Bridging the gap between academia and farming must be a key focus if the Government’s Agri-Tech strategy was to work.
Those speaking to Farmers Guardian said, in some cases, the work of Britain’s scientific institutions seemed so far removed from everyday farming problems that it was difficult to see how their businesses would benefit.
North west England farm consultant Michael Ratcliffe, whose Nuffield scholarship focused on technology adoption by small- and medium-sized agricultural businesses in the UK, said: “There are some powerful tools and promising technologies on the horizon but it may be many years until we see their full potential. I am a farmer and have problems which need solving today.”
Mr Ratcliffe visited a number of professors working in the agricultural field and found while a particular technology might take four months to be ‘perfected’, it would take just four days to be at a standard which would be beneficial to farmers.
“The difference between having something ready for academia and ready to solve my problems and others’ is, in effect, 30 times longer.
“As a farming consultant I am not looking for perfect solutions, I am looking for practical solutions which are better than what I am using now.”
Mr Ratcliffe called for academics to be incentivised and measured by their industry impact.
He added: “There is a disconnect between academia and industry because their career progression is underpinned by goals not connected to industry impact, and more dependent on publications in the scientific world.”
Cheshire dairy farmer Stuart Yarwood said ensuring research and technology was usable on-farm was essential.
“Technology is out there to do many more things. It is whether we can apply it at farm level in farm conditions,” he said, highlighting innovations such as robotic milking, heat detection systems and calving sensors in the dairy industry which had proved hugely beneficial.
FRASER Claughton, commercial manager at Bayer UK/IE, which was working on a number of projects to improve animal health, said innovation in the sector was something consumers were looking to see.
“In times where the agricultural industry is under increasing scrutiny from the consumer, any evidence showing efforts are being made to improve animal wellbeing can play a vital part in supporting the industry going forwards,” he said.
What the UK Agri-Tech Centres do
THE four Agri-Tech Centres make up a unique collaboration between UK Government, academia and industry.
Each has its own area of expertise, but all are focused on driving greater efficiency, resilience and wealth across the agri-food sector.
Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock (CIEL) chief executive Lyndsay Chapman said: “The £90 million investment from InnovateUK, the UK’s strategic innovation agency, is enabling us to harness leading UK research and expertise as a well as build new infrastructure and innovation.
“By building partnerships with agri-food businesses and understanding their challenges, we will deliver solutions which transform food and farming.”
Ms Chapman agreed it was vital research undertaken was disseminated back to the farming industry and not retained in silo.
CIEL uses a web portal to inform all areas of the supply chain, including feed businesses, veterinary groups, processors, retailers and trade bodies.
“The research carried out through CIEL investments is industry-led, with agri-food business partners directly involved, and consequently the outcomes are known and can be disseminated by the relevant agri-food partners,” she added.
The four Agri-Tech Centres
The Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock (CIEL) is Europe’s largest farm animal research alliance, driving new industry-led research and innovation to position the UK livestock sector as a world leader in productivity and sustainability
Crop Health and Protection (CHAP) was established to help increase crop productivity through the uptake of technologies. Over the past 12 months CHAP has developed and officially opened a range of capabilities with partners around the country, designed to save time and resources, reduce the use of pesticides and protect the environment
Agri-EPI Centre is accelerating the adoption of precision agriculture and engineering technologies to boost productivity across the whole agri-food chain. It does this by exploring how to optimise performance of the highly complex agricultural production and processing systems.
Agrimetrics has invested in a cloud-based infrastructure to transform the way data is used by the agri-food sector.