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9 November, 2015 - 16:59

UK can reap rich harvest from agricultural innovation

Belinda Clarke of AgriTech East

British farming is a major industry contributing £103 billion to the UK economy and providing over 3.8 million jobs, writes Rachel Holdsworth.

As the population increases farmers are under increasing pressure to maximise food production. Adopting technology to achieve this is driving a buoyant agri-tech sector, with farmers purchasing over £16 billion worth of inputs over the past year.

Agri-Tech Week (November 9-15) celebrates the advances in the sector, but also discuss how a multi-disciplinary approach is needed to understand and address current and future challenges faced at each stage of the agri-food value chain.

New AgriMetrics Centre

The week began at Rothamsted Research with an introduction to the new AgriMetrics Centre. The centre will provide a single portal to all publicly available data relevant to the whole food system. One of the main aims of the centre is to help farmers and growers integrate and manipulate their ever growing data sets.

John Crawford, CEO of the AgriMetrics Centre, says: “We have been speaking to farming groups and will be holding workshops to discuss the needs of the agricultural community. All industries need to critically engage with data integration and farming is no exception. Bringing together many data sets that previously haven’t been integrated will open many avenues for innovation.

“Being overwhelmed by data is completely normal; we’re hoping by simplifying the analysis component, we’ll find solutions to problems we can’t even imagine and take agriculture to the next level.”


On Tuesday, November 10th there are two events looking at research and innovation in the agri-food technology sector. 

In the morning there is an event at the National Centre for Food Manufacturing at the University of Lincoln. It will provide visitors the chance to discuss the university’s research into emerging technologies including crop robotics, automation in food production, development of novel sensors to predict post harvest breakdown and the application of state of the art genetic analysis to understand complex biological systems. 

The afternoon moves to Suffolk, the home of Muntons, a global leader in the production of liquid and dried malt extract for use in brewing, distilling and the food industries.

They will be opening their Centre for Excellence for talks about the amazing things malt can do, how easy it is to reduce a business’ carbon footprint and how their new anaerobic digestion facilities makes sure nothing is wasted. 

Producers set challenge for technologists

Discussions will take place on Wednesday as Agri-Tech East hosts its annual REAP conference at Churchill College, focusing on the theme ‘Resilience Through Innovation’. The conference will bring together farmers, growers, researchers, retailers and technologists to discuss how innovations and expertise from other sectors can be effectively used in agriculture. 

Dr Belinda Clarke (above), director of Agri-Tech East, explains: “Agri-food has many requirements that are shared with other industries. For example there is a need to manage uncertainty, to improve forecasting and prediction and to increase the precision in which inputs such as fertiliser and water are delivered.

“We think that agri-tech is an international sector that offers a wealth of opportunities for technology companies of all sizes.”

Putting science into agri-tech

Thursday takes a thoughtful turn as the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association hosts a Thought Leadership Lecture, with guest speaker Lord Haskins of Skidby, the former boss of Northern Foods, who will discuss the ongoing dialogue between science and agriculture.
The Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association (RNAA) has partnered Agri-Tech East in the development of Agri-Tech Week.

Greg Smith, chief executive of the RNAA, says: “We are delighted to be playing a major part in 2015 Agri-Tech Week. The week’s events provide an excellent focus and members of the RNAA play a key role in actively bringing science and farming together to create exciting new developments in agriculture.”

A networking session after the presentation will build on Lord Haskins’ talk, aiming to give farmers the answer to the question “who do I talk to in science?” There will also be a number of interactive exhibits showcasing JIC research.

AgriGate Research Hub

The week ends with the official opening of the NIAB AgriGate Research Hub. Located in the heart of the Fens, it provides a facility for collaborative research aimed at reducing waste in the food supply chain and improving production efficiency. This event will provide an opportunity to see the facilities and discuss potential research projects.

Booking details can be found at

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