Many of the discussions at REAP evolve into collaborative projects and initiatives. In his welcome, Sentry Farms Director, John Barrett, Chair of the Agri-TechE stakeholder committee, described how his parsnips were cultivated this year by a robot, following a demonstration of the equipment at the conference in 2022.
He was followed by the keynotes: Professor Gideon Henderson, Chief Scientific Adviser for Defra, and David Exwood, livestock farmer and NFU Vice-President, who had previously met farmers over breakfast at the start of the day.
Turning challenge into agri-innovation
‘Measure to manage’ is vital for both corporates and farmers, and there is a global market opportunity if UK agri-tech can provide improved metrics for monitoring environmental factors.
Professor Gideon Henderson outlined the global challenge, the UK situation, and the investment in science and innovation that is helping to address these challenges. He said:
“Improved measurement and monitoring will enhance the data-driven management of soil and plant health. The second call for the Defra-UKRI Innovation in Environmental Monitoring Programme is planned for this winter and will be a business-led opportunity to support the development of new sensing systems and monitoring capabilities.
“As the science and technologies presented at REAP today have shown, there is a wealth of innovation in agri-tech. This funding opportunity from Defra and Innovate UK, which looks to improve monitoring of biodiversity, greenhouse gas emissions, soil health, and water quality across sectors, will help to catalyse the co-development of the farm-ready solutions that are so urgently needed.”
Farmers part of the solution
In response, David Exwood outlined how the farming community was rising to the challenge. In his keynote address, he said that although farmers have been considered the problem for many years: “We are starting to turn a corner where we are part of the solution. For example, precision livestock production will enable us to improve the consistency of the delivered product while reducing waste in the system. There is also potential to create a by-product to replace inorganic fertilisers and generate a biofuel.”
Measuring and reducing Scope 3 emissions
A further driver for innovation is new legislation that came into force this year. It requires larger organisations within the agri-food sector (and others) to show how they are measuring and reducing their Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions, in line with the goals of the international Paris Agreement.
This is creating a new dialogue around regenerative farming, and for the first time this year REAP featured a Supply Chain Panel of sustainability managers from B-Hive Innovations, Diageo and Tesco. They discussed creating new collaborations within the agri-food sector around a common need to reduce negative environmental impacts whilst improving food security.
Co-developing agri-tech with farmers
The farmers’ perspective is represented throughout REAP. The day began with the Farmer Breakfast and concluded with the Farmer Panel, ensuring their input was integral from start to finish. The Farmer Panel provided a summing-up and a discussion of some of the key messages from the conference, and featured farmers Andrew Pitts, Heather Oldfield, James Wright and Tom Clarke.
James Green Group Director of Agriculture at G’s, took the farmer’s perspective when he discussed new research and emerging science with researchers in the Emerging Agri-Tech panel. This session acts as a bridge between research and on-farm application and provides a chance to connect with researchers dedicated to addressing real-world challenges and goals of farmers.
Of course, REAP featured the always-popular Start-Up Showcase, which has been the launch pad for many early stage companies – you can read more about the companies featured in 2023 on this post.
Dr Belinda Clarke, Director of Agri-TechE, concluded the conference with a big thank you to everyone that has contributed to the growth of the vibrant agri-tech ecosystem and the success the 10th REAP, including the speakers, panellists, exhibitors, and of course to everyone who attended and brought their unique experiences to the discussions and networking.
And also – very importantly – to the sponsors and supporters who enable REAP to happen.
Wednesday 8th November, 9:30 am – 6:30 pm
Rowley Mile Conference Centre, Newmarket
Surviving and thriving under increasingly extreme and unpredictable challenges is the theme of the 2023 REAP conference. To build a productive, profitable and sustainable agri-food industry, we must move away from the comfort zone and become open to the new opportunities that exist when we ‘stretch’. Be a part of that future – bring yourself and your ideas to REAP.