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New members increase diversity of Agri-TechE’s innovation ecosystem

Agri-TechE Article
Meet the Network
Agri-TechE

A record number of new members have joined Agri-TechE in recent months, further increasing the diversity and geographic spread of its innovation ecosystem. Agri-TechE’s Director of Communities, Becky Dodds, comments that successful business is all about knowing people and sharing knowledge.

She says: “We have found that the farmers at the heart of our ecosystem are deeply committed to building sustainable, productive businesses that will provide food security to future generations. They are open and willing to engage with researchers and technologists that can support them on that journey.

However, the challenges are complex and need a multi-disciplinary approach, so knowing who to talk to has become the game-changer. As a result, I dedicate much of my time to facilitating connections between people with common interests but very different perspectives.

Becky Dodds, Membership and Events Manager
Becky Dodds – Director of Communities

Within every organisation there are individuals who are passionate about making change and are able to see the opportunity to apply new technologies or new approaches to solve problems. It is those people we look for and introduce them to others with mutual interests.”

Ecosystems are internationally recognised as a way to accelerate and de-risk innovation by providing access to knowledge, collaborators, early-adopters, and sources of investment.

Recent developments in agriculture – including changes in farming practices in the transition to Net Zero, rapid digitalisation of all processes in the value chain from field to fork, diversification in crops and business models, increasing automation, and growing internationalism – are shared by other industries. Therefore, solutions being adopted by pharma, aerospace and manufacturing will have potential applications within agri-tech.

By introducing non-traditional players to agriculture into its ecosystem, Agri-TechE is facilitating the development of new applications and use-cases.

Becky continues: “Many of the obstacles to agri-tech adoption – interoperability, data analysis and sharing, easy-to-use interfaces, battery life, connectivity – are being tackled in other spheres. Part of our role is framing those challenges within an agrifood context to ensure the conversations are productive.”

The vibrancy and diversity of the membership can be illustrated with a small selection of recent members, who represent some of the emerging trends that we are seeing.

Regenerative farming uses a soil first strategy to increase crop resilience while reducing inputs such as inorganic fertiliser. A number of farmers are adopting this approach and supporting each other. New member, Goodley Farm Services, is using learning points from its own journey to diversify the farm business and create a cooperative with other farmers.

Carbon management is opening up as another revenue opportunity for farmers. Underpining this is the need for verified measurements of soil organic carbon. Ecometric has gained independent verification for its approach to quantifying an increase in sequestered carbon. This methodology will pave the way for the development of a carbon market and enable farmers to provide evidence needed for the government’s Sustainable Farming Incentive.

Auditing best practice in particular de-risking the business and efficiency improvements. Mandatory legislation coming into force in 2024 is accelerating progress towards Net Zero, but new members Aethr Associates are keen to demonstrate the other benefits that the reporting can offer.

Online markets for low carbon produce. Legislation around reducing carbon emissions in value chains is encouraging food businesses to pay a premium for low carbon produce. Agrasta is establishing an online platform that gives visibility of producers with good credentials to food and beverage companies looking to reach net-zero targets.

Predicting and forecasting – as ecosystems evolve innovation is multidimensional. The move to regen ag is also driving business process change in the agribusinesses that would traditionally provide inputs. Space-tech company Hyperplan, headquartered in France, is using satellite imagery ground truthed by its customers to provide objective information about crop performance and coverage to help inform new business models.

Overcoming resistance in pests. Many soils are rendered unusable for potatoes and other root vegetables due to the build up of nematodes resistant to inorganic pesticides. Members like Ecospray are developing plant protection products that are highly selective to a particular pest’s metabolic processes. It has been working with fellow members Earlham Institute and NIAB to develop a nematode deterrent based on garlic.

Supporting a move to industrial horticulture, it is a pivotal moment for undercover crops as high energy costs and shortage of skilled labour have forced many producers out of business. The current situation and ways forward have been reviewed by new members Camrosh, who are co-authors on a report that shows the potential for the sector to have a bright future, saying that the technologies needed to bring food security are already available

Indeed a good number of Agri-TechE members are developing solutions with Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS) offering greater automation with its self-contained growth towers; Crystal Heart Salad creating plant plugs that can work with automated planters and Future Biogas offering renewable alternatives to fossil fuels. This is in addition to the work of long term members such as Lettus Grow.

Agri-TechE is an independent organisation funded and led by our members. We welcome industry veterans alongside new-to-ag companies, global conglomerates and family-run farms that together explore cutting-edge research to find innovations to support their businesses.

We offer flexible membership tiers to suit your individual needs. This includes brokered introductions, profile-raising initiatives, connections with international clusters, exclusive market opportunities, and strategic insights to assist business alignment with industry trends.

If you see a synergy with the members mentioned here or would like to discuss membership then do get in touch with Becky.

IGS growth towers
IGS growth towers offer self-contained environments
Hyperplan uses latest satellite imaging to improve prediction and forecasting of crop performance
Hyperplan uses latest satellite imaging to improve prediction and forecasting of crop performance
Crystal Heart plants in production
Crystal Heart Salad plant plugs in production

A record number of new members have joined Agri-TechE in recent months, further increasing the diversity and geographic spread of its innovation ecosystem. Agri-TechE’s Director of Communities, Becky Dodds, comments that successful business is all about knowing people and sharing knowledge.

Becky Dodds
Becky Dodds
Director of Communities

She says: We have found that the farmers at the heart of our ecosystem are deeply committed to building sustainable, productive businesses that will provide food security to future generations. They are open and willing to engage with researchers and technologists that can support them on that journey.

However, the challenges are complex and need a multi-disciplinary approach, so knowing who to talk to has become the game-changer. As a result, I dedicate much of my time to facilitating connections between people with common interests but very different perspectives.

Within every organisation there are individuals who are passionate about making change and are able to see the opportunity to apply new technologies or new approaches to solve problems. It is those people we look for and introduce them to others with mutual interests.”

Ecosystems driving innovation

Ecosystems are internationally recognised as a way to accelerate and de-risk innovation by providing access to knowledge, collaborators, early-adopters, and sources of investment.

Recent developments in agriculture – including changes in farming practices in the transition to Net Zero, rapid digitalisation of all processes in the value chain from field to fork, diversification in crops and business models, increasing automation, and growing internationalism – are shared by other industries. Therefore, solutions being adopted by pharma, aerospace and manufacturing will have potential applications within agri-tech.

By introducing non-traditional players to agriculture into its ecosystem, Agri-TechE is facilitating the development of new applications and use-cases.

Becky continues: “Many of the obstacles to agri-tech adoption – interoperability, data analysis and sharing, easy-to-use interfaces, battery life, connectivity – are being tackled in other spheres. Part of our role is framing those challenges within an agrifood context to ensure the conversations are productive.”

Current agri-tech trends

The vibrancy and diversity of the membership can be illustrated with a small selection of recent members, who represent some of the emerging trends that we are seeing.

Regenerative farming uses a soil first strategy to increase crop resilience while reducing inputs such as inorganic fertiliser. A number of farmers are adopting this approach and supporting each other. New member, Goodley Farm Services, is using learning points from its own journey to diversify the farm business and create a cooperative with other farmers.

Carbon management is opening up as another revenue opportunity for farmers. Underpining this is the need for verified measurements of soil organic carbon. Ecometric has gained independent verification for its approach to quantifying an increase in sequestered carbon. This methodology will pave the way for the development of a carbon market and enable farmers to provide evidence needed for the government’s Sustainable Farming Incentive.

Auditing best practice in particular de-risking the business and efficiency improvements. Mandatory legislation coming into force in 2024 is accelerating progress towards Net Zero, but new members Aethr Associates are keen to demonstrate the other benefits that the reporting can offer.

Online markets for low carbon produce. Legislation around reducing carbon emissions in value chains is encouraging food businesses to pay a premium for low carbon produce. Agrasta is establishing an online platform that gives visibility of producers with good credentials to food and beverage companies looking to reach net-zero targets.

Predicting and forecasting – as ecosystems evolve innovation is multidimensional. The move to regen ag is also driving business process change in the agribusinesses that would traditionally provide inputs. Space-tech company Hyperplan, headquartered in France, is using satellite imagery ground truthed by its customers to provide objective information about crop performance and coverage to help inform new business models.

Overcoming resistance in pests. Many soils are rendered unusable for potatoes and other root vegetables due to the build up of nematodes resistant to inorganic pesticides. Members like Ecospray are developing plant protection products that are highly selective to a particular pest’s metabolic processes. It has been working with fellow members Earlham Institute and NIAB to develop a nematode deterrent based on garlic.

Supporting a move to industrial horticulture, it is a pivotal moment for undercover crops as high energy costs and shortage of skilled labour have forced many producers out of business. The current situation and ways forward have been reviewed by new members Camrosh, who are co-authors on a report that shows the potential for the sector to have a bright future, saying that the technologies needed to bring food security are already available

Indeed a good number of Agri-TechE members are developing solutions with Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS) offering greater automation with its self-contained growth towers; Crystal Heart Salad creating plant plugs that can work with automated planters and Future Biogas offering renewable alternatives to fossil fuels. This is in addition to the work of long term members such as Lettus Grow.

Join the innovation ecosystem

Agri-TechE is an independent organisation funded and led by our members. We welcome industry veterans alongside new-to-ag companies, global conglomerates and family-run farms that together explore cutting-edge research to find innovations to support their businesses.

We offer flexible membership tiers to suit your individual needs. This includes brokered introductions, profile-raising initiatives, connections with international clusters, exclusive market opportunities, and strategic insights to assist business alignment with industry trends.

If you see a synergy with the members mentioned here or would like to discuss membership then do get in touch with Becky.

IGS growth towers offer self-contained environments
Hyperplan uses latest satellite imaging to improve prediction and forecasting of crop performance
Crystal Heart plants in production

ATW23: Research to tackle the impacts of climate change 

Agri-TechE Article
Agri-TechE

At Agri-Tech Week 2023, “Ferrari” sugar beet met “Caveman” sea beet. Delegates learned that soil carbon can be categorised as either “scones with jam and cream” or “Brussels sprouts”, according to a soil carbon fate model, and heard about a novel cover crop proposed by the farmers  – all inspired by research underway at the Norwich Research Park

Roz Bird, CEO of Anglia Innovation Partnership. Photo by Farrel O’Keeffe, Norwich Research Park

All Carbon is Not Created Equal 

A “soil carbon fate model” developed by Brian Reid at the University of East Anglia (UEA) is providing a better understanding of the long-term fate of this increasingly valuable commodity in our soils.  

Crucial to this is the recognition that not all carbon is the same. Some, such as the carbon from fresh and degraded crop residues, is degradable and supports soil life, health and ecosystem services. Other organic carbon, such as humus, is stable, and delivers long-term carbon storage.  

“The degradable carbon is like jam and cream scones in the soil!”

Brian explained: “It’s the preferred and easy choice to be broken down and digested. The longer-term storage is not so easily degraded by life in the soil. Thus is the “Brussels sprout” option when it comes to being chosen by soil life to support itself.” 

Understanding the ratio of the two, and how to enhance them is key to UEA’s model and for informing payments that farmers might receive for their carbon. Profiling carbon stability, advised Brian, will help with decision-making around how best to manage soils for effective carbon management.  

Of Prof. Brian Reid, UEA

Cavemen and Ferrari – breeding better sugar beet 

Sugar beet accounts for 50% of the UK’s sugar demand and is proving not only a model system to understand crop domestication, but it also yields new insights into options for disease resistance.  

“Sugar beet was only relatively recently domesticated from its wild relative – sea beet,” explains Mark McMullan from the Earlham Institute.

“You can imagine one is a high-performance Ferrari, while the other is a relatively undeveloped caveman. But the caveman version is well adapted for the conditions in which it is growing. So, there’s a big, untapped reservoir of locally adapted genetic diversity for UK growing conditions which we can potentially introduce into commercial beet varieties.” 

Working with the British Beet Research Organisation and breeders KWS, the team at Earlham is working to identify novel genes for disease resistance and other “climate sensitive” genes that could improve the UK sugar beet crop. Over 50,000 sea beet seeds have been collected from populations in East Anglia, the Humber and Merseyside and they are being screened for genes that have a potential role in breeding for the climate of tomorrow.  

The grass pea’s promise and peril: overcoming its toxicity barrier

Grass pea is a highly nutritious relative of sweet peas and, like all legumes, it can fix atmospheric nitrogen and is drought tolerant, due to its origins in parts of Africa and Asia. Surely a wonder crop ready to transform agriculture and food security? 

Alas not – or not yet anyway.  

“Grass pea currently has one big drawback,” says John Innes Centre PhD student, Jasmine Staples: “It is toxic to humans and livestock if eaten in large quantities over a long period of time”.  

This toxicity has created a stigma about the grass pea which Jasmine’s research aims to address, by transforming the performance and reputation of this legume. There are few commercial varieties, so identifying the genetic pathway of the toxin’s production would pave the way for breeding new varieties in which this toxin-producing pathway removed.  

Toxin-free grass pea could be a major new opportunity for both human and livestock nutrition which – as one delegate pointed out – could make for a very exciting new cover crop if sheep could safely graze it down.  

Nick Goodwin, Anglia Innovation Partnership; Sanu Arora & Jasmine Staples, both JIC; Mark McMullan, Earlham Institute; Jonathan Jones, The Sainsbury Laboratory

P(r)ea-dicting root rot in pea crops 

Sticking with the pea theme, the John Innes worldwide pea collection has been harnessed to help understand more about the genetic basis of disease resistance in peas.  

Group Leader Sanu Arora is working with the Processors and Growers Research Organisation (PGRO) to tackle yield instability in green and dry peas.  

“Peas are susceptible to many pests and pathogens,” explained Sanu, “they differ across the world but in the UK it is mainly root rot and downy mildew, and key chemicals to combat them are starting to be withdrawn.” 

By screening the JIC pea collection, a “genetic diversity panel” has been developed which is helping identify new ways of identifying root rot. This has led to a new diagnostic, to predict if a field is low, medium or high risk for root rot.  

Sanu is looking for farmers keen to help trial the new device – those interested should get in touch with us and we will connect you with Sanu.  

New Genetics for a New Revolution 

Today’s talk made clear that it’s the combination of traditional plant breeding and new tools, such as gene-editing, that holds the key to a new, genetically powered agriculture. On behalf of the Royal Society, Jonathan Jones, Senior Scientist at The Sainsbury Laboratory has just co-authored a new report entitled “Enabling Genetic Technologies for Food Security.” 

Alongside the world-leading technologies and science being deployed at the Norwich Research Park, one thing is certain – biology is the future for adapting to climate change.

Creating an opportunity out of challenge – Defra chief scientific adviser to give a keynote at REAP

Meet the Network
Agri-TechE

Increasingly frequent ‘extreme’ events create a challenge but also an opportunity for agriculture if science can keep pace and answer the questions arising from farmers. The Agri-TechE REAP 2023 conference, ‘Adaptation through innovation; beyond the comfort zone’ provides a forum for accelerating innovation in agri-tech.

Professor Gideon Henderson, Defra Chief Scientific Adviser, and David Exwood, livestock farmer and NFU Vice President, are the keynote speakers and they will create a context for discussions in this highly interactive event, which also features emerging agri-tech and a start-up showcase.

Prof. Henderson will be framing the direction of travel for agricultural science and discussing the challenge of balancing net zero and biodiversity with food production.

Science and farming is a two-way conversation

Professor Gideon Henderson became Defra Chief Scientific Adviser in October 2019. In this capacity, he is responsible for ensuring that Defra’s policymaking and delivery is informed by the best possible science and innovation, across the full range of the Department’s environmental and agricultural responsibilities.

Henderson says: “I see it as a two-way conversation: science is offering new options and opportunities for farming, and farmers are asking new questions of science. The activities of organisations like Agri-TechE are very important in supporting this dialogue.

Henderson is also Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of Oxford. Before his appointment to Defra, his research looked at the viability of routes to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and he led the Royal Society Report on Greenhouse Gas Removal (GGR), published in 2018.

Recommendations from the report included creating demonstration projects of land based GGR approaches, and developing techniques for monitoring and measurement that would enable verification and validation of the emerging approaches for GGR.

Gideon Henderson
Gideon Henderson

Need for science-based verification of environmental outcomes

Prof Henderson comments that such science-based verification of environmental outcomes are equally important across many areas of government agriculture and environmental policy.

“For example, in terms of soil carbon, we don’t currently have a broad enough range of measurement tools to assess soil carbon content, but we’re improving with some clever innovations in that space. There is hope that we can soon take higher-resolution and more accurate measurements.

“One pressure in our carbon budgets is peat degradation. So much of our Grade 1 agricultural land is peatland, and although we are still at the earlier part of the learning curve than we are with woodlands, we are moving along that curve with farmers.

“The simple statement ‘we want to maintain food production’ is quite a tricky concept. I look forward to hearing discussion about achieving such production in the face of environmental pressures at REAP.”

Agri-TechE’s REAP 2023 conference ‘Adaptation through innovation; beyond the comfort zone’ is to be held on 8th November 2023 at the Rowley Mile Conference Centre, Newmarket, UK. Find out more at reapconference.co.uk.


REAP 2023 logo

REAP Conference 2023:
Adaptation Through Innovation; Beyond the Comfort Zone

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.

reapconference.co.uk