Moredun director calls for recognition for farm research

Professor Julie Fitzpatrick

The scientific director of the Moredun Research Institute has called on Scotland to “step up” and recognise the value of the work done by all of Scotland’s farm-focused scientific establishments.

Prof Julie Fitzpatrick told a meeting in Edinburgh that there had been budget cuts in 12 of the 13 years she has been leading the institute, but while core funding from the Scottish Government was vital, the Moredun was in a strong financial position because of astute decisions taken several years ago.

“We addressed these issues a long time ago and acknowledged we needed to bring in external income at a level which would be relentless,” said Prof Fitzpatrick.

“We’ve also not replaced staff when they have retired or resigned, and it has been a disappointment not to bring in tranches of new scientists.”

The Moredun focuses on research into animal diseases and producing new vaccines, but Prof Fitzpatrick pointed out that a strong working alliance had been established within Scotland’s network of animal and plant research institutes in order to communally fight Government cutbacks, provide cross fertilisation of ideas and counter the threat of losing valuable EU research grants.

That process includes a formal collaboration with SRUC, but Prof Fitzpatrick said there were other opportunities to plan core research to meet the needs of Scottish agriculture which did not involve working on the same campus.

“We want all institutes to do well,” she said.

“We have to support one another and get collaboration working as we need research into animals, crops and the environment.”

It is the Moredun’s ownership of the Pentlands Science Park which is providing some of the financial stability in the current economic climate.

Rents from other organisations which have located there contribute around £3million to the institute’s £18million budget and Prof Fizpatrick said it had been a “brave and inspirational” move which was helping them survive.

Scottish Government funding has been cut by £330,000 this year – the equivalent of five staff posts – and now stands at £6.4million, around 30% of the institute’s £18million budget.

External income from EU grants and other sources make up another third and group activity from commercial operations contributes the rest.

Moredun Foundation chairman Ian Duncan Miller, who farms in Perthshire, said the institute’s work had always had the strong support of the farming community which contributed practical and business acumen.