AgriTech Showcase success

Attracting 150 delegates to hear the latest advancements in agri-tech, the first South West AgriTech Showcase was held on Thursday 20 April at Exeter Racecourse.

So, what did attendees have in store?

The opportunity of agri-tech for the future was a key theme of the day. “Food security and supply are key global issues, as is climate change, and this is where the development and use of agri-tech is crucial,” said Mel Squires, director of NFU South West, in the opening keynote speech. “It can help us to meet the demand for clean growth and sustainable, good quality food production to feed the increasing global population, alongside protecting our natural resources, biodiversity and landscapes.”

Collaboration was also an important theme. “There’s so much uncertainty, so it’s really important that we all work together to make a far bigger impact,” she added.

And there is agri-tech funding available to help deliver on these future ambitions. “In 2023, we have the farming innovation programme, which is £270m of research and development funding,” said Chris Lyons, innovation lead in agriculture and food at Innovate UK.

“But we must make sure that the money is being used to drive productivity and meet the challenges we have to deal with. So, one of the key aims is looking at partnerships, and what we can do to drive collaboration,” he added.

And there is huge potential in the agri-tech sector. “In agri-tech, we see a lot of technology coming across from other sectors, whether it’s big data, robotics, chemicals or engineering – predictions of growth for that area are particularly significant,” said Dr Elizabeth Warham, agri-tech team lead at the Department of Business and Trade.

But what works on one farm might not work on another. “All farm businesses are different. Even if you have two dairy farms, the type of business they’re running will be different, as will the type of individual running it, so finding one solution to fit every single problem across the world won’t be possible,” said Sarah Carr at the Royal Agricultural University and Gloucestershire Agri Tech Partnership. “Farmers are the most important component for success – so don’t forget that.”

One key technology that is already making waves in the agricultural sector is Bennamann’s innovative slurry lagoon cover, which collects methane released from the manure for use as fuel in tractors and other vehicles. “We were introduced to New Holland in 2016, it was then, in secret, developing the world’s first methane-powered tractor for production,” said Dr Chris Mann, chief executive officer at Bennamann. “At the same time we were working capturing methane from farms, so for the past five years we’ve been working together on the complete solution, from raw slurry through to tractor fuel.”

Bennamann also found success in the event’s unique Market Place, which allowed for networking and business development. “It has been a great opportunity to meet new companies that are non-competitive but have similar goals around sustainability,” said Grant Crawford, technical sales lead at Bennamann. “We have also spoken to dairy farmers, so it has been worthwhile.”

John Martin, dairy farmer at Nunton Farm near Salisbury, was drawn towards the practical solutions like Bennamann and Herd Vision. “But it’s also fascinating listening to how companies are trying to support the different innovations,” he said. “There’s a lot to offer, but it comes back to bringing farmers and companies together, and getting the government on-side, too.”

Joanna Rufus, Chair, South West AgriTech, said: “We were extremely pleased with the number of attendees at our very first showcase. This would not have been possible without the sponsorship from both partners and sponsors; and we thank them again for their support, which has been invaluable in raising the profile of this key sector within the South West. The feedback we have received from both the programme of the day and Market Place has been very rewarding; so much so we are now thinking of holding another showcase next year.”

As a South West AgriTech partner, Devon County Council was proud to support the agri-tech sector through sponsoring this event. “It provided a valuable opportunity to tell a wide range of regional stakeholders about the work we are undertaking, and in particular about the Devon Agri-Tech Alliance (DATA) – Economy and Enterprise,” said Charlotte Molyneux at Devon County Council and Devon Agri Tech Alliance.

“We hope that farmers and other agri-tech business delegates will become members as a result, thereby boosting engagement in a range of local and regional collaborations and programmes. It was also a great opportunity to be able to talk to exhibitors and stakeholders, resulting in some productive conversations and potential opportunities.”