Pershore College provides a glimpse into the future of food production

An event that showcased the latest technological developments in the world of horticulture has been heralded as a success by organisers and attendees.

A Festival of Horticultural Technology held at Pershore College has been greeted with plaudits by both speakers and an audience which was made up of a range of representatives from sectors as diverse as Her Majesty’s Prison Service to the National Farmers’ Union.

The day was the second of a two-part series that examined how improvements in technology could offer solutions to a range of issues affecting UK food supply and production now that Britain has left the European Union and the industry strives to lower its carbon emissions.

An action-packed day featured a number of Worcestershire-based speakers including Steve Bradstock from Live Farmer and Nigel Pugh from Impact Aerial who spoke about using satellite data to monitor crop health in real time and how AI (artificial intelligence) and machine learning can be used to manage invasive plant species like Japanese knotweed.

One of the day’s highlights was the first UK showing of a novel vertical growing system created by Anglo-US start-up Harvest Today, which enables users to produce fresh quality salad crops indoors, whatever the weather and season.

The app-controlled Harvest Wall comprises a scalable growing kit consisting of a main frame, click-on tiles and an internal irrigation system. The concept was envisioned by Canadian Rick Langille and his British business partner Mark Chatfield whilst they were on an around-the-world sailing adventure. The duo’s aim is to make sustainable locally-grown greens a reality from the Arctic to the Equator.

Rick Langille, chief executive officer of Harvest Today, said: “‘It was a pleasure to show and demonstrate the benefits of our Harvest Wall technology to the delegates at Pershore College. It provided the perfect opportunity to soft launch the arrival of our demonstration model here in the UK to some key individuals in the industry.

“It was a really diverse event; we are really excited to participate in this growing movement of entrepreneurism in horticulture and the development of new products. We believe that this kind of automated growing system has the potential to transform the way communities grow their food, be it in an urban or rural setting.

“Our global population explosion combined with finite resources means the planet cannot sustain ever-increasing levels of consumption using current models of production. This is where the Harvest Wall with its efficient and sustainable food production technology has a serious part to play in the drive for new solutions to combat climate change and food insecurity.”

Other speakers included local chartered surveyor and ornamental plant grower Tony Rowland, who spoke about the dearth of family-owned nurseries due to the practices of the UK supermarket industry, Dan Pitt and Rob Pearce from chartered accountants Bishop Flemming who explained how the government’s R&D tax credits scheme can assist organisations fund the development of new ideas, and Pershore College’s own Professor Roy Kennedy who spoke about the use of data and digitisation in the food chain.

In the audience was former Pershore student Chris George, a land-based activities specialist working for Her Majesty’s Prison Service. He said: “It was a really useful day and a real eye opener. Growing techniques and technology has moved on immeasurably since my days as a Pershore student in the late 1980s.

“Rick from Harvest Today summed it up when he said that growing food via traditional means will fracture under the strain of an ever increasing worldwide population and climate change. Moving forward, we simply will not be able to grow enough to sustain our populations globally.

“Alongside this, I picked up on a key message which resonates with us in the prison service which is the continued urbanisation of our space in the UK. This is one of the reasons we are looking into vertical growing systems, due to the lack of green space we have at some of our older inner city Victorian prisons.

“We are very excited to be exploring these possibilities at this time and judging by the importance a college such as Pershore places on technology and advancement, we are making steps in the right direction as we seek out information and key suppliers to partner with moving forward.”

Attendees also got to tour around the futuristic facilities of the college’s Agri-Tech Research Centre’s which include an indoor hydroponic plant-growth chamber and an outdoor vertical farm with event organiser, Agri-Tech Research Assistant Dr Anjana Patel.

Amongst the 40 plus attendees was James Oldland, a 29-year-old first year Foundation Degree in Agri-Tech (horticulture) student from Bristol.

James, who currently works in horticulture alongside his studies at Pershore, said: “The Festival of Horticultural Technology has introduced me to people and organisations across the industry, the challenges they face, the wide range of technologies they are using and the research and development they are doing. As an Agri-Tech student who is trying to understand such a broad industry, this event has been invaluable.

“I particularly enjoyed Tony Rowland’s talk as his understanding of the challenges the horticultural industry faces and potential opportunities for British horticulture in the near future provided a very interesting insight.”

Dr Patel, said: “It was really special to open our doors to our second in-person GrowAgri event here at Pershore this year, I’d like to thank each one of our inspiring entrepreneurial speakers. The horticultural industry needs risk takers and ‘disruptors’ like them to change staid practices and bring horticulture back to a position of prominence here in the UK.

“Our audience benefited from hearing about a range of different ventures in horticultural technology led by individuals who identified an opportunity and are now turning their ideas into commercial enterprises.

“We hope this event will kickstart many more business endeavours that will contribute to the UK increasing domestic horticulture production.”

For further information on the GrowAgri project at Pershore College visit www.wcg.uk/growagri