A project supporting Worcestershire-based enterprises to diversify into new agri-tech markets got underway last week at Pershore College.
GrowAgri Worcestershire, officially unveiled its programme to support the creation of new innovations and enterprises to benefit the horticultural and agricultural industries.
The launch, held on 13 November, was attended by a number of representatives from a variety of local agricultural, horticultural, tech and engineering businesses. Attendees had a tour of the Agri-Tech Research Centre and heard presentations from Professor Roy Kennedy, leader of the agri-tech programme at Pershore College and the GrowAgri project manager Mark Harwood-Browne.
The initiative is open to small to medium-sized Worcestershire businesses and aims to support business growth, increased productivity and the introduction of new products, processes and services.
Professor Roy Kennedy set the scene by speaking about the challenge that the world’s food producers face in order to feed a growing population that is forecast to expand to nine billion by 2050. A unique combination of diverse soils and temperate climate means that Britain has some of the best growing conditions for fruit, vegetable and ornamental crops in the world. The industry is worth £3 billion per year and the Vale of Evesham is a key heartland known for its production of soft fruit, plums, salad and vegetable crops.
The leader of agri-tech research told his audience that opportunities existed in the UK for extending the growing season, reducing food miles, using nutrients more efficiently and practical waste management. He also added that Britain grows half its vegetables but only under ten percent of the fruit it consumes.
Mark Harwood-Browne set out the package of initiatives – which includes grant funding and tailored business support – that will be available to help businesses and innovators to improve efficiency and productivity by developing innovative solutions in the new year. These include a range of seminars and technical demonstrations delivered by industry experts on topics such as the commercial use of drone technology and the data they collect, the latest in hydroponic technology and vertical farming systems.
Mark Harwood-Browne said: “It was great to interact with so many different enterprises and to be able to introduce them to our spring and summer programme of events. The initial response has been really positive with many of the people looking to sign up to the GrowAgri project and attend multiple events.”
Attending the launch was Derek Jarman, director of Hayloft Plants, a commercial horticultural grower and distributor based in Pershore. He said: “It was a really interesting to hear first-hand about the challenges in the agri-tech sector and Pershore College is playing its part in supporting the industry to overcome them through some ground-breaking research projects. As a grower of ornamental plants I look forward to seeing how this initiative could come up with ideas that can support a business like mine.”
The GrowAgri project is particularly seeking to engage with engineers, food technologists, agronomists, systems analysts or any business that develops technologies that could be transferable across different industrial sectors.