Centre to help food industry reduce costs and environmental footprint

By Laurence Gibbons

- Last updated on GMT

Commercialising the farming of lobsters is among the projects to receive financial backing
Commercialising the farming of lobsters is among the projects to receive financial backing

Related tags Innovate uk Agriculture

Food and drink manufacturers could reduce costs and improve their environmental footprint by developing new sustainable technologies as a result of the UK’s first big data centre of excellence for Agrimetrics at Rothamstead, Hertfordshire.

That’s according to life sciences minister and chair of the Agri-Tech Leadership Council George Freeman, who also revealed 21 projects would benefit from £17.8M of funding from the government’s Agri-Tech Catalyst Fund at the opening of the centre yesterday (October 26).

The agricultural innovation centre, created by the government through Innovate UK under the UK Strategy for Agricultural Technologies, would support a revolution in the use of data science and modelling in the agri-food industry and contribute to a more intelligent, productive, efficient, resilient and sustainable food supply system, it claimed.

Agrimetrics would help the UK become a world-leader in setting sustainable standards, Freeman told FoodManufacture.co.uk.

‘Major impact’

“The centre has the potential to make a major impact on the food and farming sector in three key ways,”​ he claimed.

“Firstly, by pulling together necessary data to support proper science of sustainable technologies to underpin proper food labelling and labelling standards so consumers know when they see a ‘green tractor’ they can have real confidence that it is based on real science.

“Evidence shows by making data available it helps industry drive down its ​[carbon] footprint.”

The centre would also help businesses develop new smart tools, apps and software to boost sustainable production and make the UK a world-leader in setting sustainability standards, Freeman added.

“This is about helping our food and farming sector lead the world in clean, green farming and feed the world for less,”​ he said.

“All companies are looking to reduce cost and their environmental impact. It should help provide people and organisations small and large – from the windiest hill farm to food retailers – to improve performance.”

The Agri-tech sector is forecast to grow to £20bn in Europe over the next few years, creating a “real opportunity”​ for food and drink manufacturers, Freeman claimed.

21 innovative projects funded

Meanwhile, 21 projects received a share of £17.8M competition funding from the government’s Agri-Tech Catalyst Fund.

Projects include one assessing the potential to commercialise the farming of lobsters, a proposal to cultivate scallops on ropes and a way of continuing to make whisky with UK wheat, by using a novel variety.

The technologies are among 21 successful bids that have won a competition run by the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK, to target commercially promising new technologies to provide an economic boost to the UK agriculture sector.

Ian Meikle, head of agriculture and food at Innovate UK, said: “By supporting these project partnerships – many of which include small businesses – Innovate UK is backing British solutions for agricultural challenges. These schemes are helping to create new jobs and will open up new markets and drive productivity.” 

Professor Jackie Hunter, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) chief executive, said: “Investing in advances in agriculture is vital, not only for our future food supply but also to help build the UK bioeconomy. These new research projects highlight how UK bioscience is at the forefront of innovative approaches for modern farming.” 

The funding was awarded through the Agri-Tech Catalyst Fund, which was set up by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, Innovate UK, Department for International Development and the BBSRC with a £70M investment to help make the UK a world leader in agricultural technology, innovation and sustainability.

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