This is the time of year for taking stock, reviewing the year and planning for the next season.
Perhaps the biggest change this year is the way agriculture been so high profile
Agriculture has been the topic of many political and public discussions, in the UK and beyond.
The debate about climate change and emissions has raised awareness of the need for shifts in global diets, the importance of maintaining the balance of natural ecosystems and the value of better prediction of weather and water management.
As a result, the food and land use debate, along with the wider bioeconomy, have become higher profile in the policy agenda and the need for agri-tech solutions is more clearly articulated.
We have seen greater understanding of the need for agri-tech driving investment in start-ups:
- DroneAg – exceeded its crowdfunding target to develop its software to automate crop monitoring with drones
- KisanHub –raised £3.4M to build on its crop intelligence platform
- 30MHz – raised 3.5Eu to develop its agri-tech platform
- Breedr – raised £2.2m to develop its precision livestock network
- Hummingbird Technologies –raised £3m for its AI enabled analytics
- Small Robot Company – raised a further £1.2 million for developing its robots as a service model
It has been interesting to see how many of entrepreneurs behind these businesses are bringing expertise developed in other sectors into agriculture. The result is a generation of innovators with a knowledge of agriculture and skills in data management, AI, logistics and marketing; commercial expertise that is helping to transform the industry.
GROW – turning a good idea into a brilliant business
We know from Cambridge University’s work on Smart Specialisation that our “Innovation ecosystem” ecosystem is a good place to start an agri-tech business. It contains a research community experienced at managing collaborative projects, a growing number of incubators offering business support and pioneering farmers willing to trial new technology and approaches.
The commercialisation of innovative ideas is a risky business, but within the Agri-Tech East community there is a wealth of knowledge, experience and connections that can provide support.
To help fast-track the growth of agri-tech businesses we are harnessing that supportive, expert community through a new GROW agri-tech business plan competition for 2020.
GROW helps those with a concept, that has commercial potential, to gain the industry input they need to build a robust plan and start to talk to potential collaborators, investors and end-users.
A number of entrepreneurs assisted through participation in the GROW programme have gone on to create agri-tech businesses and we’re looking forward to meeting the new crop of ideas ready to benefit the industry.
Encouraging best practice underpinned by science
Learning points from early adopters of on farm energy generation was discussed ‘warts and all’ at one of our regular ‘Pollinator’ meetings. The application of its by-product – digestate – as an organic replacement for artificial fertilisers, was the topic of lively debate at a further meeting.
These networking meetings offered the opportunity for farmers to talk about their experiences and gain input from researchers about the science behind it.
Anaerobic digestion – turning a waste product into energy and soil improver – has the potential to significantly reduce the need for nitrogen-based fertilisers, which are a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. The flip-side is that it also has the potential to reduce input costs and build soil health increasing farm productivity.
By providing a facilitating environment for these types of discussion Agri-Tech East has played an important role in promoting the exchange of this knowledge within the cluster.
In addition, raising the profile of the innovators to farmers remains at our core, through our various activities.
In the Start-up Showcase at REAP we featured EcoNomad, this early stage company is developing a low cost AD plant that can be used by a small holder. Immediately by ‘plugging in’ to the cluster this company has gained profile with potential partners and collaborators.
Looking forward to 2020 we will be giving a platform to other emerging areas of agri-tech that have huge potential.
In 2020 we are looking ever outwards
Agri-Tech East has been working closely with the Missouri Partnership to facilitate The Missouri Agri-Tech Connect Programme, which provides a gateway for UK businesses to the heart of US agricultural production.
We are also continuing our relationship with the Canadian HARVEST programme, which has seen members introduced to leading Saskatchewan agriculture companies and professionals.
At REAP we were joined by a delegation from South Korea, a team that won that Uruguay Hackathon, Mark Sutherland, CMO of the Missouri Partnership, and a delegation from Dublin – to mention a few.
The increasing interest from across the UK and overseas in engaging with Agri-Tech East has meant that we have outgrown our name. Although our heart is very much in the east of England, our activities are not restricted by geography.
For this reason from January we are becoming Agri-TechE.
Still the same in essence but encouraging engagement everywhere for the benefit of all.