East set to cash in on agri-tech revolution

Dr Belinda Clarke, East of England Agri-Tech cluster director Dr Belinda Clarke, East of England Agri-Tech cluster director

Wednesday, June 11, 2014
8:00 AM

Our region is in prime position to be a world leader in the agri-tech revolution, a leading agricultural show will be told tomorrow.

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Scientific advances taking place will open up lucrative opportunities to firms not traditionally involved in agriculture - as well as dramatically increasing food production in a sustainable way.

The positive message will be delivered at the Cereals show at Duxford in Cambridgeshire by Belinda Clarke, director of Agri-tech East, the new business-focused cluster organisation that is bringing together farmers and growers with researchers, entrepreneurs and investors.

Joining Dr Clarke as a speaker will be Peter Lee, of Cambridge law firm Taylor Vinters - specialists in the legal implications of using drones in agriculture - who will underline industry predictions pointing to that technology alone being worth $30bn over the next decade with applications in precision farming, monitoring and land use inspection.

Among leading pioneers in the technology, Norwich company Hexcam will be showing its hexicopter at the show and will fly it over the trials site demonstrating how farmers will do their inspections in future.

Agri-tech East’s optimistic view will be spelled out at the show, the leading technical event for the arable industry, a week after four firms from the region received a slice of £250,000 funding from the Eastern Agri-Tech Growth Initiative to develop their own agri-tech projects.

Michael Gifford, managing-director of one of them, Norwich and Cambridge-based Pangaea Agrochemicals, echoed Dr Clarke’s view that the region is well-placed to become a leader in the sector.

He said the East of England was “great for agri-tech” with cutting-edge research institutions such as the John Innes Centre allied to a really strong farming community.

His firm currently employs five people working on new pesticide technology to control resistant pests, but he predicts that once products are on the market their staff could be up to 50 in three or four years time - and their success story could be replicated by other regional firms in the sector.

He said: “The region can become just as much a stronghold for agri-tech as it is for other hi-tech industries such as IT.”

Dr Clarke, who will be chairing a seminar at Cereals which begins today, said: “Sustainable intensification, where the aim is to increase food production on existing farmland while minimising pressure on the environment, is the cornerstone of current agricultural research and policy. To achieve this we need new thinking and this is driving a new agricultural revolution.

“We are seeing the opportunity for new technologies within imaging, sensing and monitoring to improve agricultural production and this is attracting the attention of non-traditional players. There is a growing need for improved data collection and interpretation in a way that is appropriate for decision making at all levels.

“At the same time new demands are being created for plant-based outputs, not just for food, but also as specialty chemicals for the pharmaceutical industry and as biomass for energy. This is creating new markets and supply chains so the value of primary production is increasing.”

Cereals will bring together more than 500 leading suppliers over 64 hectares of stands and is expected to draw about 26,000 visitors.

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