Researchers keen to join industry bid for ‘Agri-innovation Centre’

by Tim Mudge

Researchers and professional consultants have shown a keen interest in joining the horticulture industry in its bid for a Centre of Agri-Innovation for Fresh and Prepared Produce.

The Horticulture Innovation Partnership (HIP) has started a dialogue with researchers and advisory consultants about how they might engage with a proposed Centre of Agri-Innovation for Fresh and Prepared Produce. This Centre will address the major challenges facing the sector, including increasingly restrictive regulatory controls on the use of pesticides and other inputs, consumers’ demands and unpredictable weather conditions.

At a meeting held at the Warwick Crop Centre, researchers and consultants were asked what they could contribute to the centre in terms of research, knowledge exchange activity and identifying sources of matched funding. This builds on a HIP meeting held in January where representatives from across the fresh produce sector identified the technologies which will be most important to industry prosperity and sustainability over the next 20 years.

The HIP will now utilise the outputs from these meetings to build a proposal for Agri-Tech funding for the centre. Agri-Tech was launched by the Government last year to help the UK to become, ‘a world leader in agricultural technology, innovation and sustainability.’

The HIP has already submitted a Statement of Intent to the leaders of the Agri-Tech Strategy, outlining the industry’s developing vision for an Innovation Centre for Fresh and Prepared Produce.

Mary Bosley, Chair of the HIP, said ‘the primary purpose of the Centre is to facilitate the uptake and application of best-practice knowledge, and drive the generation and adoption of new technologies. It will be a national focal point for the fresh produce sector, ensuring the widest access to new ideas and their early translation into business benefit, bringing growth for UK companies and international competitive advantage.’

The meeting, held on 13th June, highlighted the technologies in which UK could offer internationally competitive contributions to the fresh sector.

Peter Gregory, Chief Executive, East Malling Research and HIP Innovation Centre Steering Group said ‘the attendees demonstrated considerable willingness to engage with the Centre and their commitment will help strengthen the proposal we are developing on behalf of the fresh produce industry.’

As well as the capacity to deliver in areas such as robotics, precision farming, integrated pest management and post-harvest technology, it was pointed out that modelling and the development of decision support systems may have been overlooked in earlier consultations. The HIP will continue to build on the dialogue with industry, including further engagement with input suppliers and food processors. This feedback will help shape the proposal, which is being drafted by the HIP Innovation Centre steering group in readiness for submission when the Agri-Tech call opens later this year.

"British Growers has been closely involved the Horticultural Innovation Partnership and the development of an Agri Innovation Centre. The principle of innovation centres has been successfully pioneered in other industries to drive innovation and economic development. This latest development was a good opportunity to begin the process of engagement with the research community and work will now continue to build a proposal for Agri-Tech funding for the centre." said Jack Ward CEO of British Growers