In a keynote address
at the annual conference of the National Farmers’ Union, Business Secretary Greg Clark called on the agricultural sector to embrace technology and innovation, as part of the government’s Industrial Strategy, released in November last year.
Clark announced £90 million of new funding to provide the UK’s agri-food sector with expertise in robotics, AI and data science that, he says, will be critical in meeting the increasing food demands of a growing population, fuel rural development and create high-skilled jobs.
“New technologies require new abilities and today’s modern British farmer is a Swiss-Army-Knife of skills – an engineer, an environmentalist, a data scientist, a biochemist, an energy producer, a tourism entrepreneur and an investor, too,” noted Clark. His views endorsed those of the Environment Secretary, who had spoken at the conference the day before.
The funding, delivered as part of the new Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF), will support “the creation of ‘Translation Hubs’ bringing together farmers and growers, businesses, scientists and Centres for Agricultural Innovation to apply the latest research to farming practice,” said Clark.
Mark Walport, Chief Executive of UK Research and Innovation, which is responsible for the ISCF, commented: “Developing and effectively utilising the latest technologies and research methods will revolutionise the way we produce our food…This is precisely why the ISCF was created.”
Walport added: “We are now launching the process for businesses and researchers alike to come together to identify both pressing problems in food production and farming and opportunities that could benefit from the next wave of ISCF funding. I want to strongly encourage everyone in the sector to respond to our call for expressions of interest.”
Comment from Rothamsted Research
Angela Karp, Director for Science Innovation, Engagement and Partnerships
“We welcome the call from Business Secretary Greg Clark for a technology revolution in agriculture, and look forward to being part of that. We have already contributed, through projects such as our innovative CROPROTECT app to help farmers exchange best practice on smart management of pests, weeds and diseases. Rothamsted is also a founder partner of three of the four Centres for Agricultural Innovation, or agri-tech centres.
“We are exploiting our unique infrastructure and track history of developing innovations with academic and industrial partners across the sector to help place the UK at the forefront of this new revolution. This includes developing our own ideas generation and translation hub, Agricultural Research and Innovation Accelerator (AgRIA), with regional partners, for collaborative co-creation of innovative products and practices.
“This development brings together SMEs and larger businesses from wide technology sectors including remote and proximal sensors, devices, mobile phones, digital technologies, robotics, imaging and spectroscopy.
“The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund provides new opportunities for us to work with existing and new partners to make sure that the best of our innovative science, engineering and technology, continues to make a difference in real-world applications.
“Rothamsted will continue to build the knowledge and practical experience that leads to healthier soils, increased yields of nutritious crops and cheaper, more efficient food production hand-in-hand with environmental protection.”