Following the NFU Conference in February, Business Secretary, Greg Clark has announced that £90 million for agritech is going to be made available – an enormous investment to spark innovation and to boost productivity of British farming. The announcement could not have come at a more opportune time as farmers face uncertainly about how Brexit will affect support and subsidies moving forwards.
Business Secretary Greg Clarke told delegates at the NFU’s annual conference in Birmingham that since the mid-1990s productivity growth in UK agriculture and horticulture had lagged behind that of other countries. It had grown at just one third of the rate of the United States and the Netherlands, said the Secretary of State.
Embracing Innovation and Technology. Why Agritech?
The investment is part of Government’s strategy to transform food production and improve supply chain resilience. As one of the most innovative sectors, the UK agritech sector already contribute £14.3bn to the UK economy, employs 500,000 people and researches developing pioneering technologies. Greg Clark said that harnessing new technology could help improve productivity and he said the Government’s £90 million funding would help to take new developments and inventions and put them to effective use on the land. The investment will see the creation of Innovation Accelerators/ hub that bring together farmers and growers, businesses, scientists, centres for agricultural innovation, to apply the latest research into farming practice. This should be a big boost to the knowledge exchange that already takes place across food and farming. It’s all part of an industrial strategy to boost rural growth, create high skilled jobs and open up new opportunities.
The Secretary of State explained that, along with the introduction of new technology, would be a need for workers with the skills necessary to make use of this technology on the farm. He said “With the technological revolution that is happening, it is vital, it seems to me, that the skills of the farming workforce need to keep pace. New technologies require new abilities.”
He said that the modern farmer already requires a multitude of skills from engineer, environmentalist, data scientist, bio-chemist, tourism entrepreneur and often inventor and as technologies grow so too will workforce abilities as farmers are keen to learn, innovate and adapt to new farming methods. Clark added that all of these skills are vital for successful farming but that currently investment in these skills and for training fall short of competitors.
The agricultural sector is the biggest industrial sector in the UK, employing almost 4 million people and larger than the automotive and aerospace sectors combined. Farming is foundational, not only to the economy but to our country. The funding forms 1 of 8 key areas that the government, together with business and academia, has identified through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF), as being priority areas where research and innovation can help unlock markets and industries of the future in which the UK can become world-leading.
You can read more about the investment announcement here.