By Claire West
The UK will become a world leader in agricultural science and technology following the launch of a new strategy to deliver sustainable, healthy and affordable food for future generations.
Breakthroughs in nutrition, informatics, satellite imaging, remote sensing, meteorology and precision farming mean the agriculture sector is one of the world’s fastest growing sectors.
Developed in partnership with industry, the Agricultural Technologies Strategy will ensure everyone from farmers and retailers, to cooks and shoppers share the benefits these exciting opportunities bring.
It includes a £160 million government investment in developing cutting edge technologies, and taking innovative products such as cancer-fighting broccoli from the field to the shopping aisle.
Industry is also expected to invest heavily in the strategy which will transform farming in the UK, using the latest technologies to ensure the process is as productive as possible whilst reducing environmental impact and resource use.
With the demand for food rising rapidly worldwide, the strategy also aims to make the UK a world leader in addressing global food security issues.
Agri-tech is a well-established and important UK sector. The entire agri-food supply chain, from agriculture to final retailing and catering, is estimated to contribute £96 billion to the economy and employ 3.8 million people.
Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said:
Some of the biggest brands in farming and food are based in the UK. We have a world class science and research community and our institutes and universities are at the forefront of agricultural research.
To get ahead in the global race, this strategy sets out how we can ensure that we turn our world-beating agricultural science and research into world-beating products and services.
This Agricultural Technologies Strategy follows the recent plans for automotive, construction, aerospace and other key sectors to secure sustainable future growth in the economy.
Defra Minister for Science Lord De Mauley said:
We face a global challenge to feed the rapidly increasing population in a way which is affordable and sustainable.
We are investing in technologies that will enable British farmers to meet these challenges and take advantage of the growing demand in export markets for British food.
To take advantage of agriculture’s opportunities and drive growth the Agricultural Technologies Strategy sets out a range of key actions, including:
a £90 million government investment in world class Centres for Agricultural Innovation with additional investment from industry. The centres will support the wide-scale adoption of innovation and technology across key sectors, technologies and skills in the food and farming supply chain. This includes up to £10 million for a Centre for Agricultural Informatics and Metrics of Sustainability which will use data from farms, laboratories and retailers to drive innovation
creating a £70 million Agri-Tech Catalyst to help new agricultural technologies bridge the so called ‘valley of death’ between the lab and the marketplace. Co-funded with industry, the catalyst will specifically support small and medium sized enterprises. The investment includes £10 million to support the transfer of technology and new products to developing countries
the creation of an industry Leadership Council to unify the agriculture technology sector and make the UK more internationally competitive
the recruitment of a new UKTI agri-tech team to boost exports and overseas investment in the UK’s agricultural technologies
In addition also announced today:
£30 million for four agri-science research and innovation campuses by Biotechnolocy and Biological Sciences Research Council
a multi million pound scientific research partnership between Rothamsted and Syngenta to increase wheat productivity
The new Leadership Council will bring together representatives from the diverse agriculture sector, including food and farming production, industry, science and research, and government.
Judith Batchelar, Director of Sainsbury’s Brand, said:
Farming is one of the biggest industries in the UK which is why we think it’s so important to plan for the future now.
This is the reason I’m extremely proud to launch a graduate scheme today that’s dedicated to British agriculture, it also adds to the 80 graduate placements we’ve offered in just the last five years. With the average age of a farmer being over 50 it’s important to attract and train young talent to drive technical development in a sustainable way and build on Sainsbury’s heritage in food technology and product development. The strategy and our scheme bring benefits for the whole supply chain - from farmers through to our customers.
As well as making sure basic research is turned into new products fit for the global market, the Leadership Council will work to change the way jobs in agriculture are perceived, making it an aspirational area of work that attracts and retains talented people.
International Development Secretary Justine Greening said:
We promised at the Nutrition for Growth summit last month to put science at the heart of ensuring better nutrition for children in the developing world. The agri-tech strategy will help to deliver on that promise.
British expertise is already changing lives. Supporting agriculture and food systems that address global malnutrition will help millions in Africa to lift themselves out of poverty for good.