We have seen how ‘Open Innovation’ has worked in the pharmaceutical and high tech sectors now the time is right to see how it can be applied to agri-tech, was one of the opening comments by Julius Joel MD Greens of Soham and Chair of Agri-Tech East Stakeholder Group to the REAP conference.
The conference was held fittingly in the grounds of the NIAB Innovation Farm which demonstrated clearly how the industry has changed over recent years.
Julius went on to explain the market opportunity that agri-tech represents. One that can be summarised in three big statements: there is an increase in demand for food: recent changes in legislation mean that UK agriculture is now competing on a world stage and needs to improve its productivity, and thirdly, the “Grand Challenges” of climate change, disease and health mean that we are looking for new agricultural solutions that will build greater resilience into our crops and higher nutritional value into foods.
What was clear from the conference is that there is also the will at all levels to revitalise the sector. The interest in the sector was kick-started by the government’s 2013 Agri-Strategy which outlined the need for new technologies to revolutionise agriculture and food production supported with new sources of funding. This opened the door for a new approach to innovation.
“In other market sectors we have seen how “open innovation” can work” commented Julius. “Companies collaborating with each other and the academic sector to define the requirements and generate new solutions. A key element of this is to create a multi-disciplinary ecosystem of individuals and organisations with different perspectives and shared goals. This where Agri-Tech East fits in. It is growing a cluster across the East of England of people with mutual interests and creating a platform where players at all stages of the food chain can articulate their needs.
“This openness allows entrepreneurs from other sectors to bring new ideas into the sector and will also help to fast track innovation into agriculture and horticulture. Agri-Tech East has catalysed interest in the UK’s first Agri-Tech Week which has seen four events each with a different focus.”
The Agri-Tech East’s own conference “REAP –Recognising Economic and Agricultural Potential” concentrated on increasing the understanding between the key players. It successfully brought together: growers within the Producers’ Panel articulating their needs; academics participating in a discussion about the need from farmers for evidence-based research; food manufacturers explaining what they require from producers and how new models of interaction can share risk, and then a panel of entrepreneurs describing the new technologies they are bringing to the industry.
“If we are to meet the growing need for cost-effective, sustainable food production in a changing climate , it is imperative that we embrace new innovations. I am delighted that Agri-Tech East has set itself the challenge of facilitating this process,” said Julius.
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