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Agri-Tech Week 2019: How 'One Agriculture' vision can help farmers feed a fragile world

PUBLISHED: 09:18 03 November 2019 | UPDATED: 09:18 03 November 2019

Collaboration between farmers, tech innovators and society is essential for sustainable future production, says Dr Belinda Clarke of Agri-Tech East. Picture: Lesley Buckley

Collaboration between farmers, tech innovators and society is essential for sustainable future production, says Dr Belinda Clarke of Agri-Tech East. Picture: Lesley Buckley

(c) copyright newzulu.com

With East Anglia's annual Agri-Tech Week innovation showcase set to begin on Monday, Agri-Tech East director Dr Belinda Clarke explains how the collaborative vision of "One Agriculture" can create a diet that supports people, the planet and sustainable businesses.

Dr Belinda Clarke, director of Agri-Tech EastDr Belinda Clarke, director of Agri-Tech East

It is not often that a positive report emerges about agriculture and climate change, which is why the recent Growing Better report provides a beacon of light.

It not only sets out the scientific evidence and the economic case for transforming food systems but also highlights the $4.5 trillion-per-year new business opportunities this will create. This is core to the discussions at the REAP (Realising our Economic and Agricultural Potential) Conference in Newmarket.

The key driver for this global reform agenda is the need to create a diet that supports good human and planetary health. The consumption patterns of more than nine billion people - what they choose to eat and how they make (or are influenced to make) those choices - are the critical factors shaping how food and land use systems evolve.

By bringing together food systems and the environment the Growing Better report aligns perfectly with the theme of REAP 2019: "Innovating Towards One Agriculture", which is also reflected in the workshops running across the region during Agri-Tech Week.

A hi-tech crop monitoring platform at the Norwich Research Park. Picture: John Innes CentreA hi-tech crop monitoring platform at the Norwich Research Park. Picture: John Innes Centre

Strands will include digitisation of the food system, combining traditional and modern technologies in farming, diversifying sources of dietary protein and reducing food losses and waste.

High-level reports are useful in providing strategic direction but what are the steps needed to achieve this vision of One Agriculture? This will be the discussion at REAP where farmers, researchers and technologists will be reviewing the techniques being trialled today and emerging agri-tech on the horizon.

Adrian Percy, chief technology officer for the global crop solution company UPL, will be providing international perspectives. He is also an advisor to early-stage companies and works with a west coast USA venture capital group, Finistere Ventures, which is actively investing in agri-tech.

He said: "We are seeing this tremendous development in new scientific approaches coming from smaller companies and across from different sectors, such as bio-pharma."

Crop science at the John Innes Centre in Norwich. Picture: John Innes CentreCrop science at the John Innes Centre in Norwich. Picture: John Innes Centre

A strong message of the Growing Better report is that the emphasis on cheap food comes at a cost to human health and the planet. Also, that public money subsidies have incentivised inefficient food systems.

A speaker on the keynote panel at REAP, Prof John Crawford of Rothamsted Research, proposes that looking at nutrient flows from soil through to food product creates an objective way to compare the benefits of different types of cultivation, as well as the quality of food from different sources including alternative ways to produce protein.

"By feeding the soil as well as the plant we could halve greenhouse gas production from agriculture, and treble the flow rate of water and nutrients to plants," he said.

The issue with many international reports is that the recommendations are based on global trends. Destruction of the Amazon rainforest is happening on a much greater scale and has a more fundamental impact on climate patterns than removing a few trees in Norfolk and this can skew the discussion when talking about land-use.

Beef cattle grazing at Oxnead, near Aylsham. Picture: Chris HillBeef cattle grazing at Oxnead, near Aylsham. Picture: Chris Hill

It is not widely understood that the British landscape is largely man-made and results from co-evolution over thousands of years. The diversity of wildflowers in water meadows is achieved by grazing, the Fenlands maintained as a result of careful management by water boards.

How to balance land use so that it supports the ecosystem services - clean water, pollinators, natural competition for pests and weeds, healthy soils - that enhance productive farming will also be discussed.

Jessica Hughes of the John Innes Centre in Norwich will be discussing her research into the life-cycle of the cabbage stem flea beetle, a pest of oilseed rape that is threatening the future of the crop, while Sarah Barnsley of UEA is using remote sensing to look at how we can increase food resources for pollinators with existing UK agricultural landscapes.

"I believe that we have many of the answers already and that the key enabler needed is a shift of willpower across all of society to put these solutions into place. Farmers have a part to play, but so do consumers, government and advisory bodies," she said.

"Farming can be part of the solution in terms of maintaining and enhancing biodiversity and in terms of meeting the resource requirements of a growing global population."

The quote we have chosen for REAP 2019 is one from Henry Ford: "If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself".

We chose a deliberately provocative quote to highlight the thinking for the conference - a collaborative mindset is the first step to achieving success.

AGRI-TECH WEEK EVENTS

Agri-Tech Week is a series of events, workshops and discussions highlighting innovation across East Anglia's agri-tech cluster from November 4-8.

- Monday November 4, 1pm-4pm, Centrum, Norwich Research Park (NRP).

"Collaborating to drive agri-tech innovation"

Showcasing innovation from the research institutes and companies based at the NRP, including the John Innes Centre, UEA, and Earlham Institute.

- Monday November 4, 6pm-8pm, University of Lincoln, Riseholme Campus.

"Getting value from AI in agriculture"

Dr Matthew Smith, director of business development at Microsoft, will explore how agriculture will get value from artificial intelligence (AI).

- Tuesday November 5, 2pm-6pm, Rothamsted Research, Harpenden.

"Inspiring the next generation of agri-tech innovation"

The event will emphasise the importance of co-development of ideas, and how pooling experts together from various backgrounds can deliver impact.

- Wednesday November 6, 10am-5pm, Rowley Mile Conference Centre, Newmarket.

REAP Conference 2019: "Innovating towards One Agriculture"

The central conference of Agri-Tech Week will explore how human health, animal health, ecosystems and food production are inextricably linked by best practice in farming.

- Thursday November 7, 9am-1pm, The George Hotel, Swaffham.

"Irrigation and evaporation - The latest in best practice and agri-tech"

This event, hosted by

AHDB, will look at effective use of irrigation and best practice for soil and water management.

- Thursday November 7, 1pm-5.30pm, Easton and Otley College, Norwich.

"Agri-tech in action"

The RNAA's free event will include a workshop and field demonstrations showing how technology can be effectively used in real situations.

- Friday November 8, 11.30am-4pm, Sophi Taylor Building, NIAB Park Farm, Cambridge.

"Baby leaf - a growing resource from field to tunnel"

NIAB will look at evolving salad genetics and innovation in hydroponics and field cultivation of baby leaf in this interactive workshop.

For full details see the Agri-Tech Week website.

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