrition; only through the implementation of this technology can that happen. That is for another day.

Nevertheless, remember the 14th March 2022; that was the date that the UK finally took the first steps forward on gene-editing. A seismic shock in plant science in the UK.

New Events for 2021

Given that it is already the 11th January, I’m guessing that it is already too late to say Happy New Year to most people, but just in case you don’t feel as if you are most people, Happy New year to you!!

Two new events to let you know about:

AICC conference

I am delighted to have been invited to present at, and then chair a session on, Regenerative Agriculture at this week’s AICC conference. So RegenAg is a conservation and rehabilitation approach to food and farming systems that can be applied to conventional agriculture – potentially allowing productive farming to occur in an environment where you can increase the fertility of the soil and promote biodiversity. Cannot wait to hear more.

Westminster Forum

I am also really looking to giving my thoughts on Next steps for UK chemical industry and priorities for UK REACH at next week’s Westminster Forum event. OK, so REACH is never going to be my specialist subject on Mastermind, but it is important that food security and environmental safety is a key consideration when all new policy decisions are taken.

Sitting on a Sofa during Lockdown

Three pieces of Advice for those of you thinking of going it alone

It is the end of November 2020, and we have been in and out of a pandemic lockdown for the last eight months, and whilst there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel, it is not yet clear when we will all be able to bathe in it.

The end of November also marks the end of my first two months in the outside world. No longer part of #TeamBayer but now a member of #TeamJulianLittleCommunications – to be honest, it doesn’t have the same ring to it.

During this time, I have learnt a lot about myself, my motivation touch points, my need for fresh air and , however good Zoom, Teams, FaceTime and HouseParty are, my need to occasionally see people in 3-D.

Excitingly, I have also met and worked with some really interesting people in this new 2-D world. Working with the John Innes Centre and The Sainsbury Laboratory has been a total joy – it never fails to amaze me what incredible science is going on at the Norwich Research Park (NRP); you only need to follow them on Twitter to start to get a feel for the depth and breadth of it but when you start talking to individuals, whether Group Leaders or one of the Communications Team, you get to really understand what a special place the NRP is.

In addition I have presented at the Nufarm European Customer Conference (I’m trying to forget the internet going down for a moment as they introduced me) and an Audax Seminar, both on the critical need for innovation in plant protection technologies – such a crucial topic when looking at how UK agriculture is going to have to respond to a tailing off of support payments and the net-zero carbon agenda.

And of course the #Agri-TechE REAP Conference, one of my favourite conferences of the year – quirky yes but unbelievably well put together with an online platform that other conferences should aspire to. So there I was hosting a virtual sofa session with the eminent author and geoagriculture expert, Professor David Montgomery and a group of invited expert commentators. Not quite sure how “relaxed” any sofa session can be on-line but I did thoroughly enjoy animating it!

Coming into December, I have lots more thing to do and to tell you, but to anyone who is thinking of going-it-alone but are worried that life is a bit scary out there, I would say the following:

  1. Think about what you are good at – is it one thing or are there 2 or 3 or maybe even 4 things that you could do that people might be interested in? How would you explain them to people? What examples would you be able to give?
  2. Talk to trusted people in your network – you know the ones, those who are your traditional go-to persons when you want advice. Gauge their opinions – is this a good idea, have you missed or overlooked something?
  3. Sketch out what your website would look like – it is actually an excellent way of really thinking about what you do, what you are good at, and crucially how you would present yourself to the outside world

In the meantime, keep safe – remember you need to get to the light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel before you can benefit from it.

The first day of the rest of your life…

So the non-secret is out – I leave #TeamBayer at the end of September to break out on my own. My decision. On my terms. The first day of the rest of my life…it is an old cliché when you leave a company and yet it feels much like a very apt description. Having worked for over 30 years for Bayer and companies such as Aventis CropScience and Rhone-Poulenc Agriculture that are now part of Bayer as a result of M&A, it does feel as if I am starting again.

I leave Bayer with a huge amount to thank them for so many things not least for allowing me to follow my own advice that when walking down the corridor of a career, to always take a look around the doorways along the way, and be prepared to change direction. But in addition, this company has:

  • Never asked me to compromise my own standards
  • Never asked me to lie for the company
  • Always asked me whether what we wanted to communicate was appropriate
  • Always prepared to indulge me when I wanted to try to do things differently

and for that I thank them.

And so here I am starting afresh and yet, whilst I have definitely left the Bayer bubble, I remain in the relative comfort blanket of agriculture, plant science, communications, issue management, public affairs and media relations. Outside of the company and yet doing many of the things I used to do for the company.

Slightly bizarre yet somehow fascinating, and definitely exciting….

As for the future, who knows where it will take me. The new company is called

Julian Little Communications

(yes, highly innovative, I know) and even if it doesn’t change the world, it’s going to have fun trying!