There are so many challenges facing agriculture these days that it’s hard to know where to start – new diseases, labour issues, hyper competitive supply chains, Brexit…?
I would argue that while all of these issues are important, maintaining the ability to innovate and change is the most important factor for any industry, or business, to survive and succeed.
Most successful agri-food industries today are big innovators. The UK berry industry, for example, effectively combines research and innovation with new systems such as polytunnels, table-top growing systems and computerised fertiliser/irrigation systems.
Not only does this produce larger amounts of better products, but it’s helped the sector grow strongly and stay competitive.
Finding effective and reliable solutions
Climate change, environment and evolving consumer preferences continue to create new pressures, so producers have to rise to the challenge - using less nitrogen fertiliser, fewer chemicals while keeping a lid on their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.
Finding effective and reliable solutions to these challenges that work across a wide range of farms, animals, soil types and climate zones involves significant amounts trial and error. It also requires the use of facilities specifically designed to allow researchers to measure and analyse data – ideally in as close to real-life systems as possible.
Centres for Agricultural Innovation
The UK Government has already recognised these challenges and the need for investment in high quality research facilities to help the agricultural sector innovate and keep ahead of the growing number of pressures it faces. Since 2015, Innovate UK has invested almost £90 million of government funds in four Centres for Agricultural Innovation (Agri-Tech centres).
These investments have developed new infrastructure and research capabilities and that will address many of the existing and new challenges facing UK agriculture.
I recently visited one of these new research facilities at Nottingham University. The new dairy centre which is part of CIEL - the Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock is a world class intensive farm with capacity for 360 cows.
In addition to the latest farm tech such as milking and feeding robots, the facility also includes an impressive array of scientific equipment designed measure feed efficiency, monitor cow behaviour and provide bio secure facilities.
The dairy centre will focus on four key areas of research:
- Impact of various diets on milk production and composition, feed intake and live-weight change in high production dairy cows
- rumen function, digestibility, greenhouse gas emissions, reproduction and feeding behaviour.
- emerging technologies to prevent disease and improve cow welfare.
- Disease management and analysis of novel therapies and vaccines derived from new genomic technologies
An environment to test new products and services
The new dairy centre allows the UK industry to work with leading researchers at the University to improve farm productivity, environment and welfare performance as well as providing emerging agri-tech companies with world class facilities to develop and test their products/services.
The Nottingham dairy unit is just one of many agricultural research facilities that have been expanded or upgraded as a result of the Agri-Tech Centre funding over the last three years.
These new facilities will help to cement the UK’s position as a global leader in applied animal research and contribute to the nation’s industrial strategy.
Potential for more companies to be involved
A number of UK and International companies are already working with the Agri-Tech centres to develop new products and services, but there is still potential for more organisations to become involved.
Companies interested in leveraging the expertise and equipment provided by these world class facilities should contact the centres.
Having world class research facilities won’t solve the myriad of agri-food sector challenges overnight. They will, however, ensure that relevant solutions continue to be developed to emerging opportunities and threats facing the sector.
Continued innovation will provide new growth opportunities for organisations supplying agricultural markets and ensure a long-term future for proactive UK farmers.
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