UK Agricultural Technologies Strategy – what it means in the East
The institutes on the Norwich Research Park welcome new strategy and investment from government to help take research findings all the way from the laboratory to market.
A total of £160 million will be invested to help realise the potential of UK agricultural innovation to reduce the environmental costs of farming at the same time as improving productivity and nutrition. This includes £70 million as an “agritech catalyst” to help new agricultural technologies bridge the gap between the laboratory and market place. The fund will specifically support small and medium sized enterprises.
The UK is world-leading in plant science and post farm-gate fundamental and applied research. John Innes Centre and The Sainsbury Laboratory researchers are pioneering new insights to reduce the use of chemicals in agriculture and help adapt crops to climate change. They are developing new ways to improve nutrition in crops to boost yield and to improve nutrition for consumers, in sustainable and environmentally-friendly ways.
Breeders and ultimately farmers and consumers are unable to reap the full benefits of this world-leading research base. Since the 1980s, the infrastructure and funding to support its application in the field has dwindled.
The Institute of Food Research addresses the fundamental relationships between food and health and the sustainability of the food chain. It works closely with industry and the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), on a wide range of innovative translational research projects. It also runs the UK’s Food & Health Network and the National Technology Platform for food, both are significant vehicles for bringing science and industry together for the benefit of the UK economy and society as a whole.
The new government strategy and funding are a step towards recovering our ability to make full use of our globally recognised expertise.
Professor Dale Sanders, Director of the John Innes Centre:
“The Eastern region is the agricultural and horticultural heart of the country. We want to see our internationally-recognised research fuelling innovation and economic growth in the UK and beyond bringing benefits to the environment and consumers.”
Professor David Boxer, Director of the Institute of Food Research:
“The Agri-tech Catalyst is an important step to strengthening the public/private partnership funding in this sector, to develop its commercial competitiveness. The involvement of the TSB is welcomed and it is crucial that this fund articulates well with the science base. Recognising the science and technology base is important for agricultural development.”
“The role of the Leadership Council is pivotal and we welcome recognition of the importance of the integrity and continuality of the food chain from the farm to the consumer”.
Scientist Stanislav Kopriva, of the John Innes Centre:
“Different plants store different amounts of phosphate, which is a component part of fertiliser. If we can understand why this is, we can select for varieties which themselves store higher amounts and so reduce the amount of fertilisers our farmers have to buy.”
Matthew Jones, chief operating officer at Norwich Research Park:
“We welcome this strategy as an endorsement that strong working relationships between the world-class research institutes here at NRP and industry are vital and must be pump-primed.”
Mario Caccamo, Acting Director of The Genome Analysis Centre:
“We are pleased to receive such a clear sign of support from the Government for agri-Tech industry and research communities. We are looking forward to the opportunity to contribute in the implementation of this strategy with our knowledge and expertise. Our computational and genomics data-driven approach to biology, and our enthusiasm to work with partners, places The Genome Analysis Centre in a position where it can contribute to the accelerated advances in modern agricultural research.”
Sue Kennedy, Elsoms Seeds
The translation of fundamental research takes time and money that seed companies find hard to justify because the outcomes are not guaranteed. If we can share the risk and the investment, with expertise from scientists who understand the challenges we face, the success of translation is much more likely. This also benefits the John Innes Centre scientists with whom we work, as they get to see how their work can inform and underpin innovation and development for UK agricultural companies.
Keith Norman, Velcourt
The growing of profitable crops is becoming more difficult as a result of climatic extremes, evolving resistance in weeds, pests and diseases to the chemical options we have available, the price of fertiliser inputs and increasing regulation at EU level that threatens to remove many crop protection options.
It is clear that sustainable, effective solutions going forward are going to be plant based rather than agro chemically based. JIC are at the forefront of this technology and Agritech will hopefully facilitate two way communication and collaboration between industry and the scientific community at JIC. More importantly, key industry organisations will be vital to transfer and translate the technical outputs to the industry at large. It is hoped with the close association Velcourt has with JIC we can be instrumental in this regard.
Regional response to the strategy:
1. NorCam Agri-Tech Cluster
On Thursday 11th July, £3.2 million funding from the Regional Growth Fund was announced. The investment will help bring together leading agriculture, research, science and technology assets in the east of England that include:
The John Innes Centre and NIAB, research centres that work closely on wheat genetics and pre-breeding. The Institute of Food Research works closely with industry to bring important knowledge and developments to supermarket shelves and to the consumer. Judge Business School, ICT Engineering, SLUC at Cambridge, TGAC, the School of Environmental Sciences at UEA, The Sainsbury Laboratory, agri-food businesses.
Commercial breeders have identified the need for work in wheat, barley, oilseed rape, sugar beet, brassicas, legumes and potatoes. Two major challenges that will be prioritised are to stabilise wheat yield and to address the gap in yields seen in trials and those experienced by growers.
The introduction of Centres for Agricultural Innovation was supported by JIC as part of our involvement in drawing up the Agri Tech Strategy. We believe that, with the concentration of expertise and industry, the East is well placed to host such a centre focused on arable crops.
JIC and TSL’s research focussed on solutions in developing countries could benefit from the extra £10 million funding from the Department for International Development. For example, research collaborations in Ethiopia, Kenya and India could lead to new wheat varieties resistant to major rust diseases.
Comment from Professor Dale Sanders, John Innes Centre
“The UK has the opportunity to harness its research to create value. The opportunities exist and we hope the new strategy will help deliver the vision to not only cooperate and compete but to lead the global drive to deliver food security.”
2. Research and Innovation Campus
While launching the Strategy, Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts also announced £30M of investment from BBSRC for the development of four research and innovation campuses where unique facilities and world-leading agri-science can be accessed by private enterprise.
At Norwich Research Park, BBSRC will invest up to £2.5M towards the delivery of a pilot facility for the production of industrially relevant molecules in plants. This new money will build on the work already underway at NRP following a previous investment from BBSRC of £26M to help create and support new companies and jobs based on world-leading bioscience.
Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts, said: “Britain has the potential to be world-leading in agricultural science and technology, yet our productivity growth has dropped significantly in the past 30 years. These leading edge campuses will help reverse that trend by getting our researchers and businesses working together to commercialise their ideas. This is vital for our economy and future food security which is why we are launching the Agri-Technology Strategy.”