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Agriculture at Newcastle: the first 125 years: Introduction

Introduction to 125 years








Watercolour of the new Armstrong Building, Armstrong College presented to Clement Stephenson on the occasion of the foundation stone ceremony 5th April, 1915. 

2016 was a significant year for the School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development as we celebrate 125 years of ground breaking agricultural research and teaching at Newcastle.

On the 125th anniversary of agriculture at Newcastle there are many parallels in the challenges faced by UK farmers then and now: a difficult trading environment, a need for improved productivity and the endless need for change and innovation.

The original Department was founded on its links with the industry and, just like our academic forebears, we continue the tradition of conducting research that makes a difference and of training the next generation of farming practitioners. The one difference is that our current approach to training and research extends beyond farming to include agribusiness, the food supply chain and healthy diets, and the links with rural enterprise. With that integrated vision in mind, we look forward to another 125 years of delivering innovation and new skills to the sector.

Introduction to School

Introduction to School

The School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development promotes excellence in research and teaching in the natural and social sciences relating to food, agriculture, rural environments, the countryside, and the rural economy. In addition to promoting research excellence and teaching, the School is showing its commitment to advancing women's careers in science academia by achieving the Athena SWAN Bronze Award.

Our cutting edge research extends across the spectrum of food science and human health, agricultural science and management, soil and environmental science, rural economy and society, food and product marketing. The School brings together 60 academic staff across a wide range of disciplines within the natural and social sciences.

The School houses internationally renowned research groups including the Centre for Rural Economy and Nafferton Ecological Farming Group.

We offer high quality undergraduate and postgraduate programmes as well as higher degrees by research across the whole spectrum of subjects. Our aims are simple:

  • to inspire our students
  • to create an exciting yet supportive environment in which to study
  • to ensure the quality of our teaching and learning provision

The School's main teaching and laboratory facilities are located on the city centre campus of Newcastle University in the Agriculture Building. Additional off-campus facilities on two University farms at Cockle Park and Nafferton are used for research, teaching and demonstration purposes.

Celebrating 125 years of agricultural research and teaching at Newcastle

Expertise Groups

Food Quality and Health Sciences research is focused on understanding how food and food constituents (particularly vitamins, nutrients and phytochemicals, as well as medicinal plants) affect human health and well-being, relating to healthy ageing, food security, sensory quality, international nutrition and personalized nutrition. FQH staff work in Newcastle and Singapore.

Much of the research is multidisciplinary and cross-disciplinary, via links across disciplines within the School, and across the University through the Human Nutrition Research Centre. Each theme contains both publicly and commercially funded activities.

The Agri-Food & Society Group conducts research in all areas of food and society, including those subjects which require transdisciplinary collaboration between the social and natural sciences, and translates research results into actionable policy recommendations. Food security is an important research theme for the group and includes food safety, healthy eating, sustainable food production and consumer choices, as well as the development of evidence based and inclusive policies to promote a safe, nutritious and sustainable food supply. Researchers in the Agri-Food & Society Group work with primary producers, industry and other key stakeholders, as well as consumers, to identify important policy issues which may influence the future security of our food. Much of our research is funded by the European Commission, and contributes to European competiveness or global food security in terms of policy impact. 

The Animal Sciences group are an internationally recognised Centre of Excellence in integrative animal science drawing on fundamental research and applying it to areas of societal, industrial and policy importance. Research primarily involves farm livestock, but also laboratory and companion animal species. The majority of our research focuses on the development and evaluation of livestock systems, based on high quality animal science and its interface with socio-economics, environmental impact, food safety and food quality. The group works closely with other research groups specialising in business management, food chain and consumer studies, food science, environmental science and engineering and computing.

The Crop and Soil Sciences research group has academic excellence and a key focus on five main themes. Organic and low input systems; agro-ecology; crop protection, agri-diagnostics and precision agriculture. Collectively they investigate how these approaches can be used to understand and manage abiotic and biotic stresses in crop production systems. Our goal is to deliver innovative agri-systems that are capable of meeting the demand for quality foodstuffs from an increasing global population. 

Research spans a range of scales: pot – plot – farm – landscape. For plot to farm scale research we enjoy the use of two research farms: Cockle Park Farm and Nafferton Farm. Nafferton is home to the internationally recognised Nafferton Ecological Farming Group and a unique farm-scale comparison of organic vs conventional crop and dairy production systems. Cockle Park Farm is the centre for agri-technology development for Newcastle University and is part of the Centre for Crop Health and Protection.

Rural areas have undergone fundamental social, economic and technical change in the last few decades as a result of ongoing and new processes, including demographic and environmental change and a shifting policy and institutional landscape.

The Rural Studies & Resource Economics expertise group within the Centre for Rural Economy (CRE) has made influential theoretical and applied policy contributions to promote sustainable development. In particular the CRE has developed the area of neo-endogenous or networked rural development, which puts social justice and local contextualisation at the heart of the development process, but also acknowledges the opportunities of increasing regional and global interconnectedness for rural areas.
This concept underpins the OECD’s thinking on rural development in advanced economies CRE staff were also influential in the development and application of methodologies for the economic valuation of environmental goods and ecosystems services.

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Current Research Projects

The Centre for Crop Health and Protection (CHAP) brings together leading science and research organisations and industries to support sustainable and profitable farming, encourage the adoption of new plant-protection products and provide technologies that empower farmers to tackle threats to crop productivity.

CHAP will help to meet the challenges of feeding the world’s fast-growing human population through the sustainable intensification of agriculture. It will give farmers and growers access to the most effective and sustainable technologies, strategies and products to improve crop performance, quality and yield – making a positive impact on farm revenues and margins.


Find out more by visiting the CHAP website.

CIEL delivers leading global livestock production and product quality research. It provides a focused gateway to core world-class research institutes with industry guided expertise.

CIEL is a membership organisation, bringing together leading UK based academic institutions and industry partners who provide strategic direction, projects for development and commercialisation of the research we carry out.

A Research Centre for Digital Innovation and Analysis in Livestock (C-DIAL) is to be built at Cockle Park farm. This is a Research and Demonstration facility for novel technologies associated with Digital Innovation in relation to pigs.

Find out more by visiting the CIEL website.

A Research Centre for Digital Innovation and Analysis in Livestock (C-DIAL) is to be built at Cockle Park farm. This is a Research and Demonstration facility for novel technologies associated with Digital Innovation in relation to pigs.

Find out more by visiting the CIEL website.

The Centre for Rural Economy (CRE) is located within the School and hosts around 60 staff and postgraduate researchers.

The Centre for Rural Economy (CRE) is a Newcastle University Research Centre that specialises in:

  • interdisciplinary social science
  • researching rural development and policy
  • food and society
  • wellbeing of rural communities

Find out more by visiting the Centre for Rural Economy’s website.

The Nafferton Ecological Farming Group (NEFG)

The NEFG is a research group within the school that specialises on:

  • Interdisciplinary research to optimise the productivity, resource use efficiency and environmental, biodiversity and food quality gains from organic and other low-input agricultural production systems
  • Research training through its Doctoral Training Programme in Organic and Low Input Farming
  • Delivering Masters (MSc) and Continuous Professional Development (CPD) modules/courses on (a) soil, crop and livestock management practices, (b) food processing, quality assurance/HACCP and marketing systems and (c) principles and standards of organic and low-input farming systems 

Find out more by visiting the NEFG website.

The Institute for Agri-Food Research and Innovation (IAFRI) is a joint venture between Newcastle University and Fera Science Ltd (Fera).  IAFRI represents a new model for how universities can work with research organisations. It operates under a private-public ownership to deliver both innovation and wealth creation in strategically important industrial sectors in the UK.  It does this while operating for the benefit of society

Find out more by visiting the IAFRI website.




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Calling all alumni!

Did you study at the School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development? Do you have any comments on this Guide or information/photos to add? Please get in touch, we'd love to hear from you!