Technology in agriculture: cultivating the thrilling fields
Agri-tech provides the next focus for technology innovation offering tangible returns within short lead times says Dr Belinda Clarke, director of Agri-Tech East. The organisation is creating a global innovation hub for the sector.
The Government recently launched the national agri-tech strategy, which has at its core improved food production and sustainability. The initiative has substantial funding behind it and Dr Clarke believes this is creating an opportunity for technology companies not previously in agribusiness to take a new look at the sector. She said: “The East of England is in a prime position to be a world-leading cluster in agri-tech; not only is the region renowned for agricultural best-practice but also for knowledge of plant breeding, DNA sequencing, information management and advanced engineering.
“We are seeing the opportunity for new technologies within imaging, sensing and monitoring to improve agricultural production and this is attracting the attention of non-traditional players. There is a growing need for improved data collection and interpretation in a way that is appropriate for decision making at all levels.
“At the same time new demands are being created for plant-based outputs. Not just for food, but also as speciality chemicals for the pharmaceutical industry and as biomass for energy. This is creating new markets and supply chains so the value of primary production is increasing.”
Agri-Tech East aims to develop a cluster of organisations and individuals with an interest in agri-tech. It is bringing together farmers and growers with scientists, technologists and entrepreneurs to create an innovation hub that will focus on activities where improvements in crop production, agronomy and technology can influence yields, and on-farm efficiency.
Dr Clarke added: “Over recent weeks I have met with growers, processors and agricultural organisations to gain their insights and understand their expectations.
“The next stage is to pull this together into an action plan, which will underpin future activities, including the first one which is a strong presence at Cereals in June. As the leading technical event for the UK arable industry, it is a very appropriate platform from which to promote agri-tech and showcase the innovation that is happening across the region.”
Agri-Tech East aims to be truly multi-disciplinary, bringing in entrepreneurial ideas and expertise from outside the industry. It is being hosted initially by the Cambridge Network, which has significant experience of growing successful knowledge-based clusters.
Dr Clarke sees potential to attract new thinking into the sector: “There has been a proliferation of funding opportunities emerging in this space but they often require collaborations between different parties. We will be in a good position to showcase the opportunities that are available and help build the consortia. There will be a key role here for growers to support trials of new approaches and technologies and to share in the outcomes.
“I believe that there is also a role to create wider awareness of the contribution that agri-tech can make to the UK economy.”
In 2012, the UK exported £18bn of food, drink and animal feed making it one of the world’s top 12 exporters. The UK is also a world leader in science and technology in this sector, and this attracts a significant amount of inward investment.
Agri-Tech East will be exhibiting at Cereals 10-11th June, Christhall Grange, Nr Duxford, Cambs. It is also hosting a technical seminar in Day 2 (10am). Visit www.agritech-east.co.uk or www.agritechgrants.co.uk for further information.