A net is stronger than a chain, so in Agri-Tech Week 2015 we are aiming to stimulate interactions between all elements of the agri-food value chain to generate mutual understanding and new thinking.
Innovation is different from product development, it requires you to look beyond the core competencies within your own business and be open to ideas from other industries.
The Converging Technologies session at our REAP 2015 conference, will have specialists in communications, satellite technologies, electronics design and software engineering talking about how other industries have approached the types of challenges faced in agri-food.
These speakers freely admit that they have little contact with ‘real farmers’ up until now and are looking forward to hearing directly from leading producers, the NFU president Meurig Raymond and Sue Lockhart, the head of Agriculture at Sainsburys about what they see as the priorities for action.
Entrepreneurs with an early-stage concept will also have their chance for profile with potential investors and partners in the Start-Up Showcase.
This meeting of minds has the potential to spark new directions for the industry.
Innovation at adjacencies
Innovation also comes from looking at the edges of your core business.
Graham Ramsbottom, CEO for Wheatsheaf Group, which has a multi million pound investment fund, said at the final of our GROW agri-tech business plan competition earlier this year: “There is a striking economic case to do more with less, and this creates an exciting business opportunity for well positioned companies. We need to innovate by looking for solutions in new places.”
This has been the experience of Muntons, the maltsters. When their clients started to ask “what else can we do with your ingredients?” the company set up a new product development lab. Demand for the new facility escalated and when Muntons found large breweries and food manufacturers wanting to test their concepts in the lab they realised that a different approach was needed. It created an Innovation Centre to accommodate this exploration, working with both its suppliers and end users to move beyond its traditional business.
More innovation in cropping and extracting greater value from ‘waste’ products produced at all stages of the production cycle will be profiled at the NIAB AgriGate Hub. Here retailers and others are being brought together to rethink waste as ‘raw materials’ for a new process.
The importance of sustainability is now widely accepted and many of the surplus products of agri-food can be bio-refined to produce substitutes for chemicals currently derived from fossil fuels.
Spreading the net
Our net would not be complete without looking wider afield. It has become increasingly apparent that although many of our members are based in the east of England their sphere of influence is international.
At REAP this year we have invited export advisers from India, Australia and New Zealand to discuss the mutual opportunities for growing businesses internationally.
Agri-Tech Week has been made possible with the support of many organisations including our partners the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association and Rothamsted Research, NIAB TAG, Muntons, Fram Farmers, the University of Lincoln and the John Innes Centre.
We are very grateful also to BBSRC, Norwich Research Park, Savills and Rothamsted Centre for Research and Enterprise for sponsorship of the REAP conference.
Bringing these organisations closer together for mutual benefit and spreading the net ever wider to support the growth of the cluster and its international influence is our ambition.
We look forward to your input into Agri-Tech Week.