Farmers are set to benefit from a new-found interest in agritech which has seen businesses previously unconnected to agriculture pouring money into the sector, investigations by Farmers Guardian have revealed.
As part of FG’s special edition on agricultural research, technology and innovation, we have found that, in the face of funding cuts from Europe, private companies with an interest in data, advanced manufacturing or hardware such as sensors are looking at farming as a lucrative new market.
Small- to medium-sized businesses and innovative start-ups are particularly keen to work with farmers to develop new products which will help tackle real-world challenges.
Dr Helen Ferrier, chief science adviser at the NFU, suggested the Government’s £160 million Agri-Tech Strategy, launched in 2013, was key to generating interest in the potential opportunities.
“It focused minds and gave the sector more status,” she said.
“The fact Government thinks the agri-tech sector is going places is partly what has led to all these companies being interested in farming.”
This new commercial attention will complement the range of agricultural research organisations, institutions and networks already in place.
Data platform Agrimetrics, one of the UK’s four Agri-Tech Centres, is already working with two of the world’s biggest companies – Microsoft and Airbus – to provide insights, tools and services to agricultural businesses.
Airbus provides Earth observation data which gives producers access to environmental, soil and crop data through a map of 1.4m fields and Microsoft provides cloudbased data storage which farmers can access.
Agrimetrics chief executive David Flanders said: “Money is coming into the agri-tech sector from outside because agriculture is a sector with a huge amount of data and there is massive potential there.”
For businesses wanting to get involved, a partnership with Government could unlock public research and development funds, though concerns have been raised about the administrative hurdles involved in this process.
Dr Ferrier said: “Most countries are struggling to some extent with the complexity of the research landscape and the lack of connection between the science base and the end user, but the UK is in a better place than we give ourselves credit for.
“The interest being taken by research organisations in understanding farming processes and engaging with end users has really grown.
“We are in a completely different place than when I first started working in this area in terms of the understanding of getting an impact outside of the science community.”