Scientific challenge

To feed our growing global population, modern agriculture needs to boost food production. Meeting anticipated demand however will generate environmental damage, in turn undermining our future capacity to produce food.


Wildfloer margin

Sustainable intensification of agriculture is one solution. This conceptual framework aspires to:

  • increase food production per unit area 
  • reduce the impact on the environment
  • sustain - or improve - the natural resource base on which agriculture depends for future generations
  • strengthen resilience to future environmental change 

How to achieve this was the subject of much debate and the focus of the ASSIST (Achieving Sustainable Agricultural Systems) programme.

Project overview

The ASSIST programme aimed to develop and assess the effectiveness, impacts and robustness of novel mid- and far-horizon agricultural systems and technologies to advance understanding of Sustainable Intensification.

Core areas of sustainable intensification research

Sustainable Intensification - combine harvester in a wheat field

  1. identifying current and future biophysical limitations on crop productivity in arable and grassland farming systems
  2. predicting the impacts of changes in agricultural management on the wider environment
  3. understanding and enhancing the ecological processes underpinning food production
  4. developing innovative farming systems which minimise inputs while maximising yield, and build resilience to future environmental change
  5. providing tools and data for planning future multi-functional land use that optimises benefits to food production whilst minimising trade-offs and conflicts with other ecosystem services.

Running from 2016-2022, the programme was a collaborative long-term National Capability programme led by the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. It combined multidisciplinary expertise from Rothamsted Research, and British Geological Survey with support from policy makers and the farming industry. 

By bringing together this expertise in management of natural resources with crop production the programme will we be able to examine fully the impacts of intensification on the wider environment, and develop synergistic farming systems that contribute towards environmental sustainability.

This national capability will provide the community with validated biophysical models and data at the field and national scale, a UK-wide research infrastructure using commercial farms, and tools to explore and synthesise the data generated. It will provide opportunities for new partnerships between the wider academic community and industry to address critical knowledge gaps, including the socio-economic barriers to uptake and implementation of these new farming systems, and the integration of advances in crop breeding. Together these activities will support the agricultural industry in assessing the potential to meet ambitious goals for environmental sustainability whilst remaining competitive in the global market.

See a round-up from the programme's final event

Principal Investigator