The Institute had its origins at the University of Oxford, where, in 1924, as the "Institute of Agricultural Engineering", it conducted farm machinery trials and undertook research in such topics as subsoiling, haymaking, crop drying, tillage machinery and the generation of electricity by wind power. Testing was conducted at the request of the Agricultural Machinery Testing Committee, set up by the Ministry of Agriculture in 1924.

In 1932 the Institute was renamed the Institute for Research in Agricultural Engineering and in 1934 moved from St Giles in Oxford to larger premises in Parks Road. The field station moved from Hampton Poyle, near Kidlington, to Benson, and then to Long Wittenham on the St John's College Farm.

The outbreak of the war in 1939 provided the Institute staff with opportunities for advising the Ministry on numbers of tractors needed, power requirements, servicing, training and mechanisation for various crops. The heavier demands and efforts made on the organisation prompted it to become a branch of the Ministry in 1942, and it moved to temporary quarters at Askham Bryan, 4 miles west of York. The twelve members of staff who went to Yorkshire became the nucleus of the organisation that was renamed the National Institute of Agricultural Engineering (NIAE).

Priority in the early 1940s was given to testing and educational work although research still continued. Testing was originally done solely for the Ministry, but manufacturers were enthusiastic in having independent testing to assist them in the development of new machines. Training was aimed at those involved as machinery instructors and members of War Agricultural Executive Committees. Correspondence from the war years between the advisory staff and those in involved in food production on the farm throughout the country has been preserved, and gives an insight into the types of problems encountered at this time.

R&D topics at Askham Bryan included dung handling; mechanisation of potatoes; sugar beet and rowcrops; silage handling; grain harvesting, drying and storage; and tractors.

By 1947, the Institute staff numbered 150, and a new home was found at Wrest Park in Bedfordshire. The move took place between June 1947 and July 1948.

In 1949 the Institute was transferred to the Agricultural Research Council; this marked a move towards more long term investigation and research and less testing. However, tractor testing always continued in some capacity from the World Agricultural Tractor Trials of 1930, through RASE trials in the 1930s, to later NIAE, BSI, and OECD tests. [see Test reports 1949-1970]

In 1986 the Institute became the AFRC (Agriculture and Food Research Council) Institute of Engineering Research (AFRC IER) and in 1991 changed its name to the more manageable "Silsoe Research Institute".

In 1994 the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) was established and SRI became one of its 8 grant supported institutes.

Research during the 1980s and 90s expanded to cover physical, engineering and mathematical applications to agricultural and biological processes and systems. Some of this research is indicated by the expertise now listed in the left hand index. Published output of this research can be found in the BBSRC's database Oasis for 1987-2004.

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