In 30-60 years we could lose all the fertile peat topsoil from East Anglia ¬ ‘the food basket of the UK’ – given current land management practices and a changing climate. Soils also play a key role in absorbing carbon and filtering water, so it is vital we break this vicious circle. To encourage new thinking Agri-Tech East is launching an agri-hackathon with the challenge ‘48 hours to save the world.’
Dr Belinda Clarke, Director of Agri-Tech East, comments: “Our first agri-hackathon was a great success and inspirational approaches emerged that showed the benefits of inviting fresh ideas from outside the agri-industry.
“The grand challenges we are presenting for this next hackathon include: smarter water usage; rejuvenating soils; ameliorating greenhouse gases; and enhancing biodiversity. The aim is to mitigate environmental impacts and increase the resilience of food production to extreme events.
“The UK has the potential to make a significant contribution to the international debate about sustainability. It has innovative farmers, a strong research-base and a willingness to adopt new approaches and ideas; we could be the test-bed for agri-innovations with wide reaching benefits.”
Driven by innovation
The GROW agri-hackathon is supported by Barclay’s Eagle Labs and BASF and will take place over the weekend of 6-8 July 2019 at the Future Business Centre in Cambridge. It aims to bring together teams of smart thinkers with various backgrounds and skill sets to look at some of agriculture’s biggest challenges from a fresh perspective.
The challenges are still being developed but the broad themes include:
- minimising nutrient losses from soil – agriculture has a major impact on environmental degradation. Growing a limited range of crops, year after year, has exhausted the soil and heavy machinery damaged its structure and resilience to extreme weather events.
- improving water management – demanding year around vegetables and flowers results in excessive water extraction and salinization of soil in some areas.
- reducing greenhouse gases – intensive livestock rearing is contributing to methane production and degradation of peat soils and other carbon sinks have reduced the ability of the environment to sequester atmospheric carbon.
- boosting biodiversity – In the West we have exported our problems. Growing soya, quinoa and palm oil in areas of high biodiversity have devastated these invaluable habitats. Most of our food crops come from just a few species.
The agri-hackathon will kick off with a networking reception, where industry experts will frame the challenges and participants will form teams. Resources such as data and specialist equipment are being volunteered by Agri-Tech East members, and the event will culminate in pitches of the resulting ideas on the Sunday, judged by a panel of experts.
Belinda comments: “The hackathon last year produced some viable business concepts and new approaches. Solutions emerged for improved use of big data in agriculture, unexpected innovations for vertical farming, and – the winner – the deployment of gaming technologies to identify weeds in the field. Several of these concepts are now being progressed commercially. “This created a real sense of achievement for those who participated.
There is growing concern over climate change and we hope that this will translate into some exciting solutions at this next event.”
More information is available at www.agritech-east.co.uk/grow