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Putting agri-tech at the heart of gov strategy

Building Our Industrial StrategyWith phrases such as “productivity gap,” “reliance on flow of migrant labour” and “shortage of technical level skills”, one might think the recently published Green Paper (“Building Our Industrial Strategy”) is describing the UK’s agriculture sector.

While the words “agriculture” and “horticulture” (not to mention “agri-tech”) are entirely absent from the Green Paper, many of the themes are at the heart of the technological future of our industry.

And it’s vital that we as an industry have our input into the discussions.

Industry reinforcement

Agri-tech officials in the Dept of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy have emphasised to us the importance of our industry reinforcing the messages that they have been presenting to Government about the continued need to support new innovations for agriculture and horticulture.

The Green Paper is a set of proposals for discussion and consideration, and an invitation to contribute collaboratively to their development. And this provides a major opportunity for agriculture and horticulture to view itself, quite rightly, as part of the UK’s largest manufacturing effort, and respond to the Green Paper.

There is a great story to tell. And the Government is asking us all to help tell it.

Smart agri-tech

Carlos Lopez-Gomez

Carlos Lopez-Gomez from IfM, one of the authors of the Smart Specialisation report.

The recent smart specialisation report we published in partnership with the University of Cambridge Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation Policy demonstrates the importance of location and connections in helping to build an effective innovation ecosystem for agri-tech.

With UK agriculture employing nearly half a million people, and contributing £9 billion to the UK economy, and the wider agri-food supply chain worth £106 billion with 4.5 million employees, it is clearly a significant economic driver. Agriculture and food also contribute a massive 70% to the UK’s so-called “bioeconomy.”

At a time when the Government is looking to consult on the technologies which the new Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund could support, it is vital that agriculture pivots its view of itself and where new innovations could help. Possible technologies which have been identified for support include:

  • robotics and artificial intelligence (including connected and autonomous vehicles and drones);
  • satellites and space technologies;
  • supercomputing, advanced modelling, and 5G mobile network;
  • biotechnology
  • smart and clean energy technologies (such as storage and demand response grid technologies);
  • manufacturing processes and materials of the future;

It isn’t difficult to envisage a soft-landing of new innovations from that list into many aspects of agriculture and horticulture, but we need to think how best the government can support these for the benefit of our industry.

The strategy aims to identify competitive strengths; it asks for input about how government can help, and it aims to set a trajectory for growth. Agriculture, along with the underpinning science and technology development, will be part of that growth – but we need to make our voice heard.

To respond to the strategy, please click here and make your views known by April 17th.