NFU18: £90 million agri-tech investment revealed

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Business Secretary Greg Clark announced a £90 million fund for agri-tech in a keynote speech to conference. The funding is designed to help food and farming businesses to access and use innovative technology, such as AI and robotics.

Mr Clark said: “As someone who has known all my life that farming is foundational not just to our economy, but to our country. Providing the food and drink we live on and stewarding the countryside that is so much part of our national and local identity means there is no more essential industry.

“As part of the Industrial Strategy, we announced a Transforming Food Production Challenge and I’m delighted to announce the government will invest £90 million to make this challenge a reality.

“This will include the creation of ‘Translation Hubs’ bringing together farmers and growers businesses, scientists and Centres for Agricultural Innovation to apply the latest research to farming practice.”

Key points:

• New £90 million investment to bring together AI, robotics and earth observation to improve supply chain resilience in the agri-food sector

• UK agri-tech sector contributes £14.3 billion to UK economy, employing 500,000 people, with companies and researchers developing pioneering technologies from farming drones to 3D printing

• Helping to fuel rural growth, create high-skilled jobs and open up new export opportunities

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Responding to the announcement, NFU chief science adviser Dr Helen Ferrier said: “The NFU strongly welcomes the announcement from Business Secretary Greg Clark at NFU Conference today, and the sincerity of his words of support for our industry.

“We’ll be expecting to see genuine and immediate signs of the collaboration he promised between BEIS and Defra, right from the top, to ensure the Industrial Strategy really does build on the Agritech Strategy.

“For many years the NFU has been highlighting the significant role of science and R&D in agriculture and the risks of underinvesting in this area. Our ‘Feeding the Future Four Year’s On’ report sets out clearly the sector’s innovation needs and has already been used in formulating this successful bid into the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

“We will continue to work very closely with BBSRC, Innovate UK, AHDB and all our partners across science and supply chains to ensure this funding gives a major boost to knowledge exchange and skills development as the only way to turn scientific and technological advances into the productivity transformations across the whole sector that Mr Clark talked about. The ‘translation hubs’ in the announcement must accelerate and transform the link between science and practice, through both the Agritech Centres and the wider applied agricultural research community.

“It is now vital that more attention is given to engaging more farm businesses in the Strategy and this new R&D programme, to make it real for farmers and growers. We look forward to a much more open, inclusive and proactive dialogue with supply chain leaders through the Food and Drink Sector Council so the Industrial Strategy can be fully delivered in the farming sector.”