Where can you find the world’s largest concentration of plant science PhDs, home to the first transgenic plant, and one of the oldest Botanical Gardens in the USA?
Add in a healthy appetite for partnership, a 20 year strategic plan for agri-tech (not to mention a Very Big Arch) and you are in the St Louis region in Missouri, USA, where a trade mission lead by Agri-TechE was hosted by the World Trade Centre STL, supported by the UK Government’s Dept for International Trade.
Collaboration was the word of the mission, with a packed agenda, meeting scientists, businesses, incubators, accelerators and policy-makers. At every stage it was clear that collaboration was seen as the way to help build on the already strong agri-tech foundations in the greater St Louis region, and complement those in the UK.
The potential for partnership to deploy new technologies in different markets was clear. The agri-tech “shopping list” of innovation priorities (as compiled by BioSTL) for the St Louis cluster included:
- Precision and digital ag – including robotics and automation, remote sensing and measurements
- Reduction in chemistry application, including biologicals and pheromones
- Acceleration of seed breeding, including computational approaches to better understand genomes
- Better traceability, efficiency and food safety (helping increase farmgate value for growers)
- Diagnostics kits as indicators of health
- Alternative proteins
- Packaging sciences
Thoughts on the mission from Tim Nowak, Executive Director of World Trade Centre STL
There is support for collaboration between Missouri and the UK’s agri-tech ecosystems starting at the very top of Government. Consul-General to Chicago, Alan Gogbashian, attended an agri-tech Round Table meeting and a guest reception and stated:
“It was a pleasure to meet the UK agri-tech delegation at the reception at the Danforth Plant Science Centre this week. I believe future collaboration between the Missouri and UK agri-tech ecosystems has the potential to be exceptional and remarkable and I am keen to do all I can to support it.”
Echoing his comments at a lunch meeting of farmers, scientists and researchers, Davin Althoff, Director of the Agriculture Business Development Division at the Missouri Dept of Agriculture, reinforced the benefits of partnership with the UK.
He quoted Chris Chinn, Director of the Missouri Dept of Agriculture (and 5th generation farmer) who recently emphasised the importance of the relationship between Missouri and the UK in a recent visit to the UK.
The greater St Louis region has been built on collaboration. Since 2016, the 39 North district, with others, has been bringing together farmers and innovators with the research community to help develop and grow the innovation ecosystem.
As is to be expected, research collaborations across the Pond were very much in evidence, with pictures of Prof Sir David Baulcombe from the University of Cambridge (formerly of The Sainsbury Laboratory, Norwich) as a recipient of the Danforth Award for Plant Science in the prestigious Research Centre of the same name.
At the University of Missouri Columbia, the Sanborn Field plot mirrors the long-term experiments at Rothamsted Research.
Like the famous Broadbalk experiments at the Harpenden site in Hertfordshire, the Sanborn Field is a resource for crop and soil management looking at cultivation, soil health and yields. It is home to the longest continual planting of maize since 1888.
Interfacing closely and effectively with farmers is key for those involved in agricultural innovation, and the Early Adopter Grower Innovation Community (EAGIC) at the BioSTL accelerator in St Louis identifies early adopter growers committing to host pilot technologies on their farm. Talking to the farmers also identifies innovation needs with a plan to match up supply and demand around innovation.
With so much emphasis in the UK around demonstration of new technologies to farmers, worthy of note was the Bradford Research Centre, part of the University of Missouri which hosts regular farmer-focussed and public outreach activities. These include Pest Management Field Days and Crop and Soil Management Workshops, and a “Sweetcorn Dinner” (to explain the science behind the crop) and Career Exploration Days.
The trip was rounded off at our member Bayer Crop Science’s Global Seeds and Traits HQ in the Creve Coeur region of St Louis, which is home to over a hectare of glasshouse – the largest research facility in North America. With a strong focus on “open innovation” – the global scouting team are looking to engage with start-ups, and enter into more bi-lateral partnerships to help increase crop yield, farmer efficiency and deliver on the sustainability agenda.
To quote the Consul General, the potential for agri-tech collaboration between business, research and policy-makers in the UK and Missouri is, indeed “exceptional and remarkable.”
Let’s make it a reality.
Take a look through the Twitter Moment to see more of the trip.
If this visit was of interest to you, or you’d like to be connected with members of the St Louis agri-tech ecosystem do get in contact.