Growing importance of agriculture in UK
Over the last five or six years there has been a refreshing and very positive step change in the standing of agriculture and the regard with which the associated food value chain is held.
This has meant the government has invested sizeable amounts of public funding that re-builds both capacity and capability lost from the sector over the preceding 25-30 years.
UK is home to world-class agricultural research in technologies and science
Drawing on exciting breakthroughs, the UK’s most progressive farmers are leading the way in:
- plant and animal breeding
- remote sensing
- meteorological prediction
- exploitation of data
Our world-class food and drink manufacturing and retail sectors are highly competitive, supplying consumers both in the UK and abroad.
National Agri-tech Strategy launched
So, in 2012 a cross Whitehall group, involving:
- the Office of Life Science
- the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
- Innovate UK
drew together a “UK Strategy for Agricultural Technologies” known in short as the Agri-Tech Strategy; it was formally launched by Ministers in the summer of 2013.
Central to this Strategy is:
rebuilding the connection between basic research and applied science to create modern systems that allow our own farmers to access agri-tech expertise and use innovative techniques.
Agri-tech Strategy’s vision
We should first understand that the strategy sets out a range of actions to deliver a vision for the agri-tech sector as a whole . These actions will:
- improve the translation of research into practice through a £70 million Government investment in an Agri-Tech Catalyst which will provide a single fund for projects, all the way from the laboratory to market
- increase support to develop, adopt and exploit new technologies and processes through £80 million of Government funding for Centres for Agricultural Innovation
- help the UK exploit the potential of big data and informatics and become a global centre of excellence by establishing a Centre for Agricultural Informatics and Metrics of Sustainability
- provide stronger leadership for the sector. The Leadership Council gives industry a stronger and more cohesive voice with Government and the science base
- build a stronger skills base through industry-led actions to attract and retain a workforce who are expert in developing and applying technologies from the laboratory to the farm
- increase alignment of industry research funding with public sector spend by increasing understanding of what is being spent and where
- increase UK export and inward investment performance through targeted sector support.
Innovate UK deliver Agri-Tech Catalyst & Centres for Agricultural Innovation
Innovate UK were tasked with the delivery of the first two of these actions and continue to play a significant role in the remaining five.
So where are we now and how far have we come?
5 rounds of Agri-Tech Catalysts & 4 Centres for Agricultural Innovation
I am delighted to report that we have delivered 5 rounds of the Agri-Tech Catalyst government funding to over 100 projects.
In addition, and representing a paradigm shift for of the UK’s Agricultural research base, 4 Centres for Agricultural Innovation have now formally signed contracts with Government. The four Centres are:
- Agrimetrics: Centre for Agricultural Data and Metrics for Sustainability
- AgriEPI: Centre for Engineering and Precision Innovation in Agriculture
- CIEL: Centre of Innovation Excellence in Livestock
- CHaP: Centre for Crop Health and Protection
Centres will move whole agricultural industry forward
These Centres will form the backbone of our applied agricultural research capability here in the UK.
They represent a network that, rather than operating in sectoral silos, will connect and function as a “family” of Centres.
They will coordinate activity and work together with both each other and secure co-investment from the wider business community to translate existing research and scientific know-how to move the industry forward as a whole.
New networks and collaborations between all supply chain members
This is all about new networks and collaborations between all supply chain members, who, through working together, will drive productivity while also safeguarding the environment.
Together, we will find better ways of producing the safe, healthy, nutritious food that is affordable and accessible to all.
We should all be proud of what has been achieved since the launch of the Agri-Tech Strategy in 2013 and embrace the opportunities that this welcome investment from government represents.
Securing industry “buy-in” will be essential if we are to succeed in these long term goals.
These are indeed exciting times for the sector, with Agriculture and Food production now back “Centre Stage”.
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