An Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund is being set up by the Government to help identify and develop UK industries which are fit for the future as part of its industrial strategy, but there is little evidence so far that agriculture will benefit.
Speaking at the Westminster Food and Nutrition Forum, Mark Turner, deputy director of agri-tech, bioeconomy and chemicals at the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said of a recently published Green Paper ‘Building our Industrial Strategy’: “It does not talk much about our sector. It is up to us to build importance into work going forward.”
Answering charges that farmers had heard little about progress concerning the four Centres for Agricultural Innovation - CHAP (crop health), CIEL (livestock), Agri-EPI (engineering) and Agrimetrics (data) since the AgriTech Strategy which they form part of was launched in 2013, David Flanders, chief executive, Agrimetrics, said: “We have spoken to tens if not hundreds of farmers. Agrimetrics has been going less than a year. We are working with yield modelling and the Yield Enhancement Network. There is a project on potato yield which will hit the streets this season.”
Dr Andrew Swift, director, science division, Capita with Fera Science, which encompasses CHAP, added: “Research is a long time-frame. We want to make sure researchers engage with farmers and work more closely with AHDB and innovative farmers.”
He said Fera would have new freedoms to pursue commercialisation of its intellectual property as a result of the public private partnership between Capita (75 per cent) and Defra (25 per cent). “Business can be assessed on a case by case basis instead of being dependent on the funding cycle.”
Paul Rooke, head of policy, Agricultural Industries Confederation, questioned whether the Centres for Agricultural Innovation had a viable future.
“We have heard a lot about the time lag between a decision on the centres and implementation. There has been an expansion of the remit into food and movement away from production-based R&D.
"We want to have a better picture of what the centres are doing, how they are interacting and opportunities for members to be involved.
“There are signals that Defra wants to provide a home for global R&D but it needs more than Ministerial words.”
*Responses to the Green Paper, ‘Building our Industrial Strategy’ should be submitted no later than April, 17.