A range of opportunities in agri-tech were firmly set out when Pershore College opened its doors for the first time in 15 months to members of the region’s farming and horticultural community.
The varied programme of industry speakers made the case for businesses and investors to get involved in this fast-growing sector in the first event of a new two-part festival.
Organised by the GrowAgri Worcestershire project, a Festival of Horticultural Technology aims to highlight the importance of advances in the digital and mechanical spheres that can achieve better and more sustainable food production systems. Topics included green energy solutions, carbon off-setting, financial incentives and the need for advances in agri-tech to drive the region’s business growth.
David Kinnersley, head of agribusiness from chartered surveyors Fisher German, set the scene by explaining the importance of agri-tech at this very point in time, stating how the world is living through a particular period in history where there are a lot of drivers for change, such as climate change, pressure on natural resources and population increase.
The local support for agri-tech start-ups was detailed by Luke Willetts from the Worcestershire Local Enterprise Partnership who outlined the regional economic plan and vision.
Jon Swain from NFU Energy spoke about the key role that energy supply and consumption is playing on farming’s goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2040. He discussed how making changes in energy use and generation to drive emissions down would be a great starting point. Although there was unlikely to be one single solution for all, he recommended a range of technologies and practices were needed to give businesses the best chance of success.
Professor Roy Kennedy from Pershore College spoke about projects being undertaken at the Agri-Tech Research Centre into creating tests for the early diagnosis of pests and diseases. He explained how the use of lateral flow devices to detect pathogens enables growers to intervene earlier and save crops from being wasted as a result of spoilage.
The evening rounded off with Rob Pearce and Dan Pitt from chartered accountants Bishop Fleming who outlined how government support for agri-tech can be accessed by claiming research and development tax credits by businesses looking to innovate.
Mark Chatfield, from vertical grow wall system supplier, Harvest Today, said: “I enjoyed the variety of topics presented and talking to attendees highlighted some common issues in our sector.
“The discussions really amplified to me the need for agri-tech to provide innovative solutions for horticulture, as costs are ever-increasing and profit margins are being squeezed due to rising cost of labour, land, energy and transport.
“There is a real demand for new technology to transform our food production systems that is more energy/cost efficient, smaller in foot-print, better for the environment and incurs less waste.”
Event organiser, Dr Anjana Patel, Agri-Tech research assistant, Pershore College, said: “It was great to have the opportunity to catch up with our GrowAgri community again and meet new business owners in a face-to-face setting. The evening provided a fantastic introduction into the different types of agricultural technologies that will help to improve food security, reduce waste, lower carbon emissions and improve efficiency.
“We were very fortunate to have an A-list team of speakers ranging from agricultural consultancies, local government, trade organisations and financial consultants.
“Our audience was given an insight into potential financial opportunities and support available for innovations in agri-tech. Sector change is often driven by private investment but this area also has support in the grant funding offered by GrowAgri which is supported by the European Regional Development Fund.
“We are grateful to all our speakers and attendees who gave up an evening of watching football and joined us instead! We hope that more people will join us at Pershore College for part two of our showcase. Agri-tech is a key area for our region’s economic growth and our aim is to show how businesses can diversify into these developing markets.”
The second part of a Festival of Horticultural Technology takes place on Thursday, 30 September and will feature a line-up of industry speakers plus a range of companies will be showcasing the latest in hydroponic technologies.