Technological innovation is the key to unlocking the potential of farming by improving productivity and tackling problems such as pests and disease, Farming Minister George Eustice said today (11 November, 2015) when he addressed the annual Northern Farming Conference.
Speaking at the event in Hexham, the minister said how food and farming is central to the northern economy, employing over 70,000 people. And to help the food and farming industry grow further, and produce even more, the government is investing some of its £160 million Agri-Tech Strategy funding into a range of exciting futuristic food and farming ‘Catalyst’ projects across Northern England.
Farming Minister George Eustice said:
Although there has been great pressure on farm incomes over the past 12 months, I believe the industry has a good future and technological advances will help British farmers improve their productivity and make the industry more resilient and better placed to deal with pests and diseases.
Farmers are playing a central role in building a strong economy in the North and I want to support them to grow more and sell more.
In Sheffield, a group of 40 farmers is trialling a self-driving ‘agribot’ to help them better manage hilly moorland grazing for sheep and cattle. The ‘agribot’, based on a bomb disposal robot, uses a suite of on-board sensors and cameras, coupled with information from Ordnance Survey maps and satellite images, to identify and remove weeds on tricky terrain. If successful, the technology, developed with the assistance of a £182,000 Agri-Tech Catalyst grant, could be used on a commercial scale.
Elsewhere in Yorkshire, a consortium including the Scotch Whisky Research Institute and United Biscuits, supported by a £200,000 Agri-Tech Catalyst grant, is using scientific know-how to identify quality characteristics in soft (gluten-low) wheat in a bid to develop new, higher-quality UK varieties for use in our biscuit and whisky-making.
In addition to the innovative Agri-Tech Catalyst projects, run by Innovate UK, being funded in the North, the Joint Venture between Defra and Capita resulted in the launch of Fera Science Limited - bringing a further £14.5 million of new investment, enabling York-based Fera Science Limited to play an even greater role in helping to drive growth in the agri-food industry.
The investment builds upon the £2.7 million already committed by the Local Enterprise Partnership to Defra’s National Agri-Food Innovation Campus, where Fera is based.