Published 28/06/2023

The James Hutton Institute is a renowned research organisation specialising in environmental and agricultural sciences. The institute is named after Scottish scientist James Hutton, often referred to as the father of modern geology. The James Hutton Institute focuses on addressing global challenges related to land, water, and natural resources. Through multidisciplinary research, the institute aims to provide innovative solutions for sustainable land management, crop improvement, and environmental conservation.

We spoke with Colin Campbell, CEO at The James Hutton Institute, about the transformative work being conducted by the group and the power of collaboration in building and implementing sustainable solutions.

Colin Clarke CEO

Colin Campbell, CEO at The James Hutton Institute © James Hutton Institute

Insights from the CEO

I first joined the independent Scottish research institute system as a PhD student more than 30 years ago, when there were several separate entities. The James Hutton Institute today incorporates the legacy and knowledge, expertise and facilities of predecessors such as the Scottish Crop Research Institute, the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute, Hill Farming Research Organisation and several others. Our core mission, and the reason that continues to motivate and excite me, is to find pioneering, innovative, creative scientific solutions to the challenges posed by the nature and climate crises for the sustainability and resilience of our crops, land and natural resources so that we can support thriving communities now and in the future.

I often hear that The James Hutton Institute is Scotland's best kept secret, which is surprising given that we have over 550 scientists and professional staff, 120 PhD students plus 14 partner companies and organisations located on our campuses in Aberdeen and Invergowrie. This includes the University of Dundee's prestigious Plant Sciences Division wholly located on our Invergowrie campus. Together we collaborate, share ideas and resources and embody the spirit of open science in our quest to make a positive difference to climate and nature challenges we work on. We've probably been too reticent in shouting about our successes, because there is a lot to make a noise about.

The work of The James Hutton Institute

In over 100 years of breeding, the institute is responsible for more than 200 varieties of plants and commercial subsidiaries and predecessors. This includes around 100 potato breeds like Lady Balfour, 27 types of blackcurrants, 26 types of barley, 25 types of raspberries and three types of strawberries. In fact, nearly all of the blackcurrants used in making Ribena are from James Hutton Institute varieties.

We endorse action-based research so that everything we offer makes a difference and as a solution has been tested at scale in the real world. A great example of this is the Centre for Sustainable Cropping which we manage at our farm in Balruddery, Dundee which is a long term crop rotation experiment comparing high and low input systems; we have re-meandered streams at the Beltie Burn to help restore our river systems and we designed a solar-powered system for collecting and pumping rainwater to make an eco-friendly wastewater treatment solution for Berambadi Primary, a village school in southwest India which saw improved school attendance, as a result of better sanitation.

At the institute we host a number of important scientific research facilities and resources that are critical to the work that we do including the National Soils Archive, National Soils Database, Commonwealth Potato Collection and various plant pest and pathogen collections.
As well as environmental benefits, the impact on our economy is huge: for every £1 received in funding from the Scottish Government, we deliver almost £13 of economic benefit, making significant contributions to the Scottish, UK and global economies.

In recognition of our reputation, we were awarded £62m through the Tay Cities Deal, a partnership between local, Scottish and UK governments and the private, academic and voluntary sectors, which seek to create a smarter and fairer Angus, Dundee, Fife and Perth & Kinross that together will invest up to £700 million in projects promoting sustainable and inclusive prosperity for the region.

Colin Clarke CEO 2

Colin Campbell, CEO at The James Hutton Institute © James Hutton Institute

New innovation

The Tay Cities Deal also funds our two new innovation centres: the International Barley Hub (IBH) and the Advanced Plant Growth Centre (APGC), both based at Invergowrie.

Barley is the fourth most important cereal crop in the world and is grown in more than 100 countries and used for animal feed, human food, confectionaries (like Maltesers) and the production of whisky and beer.

It is also our country's most planted cereal and the most valuable crop for both Scotland and the UK. The barley industry directly and indirectly supports 40,000 jobs north of the UK border, largely due to its key role in the world-renowned Scottish whisky industry.

Demand for barley has grown in recent years, due to £2bn of investment in the national distillery infrastructure, growth in the craft beer sector and increased sales. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to meet this demand, due to adverse weather conditions reducing barley yields, regulation of active ingredients in agrochemicals and crop management challenges.

Securing the resilience of barley is critical to the future of our global food and drink value chains, particularly for our whisky industry, and our research is finding ways to adapt to and mitigate against this through working with the international community in science, research and academia to support and collaborate across breeding, farming, malting, brewing, food, feed and health industries.

Investment in the IBH is expected to generate over £105m to the UK over the next 30 years, nearly £60m of which will be in Scotland.

In addition, the work of the APGC will play a pivotal role in addressing the issue of global food security. Climate extremes, pandemics and geopolitics have shown how fragile the food supply system is and this innovation centre will bring together a combination of state-of-the-art facilities to develop increased commercial, economic, and environmental benefits to the agriculture, horticulture and food and drink sectors.

The APGC will allow us to develop and translate science that will lead to new production systems like indoor vertical farming, more accurately model climate change and its implications for plant and crop products such as food and pharma, and also support food security through crop storage.

We are also working on several other major projects including at our International Land Use Centre in Aberdeen, which has recently been awarded over £7m from the Scottish Government's Just Transition Fund. The centre will set up a hub which will act as a catalyst and diffuser of nature-based-solutions to encourage a net zero transition in the land use sector.

The Hub will be a state-of-the-art facility with collaboration with a range of stakeholders to develop nature-based, net-zero solutions for issues such as community renewable energy development, flood management, sustainable groundwater access, biodiversity enhancement and peatland restoration. It is expected to create over 200 jobs and bring in £1.6m annually to the regional economy.

Our climate positive farming initiative at Glensaugh will soon be home to a green hydrogen-powered farming community pilot which will develop renewable-generated electricity to support the energy needs of both the farm and its community of seven associated households. It will provide a scalable and replicable concept for farming and other rural communities to demonstrate how to become self-reliant, net-zero carbon energy producers and exporters.

We recognise that none of these projects are done in insolation, it is through collaboration with our partners.  A great example of one of these partnerships is with Intelligent Growth Solutions Ltd (IGS). IGS is based on our Invergowrie campus and started with five staff members. The organisation work with our scientists and their technology to establish a series of vertical towers to test the growing of plants indoors using special lighting and testing various environmental conditions. IGS now employ over 200 employees and is truly global in its reach and impact.

Future growth

In the next few years, we are aiming to establish a National Potato Innovation Centre. The James Hutton Institute is internationally renowned for its potato science, and is the UK's biggest research and development centre in this field. The potato supply and value chain is worth £3bn to the UK economy and supports thousands of jobs in the sector including retail and hospitality. However, as is the case with barley, issues of climate change, pests and disease threaten our potato industry and we need an industry-wide approach if we are to secure our potato industry in the future, which is why we are looking to set up the innovation centre.

I am incredibly proud of the work undertaken by the institute and its supportive partners as we work towards creating a better future for our planet. Scotland and indeed the world needs to invest in, and shout about, Hutton science.

To find out more about The James Hutton Institute visit -