Welcome and Introduction
Chief Executive Officer of FramFarmers, and Chair, Agri-Tech East Stakeholder GroupRichard is chief executive of FramFarmers; over the last ten years he has led the development of the organisation to become the UK’s leading farmer-owned cooperative for purchasing and grain marketing.
A firm believer in the use of technology to meet the challenges of the industry, he identifies sensor technology, robotics and advances in weather prediction as examples of where our sector will continue its technological evolution.
Agri-tech offers new futures
Chair: Dr Susannah Bolton
Knowledge Exchange Director, AHDBSusannah is responsible for managing AHDB's Cereals and Oilseed division’s portfolio of R&D projects and associated knowledge transfer activities, including the production and publication of the recommended lists of crop varieties.
Dr Zhenling Cui
China Agricultural University, Winner, Norman Borlaug AwardZhenling Cui is internationally recognized for his scientific work in improving soil health and increasing crop production through innovative fertilizer management strategies. His work in China has led to improved nitrogen efficiency, resulting in higher maize and wheat yields and less soil degradation and water pollution.
Cui began his research in 2000, and has since published numerous papers in the journal Nature over the years. Through 269 on-farm experiments, Cui's system significantly reduced nitrogen fertilizer application by as much as 60 percent for wheat and 40 percent for corn. This system was further refined to take into account the density and type of crop with a yield increase of 20 percent for wheat. Cui estimated that in the past 10 years, the system has been applied to a cumulative 80 million acres of China farmland, greatly reducing soil degradation and water pollution.
This work led to Dr Cui receiving in 2017 the prestigious Norman Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application.
Prof Gerard Parr MBE
Head, School of Computing Sciences, University of East AngliaGerard is a highly-regarded academic who has attracted several million pounds of research funding over his career and advised governments on the allocation of funding to large-scale projects worth more than £2.5 billion. A significant amount of his funding has been from companies in the ICT sector and UK Research Councils.
Gerard is driving force in the East of England Smart Emerging Technologies Institute (EoE SETI), which aims to design and implement a number of high-speed digital test beds to support innovation in AI, imaging, genomics, robotics and smart sensors for the agrifood industry.
Chair: Nicole Sadd
Executive Director, Rothamsted Centre for Research and EnterpriseNicole is Executive Director of Rothamstead Centre for Research and Enterprise; the hub promotes collaboration and innovation by partnering with commercial agricultural technology businesses to open up the research process.
Debate: “This house believes supporting land-use for competitive sustainable UK food production should be the priority for agri-tech innovations”
Chair: Mark Suthern
Head of Agriculture, BarclaysMark is Managing Director - National Head of Agriculture for Barclays Bank where he leads a team of 200 colleagues within the UK focused entirely on Farming, Landed Estates, Agri-Tech and Energy & Environment
Mark has been on secondment to India where he was impressed by the collaborative approach to problem solving. He also offers insights from South Africa where smart irrigation, soil science and cover crops are rigorously deployed to intensive production sustainably and the Netherlands, which invests heavily in agri-tech.
He believes the resilience and innovation of UK farmers should not be underestimated and sees greater transparency in the supply chain, robotics to remove dependence on cheap labour and greater use of data as key enablers.
Dr Dave Hughes
Head of Global Technology Scouting, SyngentaAs Global Head of Technology Scouting for Syngenta, Dave is responsible for seeking out strategic relationships with universities and other companies around the globe in order to collaborate and co-develop new technologies for use in agriculture.
This multidisciplinary approach is reflected in the collaboration portfolio, which encompasses chemistry, synthetic biology, AI, robotics as well as genomics and engineering.
He believes that greater understanding of fundamental biology is creating many opportunities for improving the sustainable production of food. Of particular interest is a new class of biocontrol agent based on RNA which can cause the pest to ‘self destruct’ by dialling down production of a protein of choice in the pest in a highly specific way.
Dave comments that a key challenge for the UK is how to support productivity of agriculture whilst ensuring the quality and safety of our food is maintained and the environmental impact of food production is reduced. He believes this is achievable, but that the best state-of-the-art technology will need to be embraced to succeed. It is vital that decisions impacting the UK’s ability to feed itself are based on sound scientific evidence, not as a reaction to a few strong voices.
Deputy Director, NIABStuart Knight is the Deputy Director of NIAB in Cambridge and has over 25 years of experience as a research agronomist.
Stuart’s main interest is combinable crop husbandry and its impacts on crop performance (yield, quality, resource efficiency and profitability), including: management of soil and fertiliser nutrients; monitoring and control of fungal diseases; evaluation of crop protection chemicals; managing within-field variation; and decision support.
Stuart is a member of the Sustainable Intensification Research Network advisory board and was leader of Project 1 of the Defra and Welsh Government funded Sustainable Intensification Research Platform (SIP), looking at the impact of farming systems and management practices on the economic and environmental performance of farms.
Head, Metabolic Biology Department, John Innes CentreClaire works on the molecular and genetic control of seed traits in pea using mutant populations and natural germplasm to provide novel genetic variation.
Her research is linked to understanding the impact of seed composition on human health, e.g. the digestibility of pea protein and increasing resistant starch, while determining the effects on plant growth, yield and pest tolerance.
Claire’s research also investigates the regulation of processes associated with senescence, specifically the loss of chlorophyll from seeds.
Claire comments that we need to consider food production, protection of the environment and human health in the same package. We have moved in a very short space of time from food shortage to considering food as a killer and a promoter of disease. Her research is showing the potential of resistant starch and improved protein profiles to deliver novel and healthier food products – the former to tackle obesity and Type 2 diabetes, the latter to provide novel and nutritious foods. We need to connect the production of healthy food with maintaining a healthy countryside and a healthy population.
Managing Director, B&C Farming, and NFU Norfolk ChairmanTony Bambridge is in full day-to-day control of B&C Farming and is the NFU County Chair for Norfolk. He is a Member of the Research and Knowledge Transfer Committee at the Potato Council and has won awards for his potato farming.
Tony argues that the biggest threat to food production in the UK is trade agreements. If, for example, countries with lower welfare standards and labour costs dump their chicken on the UK market this would damage the home market for both wheat and chicken.
On the positive side he believes that farmers are producing products that the market wants. If input costs were more competitively priced and technology used to increase efficiency then there is considerable scope to improve productivity.
CEO, AlgenuityAndrew leads Algenuity, a global leader in algal biotechnology that is developing innovative solutions and technologies.
He also sits on several Advisory boards related to microalgal biotechnology and has provided consultancy for Proctor & Gamble and Novozymes.
Lincolnshire farmer and Chairman, TerravestaWilliam established Terravesta in 2012 to deliver a secure and reliable national contract-based supply chain and develop the market for Miscanthus (elephant grass) as the UK’s number one energy crop.
Since planting Miscanthus at home in 2006 and realising its excellent potential as a highly profitable and high yielding perennial crop, William has made it his mission to bring order and transparency to Miscanthus supply.
Miscanthus grows over three metres tall and has the potential to yield 12-17 tonnes per hectare annually. It is planted once with a life span of over 20 years, it thrives on lower-grade, marginal land and it offers farmers a secure long-term income.
William comments that the environmental benefits of the crop are well documented: it can sequester carbon into the earth, which helps to alleviate CO2 pollution, it improves soil health and it encourages on-farm biodiversity.
Professor of Ecology, Centre for Biological Sciences University of Southampton, and Chief Scientific Advisor to the Food Standards AgencyGuy is Chief Scientific Adviser to the Food Standards Agency (UK Govt) and a Professor of Ecology in the Centre for Biological Sciences at the University of Southampton. As Chief Scientific Adviser to the FSA, Guy is responsible for the integrity of the processes used to source scientific evidence and ensure expert scientific advice is available to the agency, as well as representing the agency in the community of departmental Chief Scientific Advisers and the wider scientific community, and championing science within the agency through developing its scientists’ expertise.
Guy’s research is on global food security where he has led major research programmes on sustainably producing and protecting crops, and more recently the safety and standards of food. He has published more than 100 research papers, many of which have influenced policy or scientific thinking across the world, such as his early work on the risk assessment of GM crops.
Founder and Director, Green LabAnde is the founder of Grren Lab, an open innovation lab and ecosystem for individuals and organisations to design sustainable solutions to complex urban food, water and waste challenges. Encouraging creativity, collaboration, experimentation and play, it incubates ideas that make food systems more productive and resilient, and that can put more natural and healthy food on our tables.
Dr Belinda Clarke
Director, Agri-Tech EastUnder Belinda’s direction the membership of Agri-Tech East has grown to encompass businesses at every stage of the agrifood value chain and representatives from the leading academic and research organisations. Its international profile is growing and so is its influence with policymakers.
Originally trained as a plant scientist, Belinda is a Nuffield Scholar, an Associate of The Royal Agricultural Societies, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology and a Chartered Biologist, a council member of the UKRI-BBSRC Council and a trustee of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association.