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.”
The GROW agri-hackathon is supported by Barclays Eagle Labs, BASF and WWF and will take place over the weekend of 5-7 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.
Tom Stuart, UK Landscape Policy Manager for WWF-UK, comments: “The environmental challenges addressed in this year’s Hackathon are exactly those that WWF-UK is working to resolve positively. How to balance the interacting trade-offs that exist between each of them and a sustainable and thriving agriculture sector that provides healthy food to a growing population requires difficult judgements. The outputs of the Hackathon will provide invaluable contributions to inform agricultural policy and practice.”
“Agriculture is an industry driven by innovation,” comments Louis Wells, Agricultural Solutions and Services Manager for BASF, who was involved in the first GROW agri-hackathon.
“We were involved with last year’s Agri-Tech East Hackathon and were impressed with the energy of the event, as well as the ideas resulting from it; for me the weed control challenge was a highlight. Herbicide resistant blackgrass is one of the biggest challenges facing farmers in the UK today. To share and explain the intricacies of this challenge with the hackers was great, and seeing the intelligent thinking behind the outcomes even better!
“What makes a great hackathon is the combined force and ideas from participants with different backgrounds. It’s this diversity, together with networking and fresh perspectives, that can bring some fascinating new approaches to tackle the challenges that agriculture faces. These ideas then have the potential – if worked on and developed further – to deliver brand new agricultural innovations. We’re very confident that this year’s event will deliver the same buzz and ideas as it did last year.”
Jon Hope, Eagle Labs Director, comments “getting involved in the hackathon is one of the ways in which we can support the growth of the Agri-tech cluster. Barclays has a number of industry-focused Eagle Labs, specialising in the industries where the UK has competitive advantage; Agritech is one of those key industries.”
Eagle Labs are one of the largest co-working, collaboration and incubator networks in the UK. With 23 Eagle Labs across the country, supporting over 450 residents and more in the pipeline, the focus is to help accelerate UK start-ups and scale-ups, and promote collaborative innovation across the entire ecosystem.
The agri-hackathon will kick off with a networking reception, where industry experts will frame the challenges and participants will form teams. Agri-Tech East members are volunteering resources such as data and specialist equipment, 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.”
You don’t need to be a member of Agri-Tech East to take part in the agri-hackathon or to be part of a team. Everyone with an interest in programming and making a difference is welcome to take part.
 The Committee for Climate Change https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/ASC-2013-ExecSum_singles_2.pdf